I intend to post a lot about some of my favorite franchises on Digression Girl. One that is near and dear to me is Star Wars. The fandom has received its share of bad press over the last few years. A lot of it is deserved, but I also think it’s due to a small but vocal part of the whole. I wanted to put my thoughts regarding what it means to be a passionate fan into writing. Some of my posts will be critical, sometimes a bit sarcastic, but I want to use this time to lay out my opinion on the differences between positive and negative passionate fans.
I am a life-long Star Wars fan. I grew up with the Original Trilogy, spent my teens marveling at the birth and growth of the Expanded Universe and as an adult have watched with joy as my kids have become obsessed with the Galaxy Far, Far Away (GFFA for short). Between the books, movies, comics, shows, and games I couldn’t guess at the amount of time I’ve spent in the Star Wars universe.
With that much passion, there comes a bit of possessiveness. I am excited when new entries into this universe are announced. I have opinions, sometimes strong opinions, regarding the characters, stories, and writing. More than I would about other franchises. This passion comes out in spirited discussions about various aspects of the universe. I can talk at length about how characters have developed, whether a story fits with the internal consistency of the universe, who I think would be a good casting choice and more. I theorize about plots based on very little information. Is this nerdy? Yes. Is it fun? Absolutely.
This passion and possessiveness isn’t unique to Star Wars fandom. Throughout all areas of entertainment, you have fans who have similar reactions to the franchises that they love. Comic book fans become vocal when changes are made to their favorite characters or a new creative team takes over their favorite title. Fans of movie franchises have no shortage of opinions when a casting is announced. If a writer has the story move in an unexpected direction fans will react. I’m not just talking about fans of the more geeky side of things either. When a band changes their sound, fans react just as strongly. A sports team trades a long time player, or sometimes worse, a player signs with a rival during the off season, the fans of that team will react loudly.
To me, this means the franchises are doing a good job of pulling us in. We, as fans, invest time and money into these forms of entertainment. If something happens that changes the thing we fell in love with, and have invested time and money into, we will be disappointed. This is a normal part of being part of a fandom. It helps the fans engage. A franchise with that much engagement also leads to financial success. These fans buy the merchandise, go to the movies, read the stories, they keep it going. The conversations often lead to a lot of publicity, especially when the conversations are constructive, and help grow the fan base.
That’s the good side of passionate fans.
When fans feel that their passion and possessiveness makes them entitled, we enter the bad side of fandom. It’s one thing to dislike something. It’s another thing to ridicule others that disagree with you or try to be the authority on how someone should feel about the franchise. These are the gatekeepers. They’re the ones who will tell you that you’re not a true fan. They feel like they should be the sole authority on who is worthy enough to be considered a fan. They complain about changes to a franchise “ruining” their childhood. To them, the franchise has betrayed them, as if it was a personal slight.
The bad is more obnoxious than anything else. It’s when they take things further that it gets ugly.
The ugly side of the fandom is what happens when passionate fans take the entitlement a step further. They are the ones that will review bomb something they don’t like. These are the ones that harass and threaten reviewers they don’t agree with. They send sexist and racist messages. They are the worst of any fandom and they give the rest of us a bad name.
Bringing this back to Star Wars . . .
I remember going with my friends to see The Phantom Menace. We all grew up loving the Original Trilogy and were ecstatic that we were going to be seeing a new Star Wars movie. When it ended we all walked out of the theater, complaining about how bad it was. If The Phantom Menace was the first ever Star Wars movie, I still wouldn’t have liked it, but I wouldn’t have left the theater as disappointed as I was. I would have chalked it up as simply a bad movie. But I went in with the weight of all that time and money I spent watching the Original Trilogy, buying and reading the books and comics, on my shoulders. I felt let down. In my view, this is a normal reaction.
I’m going on, at length, in order to establish who I am and where I’m coming from when I write. If I’m writing about a franchise it’s because I am passionate about the topic. I will criticize parts of the franchises I love. But I’m not here to take apart things either. I’ll talk about the good and bad. What I’ll never do is turn into a bad or ugly fan. Feel free to disagree and argue with me, as long as it’s kept civil. The passion of being a fan is one of the great things of fandom. Be it sports, music, comic books, or movies, that passion is what allows us to have conversations. This brings fans together, makes sites like Digression Girl possible, and creates new friendships.
I hope this is the start of a lot of new conversations.