Perfect Fandom? What Perfect Fandom?

Stephenie

There is no such thing as perfect fandom. 

And I’m not sure I want a perfect fandom.

 Perfect is too much pressure. Perfect implies we all agree. Perfect implies there’s no room for growth. Perfect zaps the fun out of fandom. What do we lose, or sacrifice, in that quest for perfection? 

I may not want a perfect fandom, but I want a nice fandom, a kind fandom. A fandom that’s welcoming to all ideas and likes and dislikes. And most importantly: welcoming to all people (and aliens; we are talking about Star Wars after all). If you will, a perfectly imperfect fandom built on kindness and a shared love of Star Wars.

A kind fandom is hard to achieve. I’ve seen it preached elsewhere and be almost successful. There’s one fandom I adore: the creator reminds everyone to be kind, but there’s still gatekeepers who attack you for not living up to their imagined ideal. There’s another fandom I’ve stepped back from because the majority do not seek kindness; a critique about the key art chosen and questioning its impact was met with cries of treachery. 

And there’s this fandom: the Star Wars fandom. A fandom that I have been told over and over is nasty, but has its bright spots if you can survive the other. A fandom that other fandoms look at and go well, at least we aren’t them: they ruin what they love. We — as a fandom — could be (and have been!) case studies for fandom and fan engagement, both good and bad.[i]

Fans shouldn’t agree on everything; that would be boring. I want to hear why people don’t like Maul. (Especially since I only came to like the character because of the work of Dave Filoni and Sam Witwer.) I want to hear about why I should care about Boba Fett! (I get it now…) I want you to tell me about your favourite clone and how your favourite Jedi survived Order 66 with their help. I want to hear critiques of the movies and TV shows. I want to hear why others think the Prequel/Original/Sequel Trilogy is a cinematic masterpiece/bad/boring/uneven/the best. I even want to hear why you think the Empire or First Order is the best and how you reconcile that with the Nazi imagery that they are intentionally associated with to tell us they’re the bad guys. 

I want to hear about different experiences within the fandom because I know for every single person, there’s a different experience. We have a shared fandom, sure, and we experience similar things within that, but at the end of the day, our experience is unique to us. And that’s where this gets difficult. 

Padme Amidala imposed over the Project Stardust symbol

My experience started when I was maybe three? four? and fell in love with those teddy bear things as I called them. As a I got older, and the Prequel Trilogy came out, my love and experience as a fan grew. I was surprised the first time someone was like, “You like the prequels? They’re trash!”  No, they’re not perfect, but I never said they were. They reflect their moment, the origins of the stories we all love, and Padmé has amazing gowns. For a kid, they were amazing because they were my Star Wars like the Original Trilogy was my mom’s Star Wars. And I had to figure out how to love them when I was told I wasn’t being a good Star Wars fan. 

Then the Sequels came out! I got to witness the excitement for new Star Wars movies all over again! But I was still told I only liked it because of Rey, and that I couldn’t be a “real” fan because I liked them. For what it is worth, Poe is my favourite because he absolutely f***s up and then learns from it. Followed by Ben, because he really is Anakin’s grandson. I like Rey and her journey, too. 

Above all, for me, it is the family of friends that make the movies what they are. There’s a theme of found family that is in each of the trilogies. And that theme of found family parallels the best of fandom life. I’ve met my people in fandom — many of us have. 

Poe imposed over the Project Stardust symbol

But the thing is, even within my group of Star Wars fan friends, we disagree about things. Yet, even with these disagreements, there are some things we should agree on, like that representation is important. That Black Lives Matter. That the cast — especially the BIPOC & women and femme actors — have been treated horribly by people who claim to love Star Wars. That there are toxic elements in the fandom. And there are, whether it’s people who thrive on stirring hate, or scalpers who make certain merchandise beyond the reach of the average fan (and sometimes even the avid collector). 

We should also be able to agree that gatekeeping is bad. That we should allow ourselves and others to love Star Wars how they want to! Read the books? Awesome! You didn’t? Well, let me tell you about this cool thing! Not a fan of The Clone Wars or Rebels? But you’ll miss Ahsoka! You’ve been a fan since ‘77?! Tell me a story about the early days! You are only just discovering Star Wars? Isn’t it amazing? What drew you in? Can I tell you about this cool thing? 

Ahsoka imposed over the Project Stardust symbol

It should go without saying that everyone should have their corner of the fandom to do what they love, whether it is bringing in elements of activism to make the fandom more equitable or making deep-dive videos about little known characters and fan theories. The problem happens when corners target smaller corners, when people (individually or as a group) are targeted for their identities and/or ideas. 

There’s critique defined by constructive feedback, and then there’s bullying defined in many ways, from dog-piling in the comments or reply sections to doxxing to videos targeting individuals for harassment. Appearance, families, and lived experiences aren’t the foundations for critiques: Star Wars is.

Critique leads to growth, new ideas, and better understanding (of each other and of the Star Wars universe). Bullying leads to fear (and we all know that leads to anger and to hate). It’s not just a power imbalance, though, with bullying and toxicity, it’s a fandom imbalance. When the bad outweighs the good, when the interactions become too much, when friends worry for the safety of other friends: this is the problem. Fandom isn’t perfect, but even in its imperfect state these behaviours have no place. 

Project Stardust started — and continues to function — as a place where a group of women and non-binary femmes can speak to their experiences, to their ideas, and to why Star Wars is the best thing ever. We came together with similar experiences, albeit at differing levels, having seen the most imperfect parts of fandom; we range from 1977 “original” fans to brand new fans just discovering all that Star Wars is. We want to make our little corner perfectly imperfect as we learn and grow. Do I wish none of us felt it was necessary? Yes! Do I wish that every single Star Wars fan never experiences gatekeeping or harassment or other “imperfections” in their fandom experience? Of course! 

Unfortunately, I know there are people who have been negatively impacted by gatekeeping and harassment, and I know people who’ve been entirely turned away by the negativity that this fandom sometimes slides into. And I know people who have not experienced that. Rather than turn away from these differences or deny people’s lived experiences, we should accept them and use them to learn about each other. These differences give us an opportunity to explore our fandom and make it a better place. These differences don’t mean we stop trying, or that we stop loving Star Wars and our corners of the fandom. We keep loving, we keep writing, we keep geeking out over the latest rumour and head canon. 

Everyone is human. Everyone makes mistakes. Us included. But it’s how we deal with them that defines us. It’s choosing to follow the light, to save what we love, to hope someone in the galaxy hears our cry for help and comes. It’s saying my fandom is not perfect, but I see how I can make it better. It’s taking a stand. It’s facilitating hard questions: questions that hurt to think about. It’s hoping that one day an internet stranger who disagrees with you won’t become a bully that turns your love of Star Wars into something you dread or hate. It’s hoping that Star Wars internet stranger becomes a friend over shared ideas and pin-trading. 

Star Wars is about family and friends who become family. It’s about higher ideals and always striving for that illusive perfect. Rather than giving up because it’s impossible, Star Wars shows us we keep fighting to make things better. That, maybe, one day, a Rebellion won’t be necessary. 

But for now, Star Wars fandom is a perfectly imperfect mess that can — and should — be better than what it all too often is.


[i] Here are just a few examples: 

Culture, Identities and Technology in the Star Wars Films: Essays on the Two Trilogies, edited by Carl Silvio and Tony M. Vinci. McFarland, 2007.

Busch, Caitlin. “The Best Responses to the Crazy Men-Only Cut of The Last Jedi.” SyFy Wire, 16 Jan. 2018, https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/the-best-responses-to-the-crazy-men-only-cut-of-the-last-jedi

Culture, Identities and Technology in the Star Wars Films: Essays on the Two Trilogies, edited by Carl Silvio and Tony M. Vinci. McFarland, 2007.

Brown, Jeffrey. “#wheresRey: Feminism, Protest, and Merchandising Sexism in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Feminist Media Studies, vol. 18, no. 3, 2018, pp. 335–48.

Garber, Megan. “Star Wars: The Feminism Awakens.” The Atlantic, 19 Dec. 2015, https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/12/star-wars-the-feminism-awakens/420843/

Hillman, Melissa. “Why So Many Men Hate The Last Jedi But Can’t Agree On Why.” Bitter Gertrude, 4 Jan. 2018, https://bittergertrude.com/2018/01/04/why-so-many-men-hate-the-last-jedi-but-cant-agree-on-why/

Johnson, Derek. “‘May the Force Be with Katie’: Pink Media Franchising and the Postfeminist Politics of HerUniverse.” Feminist Media Studies, vol. 14, no. 6, 2014, pp. 895–911

Smith, Ann. “A Force for Good: Why The Last Jedi Is the Most Triumphantly Feminist Star Wars Movie Yet.” The Guardian, 18 Dec. 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/dec/18/star-wars-the-last-jedi-women-bechdel-test

Weekes, Princess. “The Treatment of POC & Women in The Last Jedi.” The Mary Sue, 22 Dec. 2017, https://bittergertrude.com/2018/01/04/why-so-many-men-hate-the-last-jedi-but-cant-agree-on-why/

Zakarin, Jordan. “How the Alt-Right and Nostalgic Trolls Hijacked Geek Pop Culture.” SyFy Wire, 17 Jan. 2018, https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/how-the-alt-right-and-nostalgic-trolls-hijacked-geek-pop-culture?fbclid=IwAR0ngj1zw28vNWgWLFW-wbgTZN-L-vEXZu-IoOOhfscHwV1fIlFifPjdFgM

For Feminism, Fandom, & Popular Culture More Generally: 

Crossley, Alison Dahl. Finding Feminism: Millennial Activists and the Unfinished Gender Revolution. New York University Press, 2017.

Ingalls, Victoria. “Sex Differences in the Creation of Fictional Heroes with Particular Emphasis on Female Heroes and Superheroes in Popular Culture: Insights from Evolutionary Psychology.” Review of General Psychology, vol. 16, no. 2, 2012, pp. 208–21.

Nally, Claire, and Angela Smith. Twenty-First Century Feminism: Forming and Performing Femininity. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Palumbo, Allison. Strong, Independent, and In Love: Fighting Female Fantasies in Popular Culture. University of Kentucky, 2016, http://dx.doi.org/10.13023/ETD.2016.152.