The Agony and Ecstasy of a Star Wars Fan

It's a great time to be a Star Wars fan. It's also a really bad time...

While holidays based on puns are probably not something the collective culture should be proud of, May the 4th—otherwise known as “Star Wars Day” or “May the Fourth Be With You”—seems fairly innocent and, at least in its conception, downright sweet. Sweet because the pun itself—a reference to the good-hearted phrase “May the Force Be With You”— seems like the kind of joke a little kid would come up with. And you could argue (and many have) that this is exactly like Star Wars itself: a complicated story beloved by adults that is actually designed for babies. Still, as much as I complain about Star Wars, cry about Star Wars, and cry while watching Star Wars, I am technically not an actual baby. The tug-of-war over why Star Wars matters to people keeps changing and is probably why now of all times is both the best of times and the worst of times to be in love with that galaxy far, far away…

At this point, when you say “Star Wars Fan” you may as well just be saying “Person in the World,” mostly because any stereotypical and derogatory image we may have once had of “Star Wars Fan” has gone bye-bye in the past ten years or so. This isn’t to say there haven’t always been non-male or non-white Star Wars fans, there obviously have, just that a lazy mainstream media image of a dorky white-guy who knows the entire lineage of Jabba the Hutt’s family should no longer be the zeitgeist’s go-to when we mention this particular group of “fans.”

Still, when I was out on book tour for my essay collection—Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths—I did occasionally encounter the old-school stereotypical “Star Wars Fan,” a white male who was more than willing to tell me that he disagreed with me—vehemently—about Star Wars and what it means. Having been forged in the fire of childhood playground arguments about Star Wars (and Star Trek, too), it wasn’t that I wasn’t accustomed to this kind of treatment. Instead, I was sick of it.

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Every week, I have to block a handful of vengeful Star Wars fans who say all sorts of nasty things to me regarding my opinions of Star Wars. Whether they’re responding to a recent piece I wrote about the ascendant feminism of Ahsoka Tano on The Clone Wars and Rebels, or taking lines out of context from my book and claiming that I have “no right to talk about Star Wars that way,” or just telling me that I’m awful, abuse from what we might have once dismissively called “Star Wars Nerds” comes from all angles. Knee-jerk jerky Internet comments aren’t unique to Star Wars discussions (duh) but in our brave new world of inclusion, it really feels like something people should think about before they reinforce a stereotype that desperately needs to be shed.

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Because the vast majority of “Star Wars Fans” aren’t like that at all. Most of us are people who are just extremely excited and uniquely stimulated by the fantasy situations and concepts this wonderful fictional kingdom has to offer. True, there are racist and sexist Star Wars fans, but like I said, there are racist and sexists people in all sorts of sub-cultures. I’m not saying we don’t need to worry about these social ills, but I am saying it’s good to remember, on a day like today, that the little anger-pots who sound like Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons or sexist trolls who hate Rey or weird racists who can’t deal with Finn are NOT—or at least shouldn’t be—who we think of when we think of Star Wars fans.

I’ve faced down the anger-pots and walked away with a smile on my face. I’ve blocked the trolls. I don’t have it near as bad as women or minorities (in general and in Star Wars fandom), but I’ve got some battle scars, now. I don’t mind engaging with nitpicky Star Wars fans (usually), but when people start to call names or get crazy, I have to remind myself that anger does in fact lead to the Dark Side.

In the last essay in my book (“The Fans Awaken”), I tried to argue for a more enlightened and forgiving attitude for all Star Wars fans to adopt. To recognize the artistic and narrative flaws of the existing stuff, but to maybe forgive George Lucas for things we’re not crazy about. There, I said I believed there’s still good in us, like Luke believed of his father, Darth Vader. In The Force Awakens, Leia echoes this sentiment for her Dark Side-ensconced son, Ben, saying “There’s still light in him.” And yet, Ben Solo/Kylo Ren exhibits the worst qualities of a Star Wars Fan Gone Bad! He only believes in the classics (loves Darth Vader) and hates what his elders have done (kills Han Solo.) Most of us felt horror and anger when Kylo Ren stabbed Han Solo, but some Star Wars fans who have hated on other Star Wars fans (or George Lucas) probably felt a tinge of guilt. I know I did. Kylo Ren is a wholly successful Star Wars villain because he represents what could happen to Star Wars fans if they give into their anger—to become myopically sure their own narrow view is how the entire fandom should exist.

The nature of being a Star Wars fan—at least as an adult—might not be able to unravel itself from conversational conflict. These films touched so many of us so deeply in a way that might have once made all of us totally raw. For the devout, initial exposure to Star Wars creates an exposed emotional nerve, meaning we might not always be rational when we’re discussing it: what we talk about when we talk about Star Wars is wrapped up in reliving the agony and ecstasy of just how deep it first cut us. Just recently, I was on the phone with a good friend of mine where we disagreed fairly sharply about our relative enthusiasm for the impending “stand-alone” movie Star Wars: Rogue One. He and I have the luxury of almost 20 years of friendship, which means if we get rowdy about how much Darth Vader should figure into the plot of this movie, we’re in a safe zone. Not all discussions about art people love need to be tame or watered-down. But they should be open-ended. If Star Wars teaches us anything about human nature it’s that it asserts the simple fact that people can in fact change.

Cynically, we might say this idea of personal change—not the lighsabers and magic—is the most unrealistic aspect of these stories. In real life, evil Dark Lords aren’t usually forgiven, scheming con men don’t become heroes, and poverty-ridden people living alone in the middle of nowhere don’t often go on heroic quests. And yet, it’s in this power of change—either a change of heart or circumstances—that we must continue to believe in Star Wars, now more than ever. In a soon-to-be-released book called The World According to Star Wars, author Cass R. Sunstein argues strongly for this bright-side way of thinking Star Wars engenders, “One being sees, and insists on, the good in another, even in the aftermath of the most terrible acts.”

Star Wars fans will continue to quibble about the details, probably because we can’t help it. The Force is strong with us. Maybe we were born that way or maybe learned it. How we use that is up to us. Yoda told Luke that the way to employ the Force (one’s own gifts) was for “knowledge and defense, never for attack.” So, if you’re a Star Wars fan (or a layperson!), keep that in your heart the next time you’re arguing about Star Wars, or literally, anything else. After all, there is still light in all of us.

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Ryan Britt is the author of the book Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths ( Plume/Penguin Random House). His work has appeared in The New York TimesVICEThe Morning NewsElectric LiteratureBarnes & Noble Sci-Fi and extensively, for He lives in New York City.