Amandla Stenberg stars in “The Acolyte.”

Lucasfilm Ltd. / Courtesy of Disney+ (Public Domain)

‘The Acolyte’ hate proves the ‘Star Wars’ fandom is just as toxic as ever

These critiques beg the question: are these people really fans of Star Wars at all?


Kira Deshler

Pop Culture

Decoding Fandom is a weekly column that dives deep into the world of fan culture and runs on Wednesdays in the Daily Dot’s web_crawlr newsletter. If you want to get this column a day before we publish it, subscribe to web_crawlr, where you’ll get the daily scoop of internet culture delivered straight to your inbox. 

Has there ever been a modern Star Wars property not embroiled in controversy? It’s hard to think of an example.

Considering the fandom’s propensity for toxic discourse, it comes as no surprise that the new Disney+ Star Wars series The Acolyte was met with a considerable amount of vitriol when it premiered last week.

Created by Leslye Headland, the series is set 100 years before the events of The Phantom Menace and follows a Jedi Master tasked with investigating a series of crimes. The cast of the series includes Amandla Stenberg, Lee Jung-jae, Charlie Barnett, Dafne Keen, Rebecca Henderson (Headland’s wife), Jodie Turner-Smith, and Carrie-Anne Moss.

The Acolyte has re-animated long-standing debates in the fandom that have been circulating at least since The Force Awakens. While reviewed positively by many critics, the series was review-bombed on Rotten Tomatoes by angry internet users and supposed Star Wars fans. These haters refer to anyone who positively reviewed the series as “shills,” accusing critics of being in the pocket of Disney and lacking all credibility—a common accusation among fans.

The first point of critique has to do with the series’ apparent lack of veracity within the Star Wars universe. A popular post on X depicts star Charlie Barnett mistakenly suggesting that Anakin blew up the Death Star instead of Luke. Acolyte haters use this interview to illustrate that the show’s cast and crew don’t know much about Star Wars and thus shouldn’t be working on the project at all. Another common criticism relates to the logic of fire in space, which haters frequently point to as a reason the show is idiotic and doesn’t make sense. One Star Wars fan dismissed the show before it premiered because of Headland’s intention to explore the history of the Sith, thus messing with previous canon.

‘The Acolyte’ discourse and bigotry

When you look a little bit deeper, the real criticisms emerge. While it’s true that a certain subset of Star Wars fans are sticklers about maintaining canon, the overarching discourse here is not about narrative discrepancies—it’s about bigotry

It’s not just that there’s fire in space, it’s that fire in space “is what happens when you put a chick in it and make it lame & gay” (an oft-repeated South Park reference). Haters latched on to Headland’s humorous suggestion that it’s “existing canon that R2-D2 is a lesbian” and criticized her for casting her wife instead of including Yoda. These critics hate the series’ cast and see the show’s diversity as the reason for its failure.

Series star Amandla Stenberg has become the face of these fans’ contempt. In a 2018 interview with Trevor Noah about her film The Hate U Give, which is about racist violence, Stenberg joked that “white people crying actually was the goal” of the movie. The clip was shared by the account End Wokeness and has been viewed millions of times. Haters responded to the clip with outrage despite the fact that it has nothing to do with The Acolyte. Many called Stenberg racist and proclaimed that they would not watch the show because of her comments. 

Such anti–woke fans are quick to distinguish themselves from the masses. They call other fans “Disney Star Wars” fans and make a sharp distinction between the franchise before and after Disney, implicitly hating on anything that falls into the latter category. The underlying assumption here is that Disney fans lack discerning taste, don’t care about franchise lore, and are more interested in diversity and representation than accuracy or logic.

These critiques beg the question: are these people really fans of Star Wars at all? Such users seem to despise all modern iterations of the franchise, and many of them admitted to not even watching the series they so detest. “I can’t wait to hear the opinions about The Acolyte from all the people that haven’t enjoyed a Star Wars project since 1983,” one X user wrote.

Their reproach has little to do with passion for Star Wars—instead, it’s an excuse to spout bigotry at every turn. They may express a desire to protect the purity and legacy of the franchise, but what they’re really protecting is their own prejudice. 

Why it matters

The Star Wars fandom is perhaps the most quintessential example of fandom toxicity. In this case, these so-called fans are using the guise of fandom to spread their bigoted views while misconstruing the franchise they purport to love. Star Wars began as a story about the struggle between the dark side and the light, and its clear which side these imperial haters have chosen.

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