Last week Jeff wrote a post titled “Your Snoke Theory Doesn’t Suck.” I read it. I appreciated it. I felt it was something that needed to be said. I thought nothing else of it…then the internet exploded. Well, exploded is a strong word but it certainly elicited some surprisingly strong reactions. As I’ve followed some of the Twitter firestorm, it started to bother me. So here we are. I could be grading but my conscience was urging me to write instead. I guess I’ll just be up late finishing those papers! Let me say clearly, whoever you are, wherever you are out there in Star Wars land, I’m reaffirming what Jeff’s already said – really, your Snoke Theory doesn’t suck.
If you’re not immersed in the Star Wars side of the interweb, here’s the issue. A hashtag was created by some people within the fandom – #yoursnoketheorysucks – in reference to all the fan speculation surrounding the identity of The Force Awakens big bad, Supreme Commander Snoke. It trended a bit and stickers, t-shirts, etc. are now being sold with the phrase on them. People like Rian Johnson (director of The Last Jedi) and Ashley Eckstein (voice of Ahsoka Tano from Star Wars: The Clone Wars) have even been photographed holding up the “Your Snoke Theory Sucks” stickers. In response to all of this, Jeff wrote a short piece essentially saying there’s no reason to trash someone else’s idea, in jest or in seriousness. A major part of the fun of Star Wars (and all great stories) is trying to guess what happens next! We all do it. It’s one of the marks of a great story, if it pulls you in so much that you’re obsessing over the characters and where the story may go. It was neither aggressive nor pointed. He simply encouraged us all to be welcoming and supportive of each other’s ideas.
Well the Star Wars fandom (or rather, a small yet noisy subsect of the fandom) didn’t take kindly to Jeff’s call to compassionate presence. Here’s the thing though…he’s right. Period. How is this even an issue? This is why I was so surprised about the fury I saw in some tweets about this! After reading the post, I couldn’t fathom anyone disagreeing, let alone disagreeing with such fervor that they’d feel the need to attack the piece.
The truth of the matter is telling the Star Wars fandom at large “Your Snoke theory sucks” is mean. I’ve seen some tweets saying the whole thing was sarcastic or an inside joke or done in jest. I certainly can’t speak to the mindset that went into creating the phrase but I can say the whole idea’s grown to a point where it’s not just a joke. By its nature, it can’t be. Jeff and I have known each other for over a decade. We discuss Star Wars all the time. He can tell me (or vice versa) that my theories suck in a joking way because we have an existing friendship. For a pseudo-insult to work as a joke there must be a strong foundation of love and respect between the individuals. You have to know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the other doesn’t really think you or your theory sucks. In the absence of such a secure relationship, even if it’s said as a joke it has the potential to be hurtful. That’s not okay. And the moment the phrase is tossed out to the world wide web directed at the fandom in general – especially using clearly caustic language like sucks – the joke is lost. It’s impossible to have the loving, respectful relationship with every individual who reads that post or listens to a podcast that ensures they know you’re only kidding around and you still value who they are and what they have to contribute to the fandom.
When that rhetoric jumps a step farther and we see people like Rian Johnson or Ashley Eckstein holding up those stickers it becomes even more problematic. Imagine for the moment you’re a ten year old kid. You are wrapped up in the world of Star Wars in a way that only youth allows. You live and breathe this stuff. It’s your world. You’ve seen The Force Awakens dozens of times and you love it. Naturally you’ve been wondering about Rey’s parents or whether Kylo Ren will be redeemed or, yes, who Snoke is. You love debating it with your friends. If you see people inside Star Wars, people you admire and/or look to as heroes, glibly holding signs that say your Snoke theory sucks, how is that going to feel? Sure, you may see it as a joke. But you may not. It may hurt too. It may undercut your sense of self or security in your own opinion. And that’s not okay.
I’m not saying any of this was the original intention of the “Your Snoke theory sucks” crowd. But these are the effects that can naturally flow from this sort of callous rhetoric. Regardless of intention, the simple phrase a) undermines anyone’s Snoke theory as being unworthy of consideration or respect and b) separates the fandom into two groups – those who suck and those who are on the inside with the “good” ideas or the in-house knowledge. Regardless of intent, that’s what the language implies. We must be aware of this and we must be cautious.
I presently co-teach a course called Star Wars and Modern Myth-Making with my friend Hannah. In the course, we walk our students through the theological, mythic, symbolic, literary, and musical aspects of the Star Wars Saga. For a final project, we have our students pick something in the wider world of Star Wars – either the Expanded Universe or the Disney Canon – and evaluate it. They choose whether to read a novel, read a year’s worth of comics, watch 15-20 thematically connected episodes in The Clone Wars, or watch The Force Awakens and evaluate it. Then they write a three-to-five page paper where they, among other things, pull out theological symbols, discuss how it uses mythological frameworks, assess character development, and evaluate whether or not it fits thematically with Lucas’ narrative.
This afternoon I had a conversation with one of my students. She’s a newbie to Star Wars, never having seen a single film before taking the class. But she’s come to love the story! She was worried she wouldn’t be able to do the level of analysis required for the paper. I assured her, in all honesty, her insights are among the best in the class. Her notes are insightful. Her writing is brilliant. Her comments in class are nuanced and informed. In short, she’s incredible proof that the class works! She’s doing college-level deconstruction and blowing Hannah and I away with her insights. She was reassured and, I hope, empowered by my honest appraisal of her skills. As we talked, I kept thinking of this Snoke theory issue.
What does this “Your Snoke theory sucks?” rhetoric do to people like my student? What sort of welcome does it offer to Star Wars newbies? How does seeing such abrasive language empower them to trust their ideas or jump into the world of speculation? It doesn’t. Again, I’m not claiming any of this was the original intent of the people who loosed “Your Snoke theory sucks” on the world. I hope it wasn’t. But this is what comes from that sort of callous language. It inhibits people from fully participating in the Star Wars fandom. It divides, intentionally or not, those of us who love Star Wars into “winners” and “losers.” It undermines. It mocks. It is, in all honesty, an avenue to bullying in a very real way. So it’s wrong.
We live in a time where Geek Culture has become mainstream. But this hasn’t always been the case. When I was in middle school and high school (in the late 90’s and early 2000’s) loving comic books and Star Wars wasn’t cool per se but you weren’t viciously persecuted for it. However, the further back in time you go the less accepting mainstream culture becomes of nerdiness. I’ve talked to people five or ten years older than me at my local comic shop who tell stories of being beat up for wearing Star Trek stuff or having their Spider-Man comics stolen and torn. Being a nerd put you on the outside. And, according to those I’ve talked to, with that came a degree of protecting each other. Sure you debated and challenged each other. That’s part of the fun of jumping into stories we love! But you looked out for each other all the same as mainstream culture judged and rejected you. In nerdy circles, all you had were each other.
Now, as Geek Culture has become mainstream (and social media has given people an all-too-easy avenue to spew toxicity surrounding things they “love”), we see cliques arise within fandoms. I grant I’m a bit on the periphery of the Star Wars fandom. I love Star Wars but I’m nowhere near the “inside.” However I see the cliques and the snark and all the horrible high school clichés played out among people who supposedly love the same thing. I see it with comic fans all the time too. I write often of how ridiculous and illogical the hatred towards Legacy Characters is. Yet people still feel the need to attack what they don’t like as opposed to happily dwelling within and celebrating what they do. In this grouping of like-minded individuals with the desire to attack those who think differently we see Geek Culture versions of the “cool kids” and the “uncool kids.”
As a theology teacher, every year I do a unit with my students on bullying. I will never forget a powerful conversation that occurred several years ago. I posed the question, “We all know bullying is bad. We all want to be included. We’ve been seeing assemblies about it since elementary school. Why is this still a problem?” One of my students raised their hand and said, “I know we go through this every year but we don’t really have that problem here. I’ve never seen anyone bully or exclude anyone else.” After they finished speaking, another student raised their hand and compassionately said, “I don’t mean to judge but, if you think that, perhaps you’re part of the group that’s excluding others, intentionally or not. It is a very real problem here. And it doesn’t feel good to be on the outside.” I think of that exchange often, of the wisdom and the challenge in those words. Even if we don’t see a problem, we must always be aware of how our actions and our language can affect others. Our constant push should be towards loving inclusion of all. As human beings we can’t live in isolation. We’re wired for community. We all deserve to be loved, respected, and included by nature of being a human being.
For me, that’s the real issue at the heart of all this “Your Snoke theory sucks” business. It creates the avenue for exclusion, judgment, and bullying within the Star Wars fan community. Whether or not that was the original intent is largely irrelevant. It does. There’s no room for that, for any of it.
This brings me back to where I began. I can’t fathom the negative reactions Jeff’s piece has gotten. It’s gotten a lot of support too, and that’s great. But the negativity? We can be (and sadly are) asses to each other for all manner of things. But to be an ass because someone wrote a thoughtful piece asking for friendly acceptance of each other’s points of view and encouraging people to have fun and engage in exploring a fantasy world they love? That doesn’t make any sense to me. Nor does it sit well with me.
Every enduring religion has its version of the Golden Rule – treat others as you want to be treated. Shouldn’t that go doubly so for people who are passionate about the same things you are? Shouldn’t we all be excited about each other getting involved in the things we love? I was ecstatic when Kelly, one of my very best friends, finally watched Star Wars for the first time last year!! Now we can talk about it together! I don’t dismiss her ideas because she’s a newbie nor do I discredit them if they don’t mesh with how I see Star Wars. If anything, I appreciate how her perspective may illuminate something my preconceived notions prevent me from seeing.
To tell the world at large their Snoke theory sucks, regardless of the original intention, can be demeaning. Would Kelly enjoy Star Wars if I treated her like that? Would my students new to a galaxy far, far away enjoy the films and our class discussions if Hannah and I approached their insights in that way? No. Of course not. They don’t deserve that either. No one does. So, to echo Jeff’s sentiment, if you have a Snoke theory, it absolutely does not suck. There is enough hatred and judgment in the world without adding to it. God knows we all need a bright escape from the darkness that can fill world we live in from time to time. So let’s all theorize. Let’s have fun. Let’s enjoy Star Wars together. Everyone has a right to be here.