It’s not controversial to say that the last few years in the Star Wars fandom have been, well, tumultuous. From fans mad that Rey was a “Mary Sue” in The Force Awakens to them petitioning to fire Rian Johnson because they were unhappy with The Last Jedi to fans now upset with J.J. Abrams’ wild pendulum swing with Rise of Skywalker, it’s been a bit rough.

But if it’s been hard for fans, it’s been even harder for the actors involved. After all, Johnson and Abrams only have to hear it about one movie while the actors have to hear it about all three.

Rey actress Daisy Ridley finally opened up in a recent interview on the DragCast podcast about the ride and what it’s been like to be at the center of so much backlash as a Star Wars cast member. The Star Wars movies have evolved out of necessity, but that evolution came with some upset from fans who feel proprietary over the franchise and it left the cast feeling a bit bewildered and blindsided, Ridley admitted. But she was quick to point out it comes from a place of love:

“It’s changed film by film honestly, like 98% it’s so amazing, this last film it was really tricky. January was not that nice. It was weird, I felt like all of this love that we’d sort of been shown the first time around, I was like, ‘Where’s the love gone?’ I watched the documentary, the making-of [‘The Skywalker Legacy’], this week, and it’s so filled with love, and I think it’s that tricky thing of when you’re part of something that is so filled with love and then people [don’t like it].”

Still, even if Ridley can understand that the criticism and backlash all stem from a place of love, that love hasn’t always been expressed kindly or in a healthy way. From fair-minded and reasonable criticism to the scathing snark of some critical reviews to outright harassment and threats from the more unhinged contingent of the internet, reading it all as an actor in the Star Wars universe can be hard, and not always good for one’s peace of mind. Ridley herself left social media in 2016, at the time saying it was “highly unhealthy for people’s mental health.” She’s been vocal ever since about never returning. Fellow Star Wars actress Kelly Marie Tran left in 2018 after receiving months of harassment because some fans weren’t happy with her portrayal of Rose Tico. John Boyega, who has a strong social media presence, has regularly mixed it up with trolls and has made no secret of how he feels about fan entitlement or harassment.

Ridley spoke about how the immediacy of social media creates a toxic environment:

“You know, everyone’s entitled to not like something, but it feels like it’s changed slightly. But I think in general that’s because social media and what have you…I guess now conversations are just more public, so there’s stuff I wouldn’t have seen, but honestly trying to scroll through my newsfeed in January and trying to not see Star Wars stuff, I’d see headlines and be like, ‘Oh my God, this is so upsetting.’ So it’s been tricky, but then it’s having that thing of ‘I feel really proud of it,’ and ‘I’m so thrilled to be part of it.’ Yeah, but it’s a funny thing.”

There’s certainly something to be learned here. Social media is a tool that can be used for great good and amazing things have come out of it – look no further than how people, including celebrities, are using it to help people and charities during the coronavirus. And it’s been an incredible platform for actors and filmmakers and writers to build a sense of community within fandoms, from answering questions to livetweets of TV shows and movies.

But that feeling of immediacy can trick fans into believing they’re closer to a celebrity than they actually are and that they have some sort of right to dictate what an actor or director does. When that happens, lines are blurred and respectful interaction can quickly turn into harassment – even lowly film critics and entertainment journalists like yours truly have experienced that from followers. Ridley’s words are a good reminder for us, especially at a time when we’re on social media more than ever before thanks to quarantine, that drawing boundaries is necessary. Boundaries for those experiencing backlash or attention, to remind them it’s okay and healthy to not engage every time. And boundaries for fans in order to maintain respectful relationships and not get consumed by entitlement.

Hopefully, the Star Wars-fueled tumult on social media will serve as an evolution in the relationship between fans and creators. At its best, that relationship communicative and collaborative, with mutual respect flowing both ways. Fingers crossed, the Star Wars fandom follows suit.

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