Saturday, August 4, 2018

Toxic Fandom

Films: Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Not going to the theater that often means that I don’t tend see the big movies when everyone else does. That being the case, I’m probably the last person who comes to this blog to see Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. I didn’t really know what to expect. After all, this is the Star Wars movie that caused a small part of the fan base to so completely lose its collective shit that they demanded an immediate remake.

I need to talk about this, about the toxic fandom that seems to exist more and more. Honestly, I don’t know if that’s absolutely true. Toxic fandom has probably always existed; in the age of the internet, it simply has more of a platform. And here’s the thing—in a lot of respects, that toxic fandom looks a lot like a younger version of me. I don’t mean that I acted like they do when I was younger, but I fit the stereotype. I was (and still am a little) a huge Star Wars fan as a kid. I’m white and male, and I’m also a nerd. There but for the grace of social skills and being raised by non-shitty parents go I.

The truth is that I’m not going to spend a great deal of time going through the plot here. Chances are close to 100% that you’ve already seen this at least once. It’s also slightly possible that you haven’t seen it, and even though it’s been months since the movie’s release, I’m not going to be the guy who spoils it. Let’s just say that it picks up where The Force Awakens left off, bringing back pretty much the entire cast and adding a few new people. Notable in these additions is Kelly Marie Tran as rebel Rose Tico and Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Holdo.

Kelly Marie Tran is one of the reasons I really need to address the idea of toxic fandom in general, and this specific toxic fandom in particular. Tran deleted her Instagram account and all of the associated pictures because of near-constant harassment by Star Wars fans who evidently feel entitled to have everything the way they want it. So let’s review for a second about what seems to be the problem.

The problem, in a nutshell, is women, at least according to the people who have a problem with The Last Jedi. Minor spoiler warning here (no specifics): one of the main plot points of The Last Jedi is that the men in the movie frequently screw things up, forcing the women to put things right. One of our heroic characters from The Force Awakens becomes pretty much a petulant child in this, acting rashly and stupidly over and over again while the clear-headed and calm women in command save the day.

Back in the day, the heroes in the Star Wars universe were Luke (white guy), Han (white guy), Leia (white woman), Lando (black guy), and Chewie (dog-gorilla made of awesome). Even most of the supporting characters were white guys—Ben Kenobi, Wedge Antilles…and ultimately Darth Vader was played by a white guy despite being voiced by James Earl Jones. And now our heroes are decidedly less white and decidedly less male, and there are some spoiled rotten fans who can’t quite handle the fact that they don’t see themselves represented in every notable character on the screen.

They can form a giant conga line and kiss my ass.

Now, that said, The Last Jedi isn’t a perfect movie. There are a few real problems with it that need to be brought up. The first is that it’s terribly long. This movie runs just over 150 minutes, and it doesn’t need to be nearly that long. It just keeps going and going. There was a time in my life when I would have been overjoyed at the constant parade of more and more action sequences, but here, I feel like we could have excised 20-30 minutes without losing a great deal.

Second, several of the characters are badly misused. I like the new additions, including the rather surprising casting choice of Benicio del Toro as a criminal hacker. Two characters who were in the previous movie appear here and are criminally underused. The first is Maz Kanata, who appears only for a few minutes as a projected hologram. The second is silver-armored General Phasma who suffers from Boba Fett-level misuse in this film.

So The Last Jedi isn’t a perfect film, but it is a pretty good one. I like a lot of it, and I like how it ends a great deal. I think this was evidently something else that people seemed to dislike about the film, but it’s the ending the film really needs. It’s one of the best and most interesting uses of the Force in any of the Star Wars films, and it’s entirely in keeping with the character in question.

Final analysis? It’s no Empire Strikes Back, but it’s also no Phantom Menace.

Why to watch Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi: C’mon, like you need a reason.
Why not to watch: Toxic fans suck.


  1. I did a long, long review/meditation of the movie, which—if you're brave and if you have the time—you can read here. My review focused on some of the nerdier fan complaints, but like you, I'm chary of "toxic fandom," as you put it. Here in Korea, fans control the story arcs of soap operas: if the plot takes an ugly left turn, or if a beloved character is written out of the story, the so-called "Netizens" take to their computers and blast the showrunners and screenwriters, kicking and screaming until satisfactory changes are made.

    In the end, there was a lot about "The Last Jedi" that I liked, but there were parts I really didn't like. As for poor Kelly Marie Tran: it's unfortunate that there are fans out there who can't distinguish between an actress and her role. That's a special kind of stupid.

    1. I just don't get it, but at the same time, I've never really understood a great deal of fandom. There are plenty of things that I like in media. I'm a huge Game of Thrones fan, for instance, but I don't understand being so involved in it that it becomes such a huge part of my outlook and what I talk about. Ditto for fan fiction. This sort of fandom seems to me to be nothing but fan fiction without the effort of actually writing stuff down.

      Because of that, I now have a better appreciation for the idea of fanfic. Don't like the canon? Write your own. This sort of toxic fandom is toxic in large part because it's lazy. The creators are going to make choices you don't like. Deal.

  2. I felt the same as you: not perfect, but certainly good with some interesting explorations of the force. I particularly liked the nods to Kurosawa, and it was bittersweet seeing Carrie Fisher onscreen.

    The toxic part of the fandom is frustrating but I've decided not to let it destroy my enjoyment of the film. My brother-in-law, a big Star Wars fan, was vocal in his deep dislike of the film, which only seemed to get stronger after reading things online. He is perfectly entitled to his opinion (and to his credit does not go on about it), as are others, but most seem incapable of accepting differences of opinion; and that is bad criticism. I know my opinions of some films are different from others, but I hope I would never write some off (or worse) simply because I disagree with them.

    1. I 100% agree.

      One of the things I've really tried to cultivate on this blog is the ability to disagree respectfully. I think I've held true to that in all places but one, and I think I was clearly attacked first.

      We can disagree and make cases for our disagreement. To be that upset about a different opinion just seems to me, well, toxic.

  3. I absolutely loved this episode...for the first time in what seems like ages, someone (in this case director and writer Rian Johnson) sat down and came up with a whole bunch of original ideas for the Star Wars universe. I particularly liked the interaction between Rey and Kylo, which balanced on a psychological knife's edge throughout, and the ending was magnificent, probably the best climax to a Star Wars film since Episode 4. After the disappointment of The Force Awakens, which is essentially a remake, The Last Jedi was a breath of a fresh air.

    1. Evidently, a lot of people were bent out of shape about Luke's role in the ending, but I thought that was absolutely magnificent.

      This is a very new film in a lot of respects, although there are some shades of the first trilogy. The Snoke/Rey/Kylo scene has shades of the final confrontation in Return of the Jedi, and the attack at the end feels a great deal like the Hoth battle that opens Empire--even down to the color palette.

      I guess you can call those homages, but there was a clear connection to the orig-trig.

  4. I have a lot of problems with this movie (all plot-related) but I completely agree that toxic fandom, and the reaction to this movie in particular, sucks. I'm sure that won't surprise you. If you can only relate to white, male heroes, you're a dick and a trash human.

    I give this movie a lot of credit for bringing some new things to the Star Wars universe, including the best visualization of the Force in any SW movie. And I love the climactic, silent moment at the end of a space battle that everyone remembers.

    In the end though, I really dislike where this movie leaves everything. None of what happens from Return of the Jedi onward makes any difference to the galaxy. Everyone's now back in the same hellish hole. A lot of that I lay at the feet of Abrams and The Force Awakens, because Abrams decided to retell an already told story. I wish they had gone this bold from the very beginning of the new trilogy.

    1. I get that, and I see where you're going there even if I disagree with you. The middle of a trilogy should be an emotional low point. But I do see your point. Then again, I don't hate that, as you say, everything after Jedi has become moot. That happens sometimes. It may feel ugly in a story, but it's believable, and I'm curious to see where they take it.

      I agree that Force Awakens was just Episode IV with a different cast, and that was disappointing.

      That silent moment is fantastic, I agree.

  5. Did the toxic fans take down "Solo" or was it just too much disappointment with the current path of the SW Universe?

    1. That's a good question. I enjoyed Solo and look forward to seeing it again. Not as good as Rogue One, but fun. I'm disappointed it did so badly.

    2. I had mixed feelings about Solo. It's just too dang silly to be as long as it is. Fortunately, most of the best stuff is in the last half, mostly involving Emilia Clarke.

    3. (And I saw The Last Jedi when it first opened, but I'm having trouble remembering it. Except the scene where Luke walked out ALONE to face Darth Jr. and the Empire. That whole scene was great.)

    4. Honestly, I haven't seen Solo and haven't really paid any attention to it.