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The Last Jedi backlash: Some of the fan reaction is truly disturbing

 

Laura Dern in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 

Imagine that you and a friend are walking out after a screening of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, disagreeing about what you saw.

You liked it, your friend disliked it. No biggie. It makes for an interesting argument afterwards.

But if your friend started using phrases like “Asian sidekick”, the “chubby chick” and “feminazis”, I think you’d probably head quickly for home and resolve to get some new friends.

I’ve spent some time today examining some of the negative reactions to The Last Jedi at IMDB.com and on Twitter. It’s not a pleasant task.

I was researching this blog post in a coffee shop and I felt grubby just sitting in a public place copying some of the phrases I came across: the sneering complaints about “ethnic diversity”, “social justice warriors” and the film’s “Chinese girl”.

Let me say here and now that I don’t have a problem with people disliking The Last Jedi. I had some reservations about it myself, despite generally enjoying it a great deal (and more than I did The Force Awakens).

If you objected to it because of the flaws in its plot, its too earthly humour, or its high-handed disposal of the mysteries that were set up in the previous film, I understand.

But this movie seems to be not only Star Wars Episode VIII but also Culture Wars Episode God-Knows-What.

It’s somehow divided fandom in the same ghastly way that whole nations are being divided by seismic political events like Trump or Brexit.

Scroll down the user reviews on IMDB, if you want to have a demoralising look at the way some people have reacted to the movie. Some reviews are just overwrought (“I’ll never pay to see another Star Wars film” and “RIP Star Wars” are common refrains). But others are rabidly reactionary.

What do whiny SJW politics and animal rights have to do with Star Wars?”, one is titled. The reviewer adds: “It is so sad to see that in order for people to enjoy and accept a movie these days they NEED to see characters who share their views regarding what is politically correct, skin colour, sexual preferences, gender sensitivities, eating habits etc etc etc.”

Another says that “of course the SJW crowd had to have their say making all heroes, general, admirals whatever women and male hero black. And then throw in an Asian sidekick, they mustn’t be forgotten, that would be racist”. (I’ve helped the author out there by adding some punctuation and capitals, and correcting their spelling of ‘racist’, but otherwise I’m quoting accurately.)

Kelly Marie Tran in The Last Jedi

Making a film to please modern feminists, leftists and SJWs has taken priority over making a good Star Wars film,” says another review.

They even had the presence of mind to put a chubby chick as one of the main characters. The body positivity movement at its finest I guess.”

A number of the reviews refer to the character Rey as a “Mary Sue” – that particularly snide term used to put down any capable female protagonist. 

So, how far does The Last Jedi doff its cap to identity politics? How big a deal does it make of its diversity?

If you haven’t seen it, you might be surprised to know that it doesn’t make a great play of these things at all.

It brings back the black British actor John Boyega as the ex-stormtrooper Finn. It has Kelly Marie Tran, an American actress with Vietnamese parents, giving a nice performance as a new character, Rose Tico. And there are more women in senior ranks among the Resistance (aka Rebel) forces this time, including Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Holdo.

But the film doesn’t demand that we admire it for being progressive. These aspects are just there; a fact of life in the Star Wars universe. In a movie that, perhaps unwisely, makes a few attempts at self-referential humour, there aren’t even any jokes that draw attention to its diversity.

In a lot of the hostility to the film, we see the same ultra-conservative tropes that are familiar in today’s political discourse. It’s there in the lazy use of terms like “social justice warriors”, “snowflakes” and “virtue signalling”.

And then there’s the paranoia: The reason mainstream critics generally liked the film must, of course, be that they were paid by Disney. Perhaps inevitably, the term “fake reviews” crops up.

It’s depressing to see the Star Wars franchise under this kind of attack, especially since it seems to be the mere presence of black and Asian faces that has some people riled.

I’d always thought of Star Wars being on the side of the progressives. We’ve read about George Lucas’s objections to Nixon, and later to George W. Bush. The original Star Wars trilogy was about plucky freedom fighters overturning a fascistic regime.

And although there are plenty of conservatives and hard-line libertarians among science fiction followers, I had long thought that SF fandom generally embraced difference and liberality. The reaction to The Last Jedi isn’t the only controversy in recent years that has made me wonder whether I was being naive.

Star Wars, of course, has reached more people than any other science fiction franchise, so maybe it’s only natural there will be a fruitcake element among its fans, ready to spot the evil forces of ‘political correctness’. But it seems some people have been rooting for the Rebels all these years while harbouring attitudes that would be much more at home in the Empire.

 

5 thoughts on "The Last Jedi backlash: Some of the fan reaction is truly disturbing"

  1. Chris says:

    I have some pretty mixed feeling, to be honest.

    There’s no room for dispute (see link below) that Admiral Holdo was a terrible leader. It isn’t exactly unrealistic that someone utterly unprepared for the role should be plunged into it – that’s happened in real life and it generally leads to trouble – but it IS unrealistic to expect people to welcome it when it happens. Poe’s distrust of Holdo, right from the start, is grounded in realism; he had literally zero reason to trust someone who not only can’t be bothered to present herself as a leader, but also unwilling to let her subordinates in on a plan that they might have to carry out if something happened to her. (Everyone who knew about the plan was either dead or MIA, save for Holdo). Yes, this happens in real life.

    What is stupid, however, is condemning a perfectly natural and entirely understandable reaction as somehow wrong. By opposing Holdo, Poe is exhibiting ‘toxic masculinity’ or something equally annoying. Anyone who supports Poe is thus branded a Bad Person and any rational reasons for disliking Holdo are swept under the carpet and delitigitimised. The firm thus tries to uphold a bad choice and a terrible leader rather than acknowledging that Holdo was the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time. They basically spat on their cupcake and then insisted that it was frosting .

    This seems to be a recurring theme. Rey demonstrates a truly staggering development in the Force unmatched by any Jedi or Sith in any of the previous movies. Luke barely uses the Force in ANH, gets his butt kicked by Vader in ESB and barely holds his own against the Emperor and Vader in ROJ. (His father had eight or so years of training between TPM and AOTC.) So yes, Rey is a Mary Sue; a character who is unreasonably good. And again, any critics who dare to point this out are attacked.

    And so on, and so on, and so on … anything to avoid admitting that the critics might have a legitimate point.

    I’m not denying that there are a bunch of loonies in fandom. But one of the problems facing fandom now is that we have forgotten how to tell the difference between legitimate criticism and trolling. (And a second problem is that we have put appearance ahead of good storytelling, as by any reasonable standard TLJ is a pretty bad movie.)

    There’s an echo of this in how Hilary Clinton’s supporters reacted to entirely reasonable questions and concerns about her conduct. Instead of answering the points rationally – or openly admitting that there were no good answers they could give – they went on the offensive and declared that anyone who questioned Hilary was a sexist (and in any case Trump was worse). They wanted to deligitimise their opponents. Instead, they did irreparable harm to her reputation.

    https://chrishernandezauthor.com/2017/12/31/admiral-holdo-wasnt-a-feminist-she-was-just-a-bad-leader/

  2. Ron says:

    If you are person who discards friends, just because sthey dare to make some not “PC” comments, then I think you are the person, that one should avoid befriending. I think that paragraph is typical for our time: Everyone should only be allowed to say nice things that nobody could be offended by. Why? Sometimes a little bit of provocation is good to befire a discussion. Otherwise humanity will turn even more into a herd of sheep than is already true today.

  3. I am glad that your review of the reviews has opened your eyes to this. You’re right about this movie “normalising” a more accurate reflection of the diversity of US society on screen than what we usually get to see. So, this is the reaction you get to this. Let that sink in.

  4. Ron Prichard says:

    ah, the irony of expecting only fit white Christian male heterosexual earthmen to play heroes in a saga that spans a whole galaxy that’s long ago and far, far away.

  5. All this review does not say anything about plot flaws or inconsistencies with the rest of the saga. I understand that someone outside the saga has written it. The fans understand why it turns out to be a bad movie. I value your opinion but I do not share it at all.

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