‘Star Wars Celebration’ in the Wake of Toxic Fandom

I have been a fan of Star Wars since I was a child. My parents introduced the original trilogy to my sisters and me and it’s been a huge part of my life since. But, I never wanted to attend Star Wars Celebration, a convention started in 1999 and runs about every other year. Over the past twenty years, they’ve traveled across the US, and even into Europe and Asia. A cousin of mine attends when Celebration takes place in Orlando and always tells us he had a great time.

When the 2019 Celebration was announced, I made sure to grab a pass. Also, it was held in Chicago, a city I had never visited before. Previous Celebrations showcase the first look at the latest movie. With Episode IX looming, being the first to see any footage with a group of fans was bound to be a highlight of my life.

Still, something kept giving me some pause even after I bought my pass. There has been constant negativity hounding the fandom since The Last Jedi came out. Negativity in Star Wars is nothing new. The prequels are widely disliked by most fans and the actor who played Jar Jar Binks, Ahmed Best, was bullied frequently. But that was before social media even became a thing. If anything, social media has caused people to become more brazen. It infected this community that was built on hope and family.

When Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, I was excited for new movies. JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens was great but some people on the internet complained that it was a shot-for-shot remake of A New Hope (it’s not) and that Rey is a Mary Sue (again, no). More complaints started to appear after Rogue One that Star Wars had become “too political.” That’s hilarious given that the original trilogy was George Lucas’ protest against the Vietnam War and the Empire is pretty closely related to Nazis. But it all became extremely toxic after the release of The Last Jedi.

To me, it was a breath of fresh air. I left the theater wondering how people could even begin to call it a shot-for-shot remake of Empire Strikes Back. It was such a radical departure from the previous films and to some fans, that was the final straw. These fans felt entitled to that their theories about Snoke and Rey’s parents were more important than what Rian Johnson chose to show. They didn’t want surprises, they wanted their own vision fulfilled and that’s not how these movies work. Since December 2017, they constantly attack Johnson on Twitter and criticize Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy all day long. But most disgusting was that they bullied Kelly Marie Tran off social media because they didn’t like her character, Rose Tico.

What was once such a fun place, talking about Star Wars became exhausting. Would Celebration be a haven for the toxic fans bringing everyone else down?

I am very happy to report that these toxic fans really are only a vocal minority. Celebration was probably the most positive experience I have ever been a part of. It was beautiful. Everyone was very friendly, trading pins and sharing their opinions respectfully.

At the Episode IX panel, Kelly Marie Tran was greeted with a chant of her name and it brought out major tears. JJ Abrams doubled down and said that Rian Johnson’s best work was casting her as Rose. Throughout the weekend, I saw many Rose cosplays and at a panel celebrating the women of Star Wars, Rose got the loudest cheer. Kathleen Kennedy did not get booed during either of her main stage appearances. Another wonderful thing to happen was Ahmed Best got a standing ovation at The Phantom Menace 20th Anniversary panel as well as major love on The Star Wars Show Live stage.

On a smaller scale, there was also a panel called #SWRepMatters, which was about the Twitter movement for more diversity. There were some amazing panelists and really did open my eyes to how much more the franchise could be doing for underrepresented groups. It was great to have more voices discuss how the franchise should be going forward. And again, they were always respectful because at the core of it all, we all like the same thing. We don’t want it to go away.

The true fans who understand the exact message Star Wars is putting out were pushing back against this toxicity. I only encountered one person with negative things to say about The Last Jedi (and they focused mostly on Rose, which irked me). And the very last day was the only time I heard people be negative toward Kennedy. It was incredible. I left the convention feeling such love and positivity toward this franchise. It was even better than I thought it was going to be. The announcement during the closing ceremony about the next Celebration happening in 2020 was so exciting! I wish I could live in that kind of environment for the rest of my life.


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