As you may have heard, things haven’t been too great in Star Wars fandom lately. While all fandoms (or even groups of people in general) attract bigotry and unsavoury people, Star Wars has taken the cake, especially after the release of The Last Jedi.
Whether it’s a response to increased diversity or just the sci-fi fandom iteration of our society’s growing pains into the digital age, toxicity in Star Wars fandom has taken an interesting centre stage in conversations about media and even politics.
But while some try to parse out why Russian bots were involved in the vocal backlash to The Last Jedi, or why Lucasfilm hasn’t done anything about it, a group of fans on Twitter took another approach .A year ago today, I, along with several other Star Wars fans, podcasters, and writers, started a hashtag called #SWRepMatters.
Calling this franchise to task doesn’t mean we don’t love it. We call it to task because we do. #SWRepMatters
— ???? Wakandan Sith Witch ???? (@southerncynic) September 14, 2018
Many of us had connected (obviously) over our love of Star Wars, but realised that our conversations were dominated by topics about representation. From responding to trolls complaining that Lucasfilm dare cast black and Asian people as protagonists, to calling out the glaring lack of LGBTQ+ representation in the galaxy far, far away — we wanted to channel these conversations into something more meaningful.
— Yolanda Machado (@SassyMamainLA) October 20, 2017
This is why #SWRepMatters. I saw myself in Star Wars. I’ve waited 30 years for that. I cried. I want other POC fans to experience that.
— Jess, feminazGHOUL ???? (@spacejessss) October 20, 2017
A lot of us are queer, disabled, and/or people of colour, and felt left behind by Star Wars, something we all love so dearly. The hashtag came about before The Last Jedi, but ever since The Force Awakens, Star Wars fandom had been slowly going downhill into a racist, misogynist Sarlacc pit.
There are a lot of fan campaigns out there, many of them very cringy (please let me never hear the words "Snyder cut" ever again), and run by fans who feel entitled to the exact thing they want from creators. We wanted #SWRepMatters to be a place where people could share their stories, point out where Star Wars had come up short, and ask for better in a constructive way.
— Thandie Newton (@thandienewton) May 15, 2018
— Ron Seoul-Oh (@CPThrio) October 20, 2017
Shortly after deciding on a name and a date for our first Twitter discussion, this adorable tweet (by the creator of #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe) went viral:
— ???????????????????? ???????????????????? ???????? ???????????? ???????????????????????????? (@Maria_Giesela) October 20, 2017
It quickly became the blueprint for a movement: If people can see how representation has been a positive Force (pun intended) for Star Wars fans, we can change the conversation from "Star Wars ruined my childhood" to "Star Wars changed my life, and I want it to continue to do so for others."
We spoke with Clarissa Yazzie, the voice actor who played Princess Leia in the Diné version of A New Hope, about stepping into the iconic role & the power of language preservation. Check out today's #SWRepMatters for amazing conversations about Native representation! pic.twitter.com/heZZogs9Uo
— Looking for Leia (@LookingForLeia) July 6, 2018
— Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) October 20, 2017
Each month, the campaign has had a conversation about a different kind of representation in Star Wars. Some people write long threads about a certain character in the canon that spoke to them and their identity, while others point out moments where Lucasfilm could have done better.
when i saw the hashtag filled w others who also love SW but were being critical of it as well, i got sooooo happy
these strangers on the internet were having the conversations i was craving! i’m a big believer in being critical of the media we consume. it’s been amazing
— spooky stardust crusader ☭???????? (@ariannaisgone) October 26, 2018
— Jess, feminazGHOUL ???? (@spacejessss) October 20, 2017
— SKELETRINA ???????? (@ohcatrina) October 26, 2018
— Damned-ny (@DannyPirtle19) October 26, 2018
Shout out to the Star Wars books, where I have seen more in terms of representation than in any other media (I see you Star Wars animation, you go right ahead & catch up, that'll be fine). And to the creators who are listening & making the decision for inclusion. 4/#SWRepMatters
— Manda @ Geek Girl Con (@MandaTheGinger) October 26, 2018
The best parts though, have been all the people who shared their stories of empowerment -- and the people who learned from them:
Really thankful for #SWRepMatters over the last year. Following this has allowed me to learn many different things about many different people. I’ve always known that representation in media matters, but this shows the exact “why” with personal stories from diverse backgrounds.
— Travis (@8tb24) October 26, 2018
Happy anniversary to the amazing people behind #SWRepMatters! I was lucky enough to watch this movement begin, and am grateful for the strong, diverse voices it has promoted. Thanks for the chance to listen and learn, SWRM. Everyone should see themselves in the stars! @starwars
— Michal does not do Halloween anything (@inkasrain) October 26, 2018
I'm so grateful for everyone who has engaged with me and/or @bookwarspod over the past year, but I'm even more grateful for everything I've learned. It's scary to share, and marginalized folks never owe education to those with more privilege. #SWRepMatters
— Scared-y Kate ???? has an anxiety problem ???? (@lu_sitania) October 26, 2018
#SWRepMatters and the dedicated individuals behind it, have achieved real success in the past year.
Although Lucasfilm is turning the ship with more representation, there is still the struggle for all motion picture studios.
I learned so much, and they have my thanks.
— Max Palas (@maxpalas) October 26, 2018
Also this tweet because I had my finger over the tweet button for what felt like hours, terrified to actually say this out loud. I don’t think I would’ve ever been able to hit send if it weren’t for #SWRepMatters https://t.co/16SlJLTC2I
— ???? Abighoul Gleason ???? (@abbygleason) October 26, 2018
Happy anniversary #SWRepMatters !
It is really inspiring to have a space for healthy discussion regarding diversity inclusion on a galaxy far, far away!
— Spooky Noor Van Dyne ???? (@noorhal) October 26, 2018
While there is a lot of sadness at feeling left out, the prevailing feeling is of joy, and love for these stories. People have shared how they connected with a more obscure character from the books or comics, or how increased diversity could have helped a weaker storyline.
— Emma Ghost! ???????? Boo! ???????????????????????????? (@EMfys_Nest) October 26, 2018
Give us Rae Sloane, Vi Moradi, Ciena Ree. Their stories should go beyond mere books. Rae was instrumental in starting the First Order! Your new big bad in this universe. THERE IS A STORY TO TELL. #SWRepMatters pic.twitter.com/Suj7RZRC84
— ???? Wakandan Sith Witch ???? (@southerncynic) January 19, 2018
After The Last Jedi fallout, it seemed like these conversations were more important than ever. Things were becoming all about the trolls and toxicity, and not about the things we like and also want to see. Star Wars has struck a chord in our current political climate -- and it's precisely because of this that representation in the galaxy far, far away (both in front of and behind the camera) matters so much.
If Star Wars, which makes so much money, which people will love no matter what Rian Johnson does to their childhoods, can do it, why can't the rest of the media? The love of Star Wars crosses borders, generations, and cultures, so it is the perfect franchise to lead the way.
Star Wars is such a big franchise, it has the chance to allow people who don't normally empathize w/ PoC/queer folks to do so. #SWRepMatters
— Allie (@tinyasterisms) October 20, 2017