Are there toxic fans out there? Of course there are. We’ve all seen it, from “fake geek girls” to death threats whenever you don’t like a certain creator on a project or changes made to the project. There is a reason I have no interest in fandoms anymore. But there are plenty of good fans (I daresay a majority of them are awesome) who do have legitimate problems, be they critical or just personal preference. Is the toxic fan problem as big as some other fans and now the corporate and creative fields make it out to be? Tom and Andre from Midnight’s Edge group each has a editorial on that I want you to hear.
Star Wars fans (the current target of this narrative although you can also throw superhero comics into that discussion) is the one brought up the most in these videos so I’ll focus there as well but will bring up other groups as well. The first time I ever heard of death threats was when Chewbacca died in the now de-canoned novels, where he sacrificed himself to save Han and Leia’s original children (before Ben Solo/Kylo Ren in the post-Lucas trilogy they had twins, a boy and a girl). The publisher and the writer were both targeted by fan rage. Look, I’ve talked plenty about how death is used in comics, especially post “The Death Of Superman”, but this didn’t sound like a shock death. I haven’t read the novel or even remember the name so I don’t know for certain. I’ve also talked about my negative experiences with the Star Wars fandom before.
I’ve also seen backlash besides the prequels. When I first discovered the Transformers fandom via usenet there was a huge negative response to Beast Wars because it was so different from the original cartoon and toyline (“truck not monkey” or it’s purposely misspelled equivalent when it came to Optimus Prime/Primal was prominent) that alt.toys.transformers splintered off an alt.toys.transformers.classic.moderated, where you were only allowed to discuss the original series and ignore additions like sparks or protoforms, both of which are now multiversal canon. And yet those who crossed between lines were rather nice people, and so were the classic exclusives. At least as a group. Every grouping has their nutcases. It’s not like people hating new versions or re-imaginings is something new. Andre at the regular Midnight’s Edge has a more critical look at the controversy in his editorial.
Two things to note from this one. The treatment of Jar Jar Binks is often a bit too far and a lot of it comes from that group who hates any comic relief character, but I also don’t think the full potential was ever truly brought out. (Not counting those of you who actually do believe he was planned to be the mastermind of Palpatine’s rise to power mind you. Although that’s still a fun conversation to have from a theoretical perspective.) To hear how Ahmed Best reacted is sad but understandable given why he was drawn to the character. This is honestly something I think about when I do my reviews. How hard should I come down on a performance or a story or artwork depends on a number of factors I didn’t think of as a fan. Binks’ problems came down more to the writing although I’ve always thought the “racist” label slapped on him was overblown.
Tied in to that and probably worse was the treatment of Jake Lloyd, the child actor playing Anakin. SF Debris did a must-watch (for Star Wars fans) biography of Lucas and the Star Wars movies where he noted it wasn’t Lloyd’s acting so much as Lucas not being able to direct a child. Children have not had the same life experiences or heard of the life experiences of others, like slaves or racers, and Lucas didn’t come up with a good workaround for that. We saw that in Episode II, where he couldn’t get Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen, two very good young actors, to properly emote or appear to be in love. The result is the pair showed zero chemistry and their romance wasn’t very believable as a result. Plus there’s that whole commentary on why Anakin hates sand that’s become a joke.
Fans however put all the blame on Lloyd. Here’s a 10 year old boy excited to be part of a cultural legacy where he gets to race with jet engines and fly a spacefighter and look really cool for his friends. And what he got was half the internet trashing him as the worst thing ever to hit Star Wars this side of Jar Jar and metaphorically spitting on the kid. His friends ended up turning against him. The result was him turning against acting and Star Wars, destroying his memorabilia and all his dreams. And the toxic members of the Star Wars fandom is responsible for that. Now he’s in trouble with the law and suffering from schizophrenia. So let’s not lie and say that there aren’t toxic fans out there.
However, that doesn’t mean that every complaint against the new trilogy, especially The Last Jedi, comes from this toxic environment, and note that when these artsy directors and producers talk about toxic they mean the current social political landscape, which is an article on it’s own that I’ve been wanting to do for my Tumblr because it’s only partially connected to storytelling in that it’s infecting every avenue of our lives and destroying families and lifelong friendships. And Star Wars is a cultural legacy. It’s pop culture, but high pop culture, the stuff that is part of our conversations. When someone refers to a Jedi, droid, or quotes the movie you know where it came from even if you haven’t seen it. Like you know when I say “Rosebud” in the proper context I’m not referring to gardening, and I’m not really interested in seeing Citizen Kane. You are continuing a vision and (this is something I’ve said about comics and other movies as well) if you don’t share that vision you don’t belong on that project no matter how good a creator you are. I like Batman but I couldn’t write him more than once, and that’s still more than hiring me to write for a Fast And The Furious movie or anything in the horror category unless you count Godzilla in that group.
I haven’t seen Solo but I had my problems with The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and Rogue One. Each of them had their problems but either straying away from the source material or rehashing it is basically what the complaints were with the prequels. Lucas at least stayed with his vision but as he got older his vision changed, while JJ Abrams focused on the visuals and Rian Johnson played the subversion game. Gareth Edwards dropped any pretense in favor of a basic war story that happened to be set in space and most of the time never felt like a Star Wars movie. The question isn’t one of quality; all three in their own way were good movies until you really thought about some of Johnson’s decisions. Calling these problems out isn’t result of toxic anything. Were there toxic fans? Sure, but just like Ghostbusters the fans who had problems with it weren’t all sexist or racist. They just know what a series should be because they’ve been fans of it and the series has a high place in our culture, making it more important to get right than Ghostbusters was. I refer you to the comment on comics and poorly chosen writers and editors based on quality or name rather than being a proper fit. A proper fit was a reason they changed directors for Solo.
Are there toxic fans? Yes. Is it the majority of fans? No. Is it the majority of people complaining. Again, no. That’s a narrative to try to divert from the issue that maybe you just weren’t a good fit for a project no matter how good you might be. When you’re continuing a legacy, especially something as long as Star Wars or Superman or even as short as Ghostbusters talent alone isn’t enough. That’s why I question Quentin Tarantino working on Star Trek or Martin Scorsese the Joker. (And don’t think the producer has no say in the creation of a movie just because he or she isn’t the director.) It’s not toxic to show your disapproval and it shouldn’t be pushed aside as some racist/sexist screed. Sometimes we just don’t like what you did to our favorite franchise, especially if it comes from our childhood.