Despite the fact that Finn didn’t get all that much to do in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and the first wave of heated discussion about the movie has come and gone, John Boyega’s name has been in the mouths of many a disgruntled Star Wars fan lately because of comments the actor made regarding his feelings about the franchise as a whole.
We’re pretty sure you’ve seen Rise of Skywalker by this point but just in case...
Boyega made headlines this week after posting a comment to an Instagram post in which he jokingly mused that, with Kylo Ren/Ben Solo dead following the events of The Rise of Skywalker, Finn and Rey could find themselves romantically involved the way The Force Awakens originally hinted the two characters might have been meant to. But because Boyega’s joke focused on the idea of Finn and Rey having sex rather than being in a relationship, a number of Star Wars fans were quick to accuse the actor of coming from a place of misogyny.
In response to the accusations that his joke was somehow a reflection of his jealousy towards his Star Wars co-star Adam Driver (by an account which has since been accused of impersonating a black woman), Boyega trolled the trolls right back and kept things moving—the kind of behavior we should all try to emulate in the new year.
Fans having outsized and vitriolic responses to those who in any way criticize or challenge the properties they love is nothing new or particularly interesting, but Boyega’s willingness to (briefly) set aside his Company Man™ self in order to speak candidly to the public in response to them attacking him is refreshing because of how infrequently we see high-profile celebrities doing that—especially stars attached to such high-profile, ostensibly family-oriented film franchises. Here was another one of his recent tweets:
Bear in mind, this isn’t the first time Boyega’s caught flack for saying things about sex in Star Wars. Boyega faced similar criticisms in 2017 after he posted video of himself dancing with a woman at the annual Notting Hill Carnival which prompted some to accuse him of acting inappropriately in public, to which the actor responded by stating that in another universe, Rey, would probably enjoy getting down at a raucous street festival if she was real and could do that sort of thing.
Of course, Rey’s not real, but that’s never been the real issue. What is real, though, is that people have repeatedly felt the need to come out of the woodwork to aggressively police the sexuality of a grown-ass Black man who was minding his own business and having a small laugh. It’d be nice to think that Boyega doesn’t deal with this all that often, but that doesn’t at all seem to be the case. The larger point is that throughout almost the whole of his run as one of Star Wars’ central characters, Boyega—like essentially all of the actors portraying Star Wars characters who aren’t white men—has been the recipient of an inordinate amount of what seems to be outright hatred for having the audacity to simply be themselves in public spaces.
Both Daisy Ridley and Kelly Marie Tran became the targets of unhinged, sexist, (and in Tran’s case, racist) outrage from fans who couldn’t make peace with the fact that the actresses were even in Star Wars movies. But what’s happening right now feels somewhat different because this most recent trilogy within the franchise has come to a close, and more than a few of the stars have made little effort to hide how exhausted they’ve all been by the experience.
None of the actors have come out directly and said something as startling as “god, I really wish the fans would chill and let me live,” but you can feel that energy radiating from Ridley in at least one interview where she was asked her thoughts about the people who were eager to see Kylo Ren and Rey become an item. Oscar Isaac’s joked about wishing that Poe had died in The Force Awakens as was originally planned, and while Tran hasn’t spoken out about the way that Rose Tico was effectively erased from The Rise of Skywalker, it’s difficult to imagine that the actress doesn’t feel at least somewhat vindicated by the scores of fans who’ve called the filmmakers out for making that narrative decision.
Regardless of how you feel about Boyega’s specific choice of words, the fact is that he’s consistently felt comfortable enough be open about his all-too-understandable feelings, despite the fact that said feelings would upset fans. Often, when we think about the celebrities who work on these kinds of projects, the assumption’s that it is verboten to speak out in any way that might upset consumers (because that’s what audiences are from a corporate perspective—consumers). Star Wars is such an important brand within Disney’s larger portfolio of IP that one would imagine that sort of thinking would be the company’s default position, and it probably is. But Star Wars’ sheer scale and cultural cache is precisely what makes the way Boyega’s chosen to clap back at unruly fans so important, because it’s an excellent reminder that these actors are still just people playing fictional characters and fans should be more respectful when interacting with them regardless of how much they love Star Wars.
It’s one thing when one segment of a fandom attempts to rein in another, unruly, chaotic segment, and another when people in true positions of power over the franchise the fandom is built upon decide to speak up as well. It’s rare to see people from the top come down to share a piece of their minds in earnest with the whole of a fandom, but that shouldn’t be the case. Those kinds of interactions are what encourage people to stop, step back, and think “This...is just a movie and/or a television series, and perhaps I should take a breath, and calm the hell down.”
It’s true. You should.
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