About a week after my horrific encounter with a Lucasfilm employee (read part 1 here), a member of the Alliance to Preserve the Expanded Universe approached me on Facebook messenger, reporting that Ms. Gutierrez had taken to Reddit telling people to calm down and stop bothering me (as a non-Redditor, I know nothing further about it than that). This group member suggested that I use the situation as an opportunity to open a line of communication with Lucasfilm. Although I did not have very high hopes in any such maneuver being successful, I felt that I at least had the responsibility to offer the olive branch. (Or glowing orb of peace.) I determined to write a physical letter, use up two of my remaining Star Wars US postage stamps, and make the friendliest possible overture of contact.
The Alliance member who approached me not only agreed to proofread my letter, but also offered an original piece of artwork to send with the letter: a gift and symbol of the unity of fandom. This custom art depicted Qui-Gon Jinn and Artoo (the favorite characters of myself and Ms. Gutierrez, respectively) “waiting for more stories” outside Yoda’s hut on a rainy Dagobah.
Five other administrators of the Alliance Facebook group also reviewed my letter before I printed and mailed it, to be absolutely certain its tone was respectful, appropriate, and that all issues had been addressed. In this letter, I stated that I would visit this entire situation in full on my blog if she did not object. In eight months, I have not received any message whatsoever. Here’s the letter:
Dear Andi Gutierrez:
I’m reaching out to you regarding the unfortunate occurrence on Twitter last week.
Allow me to say first that you have my profound sympathy over any medical stress you may be under. It was never my intention to disrupt you, least of all when you had more important things to be focused on. I regret that this occurred, as my purpose was not to “target” you and I identified you only because the journalism standard I learned is to name anyone in an image; had there been a version of the image without you in it, I would have used that. I believe I also would have worded things differently had I noticed who I was speaking to in my first tweet replying directly to you.
Our presuppositions seem to have made us speak right past each other. Twitter, even with 280 characters, still isn’t the best place for clarity. I saw Luke Skywalker’s face crossed out and recalled the crushing misery on Mark Hamill’s face in an interview when Rian Johnson condescendingly patted him on the shoulder to silence him. Of course, you merely saw the good-natured hijinks of coworkers and friends. Ours is just one example of the growing divide between many fans and the company we wish to think the best of. I hope this letter will encourage dialogue between Lucasfilm and fans unintentionally alienated; I mean to publish it on my blog unless you object.
I also regret if you experienced any harassment; I am emphatically not associated with anyone who came after you. The complaints I saw people making were not the same as the message I meant to convey. Simply this: many fans felt a death mark on Luke’s face is a tone-deaf joke at a time when so many people are still reeling from creative decisions in the most recent film. We are tremendously discouraged when Lucasfilm employees respond to such concerns with dismissal. We’re frustrated, but “trolling” is the farthest thing from what we want. We want to communicate.
I appreciated your efforts on Reddit begging fans to get along with one another. I hope to work with you in that regard. Please feel free to reply to me at my personal email, [redacted]. Enclosed, please find a gift, a piece of original artwork made by a fellow member of the Give Us Legends movement, in hopes that it will encourage friendly relations between fans and creators once more.
More than anything, I wanted to forget all about this. I almost didn’t send the letter several times. I ignored tweets, deleted DMs, decided not to have anything else to do with it. But the situation at Lucasfilm is not getting better, and choosing to “grin and bear it” (as I’ve done these last months) is not bringing about a resolution. Starting in 2014, Lucasfilm seemed to decide that mocking and shaming fans into silence was the way to handle disruptions. And over the last year, again and again, the employees of Lucasfilm (and I include in that designation directors and actors who have participated in Lucasfilm projects while not necessarily literally working in that office) have doubled down on their antagonism. The vitriol gets stronger and stronger, pitting “pro-Lucasfilm” fans against “anti-Lucasfilm” fans when in reality, we should all want the healthy thriving of the fantastic saga that has changed all of our lives for the better. But Lucasfilm refuses to let anyone say “you’re not doing justice to George Lucas’ Star Wars.” The kneejerk response is “you’re a troll.” Or more recently, “you’re a Russian bot.” We are instantly degraded because we don’t toe the party line. When did Star Wars become so Soviet?
As I started in the previous post: It seems like more and more, Disney|Lucasfilm and Star Wars fans are unable to talk. If fans disagree with corporate policy on any level, or hold any opinion deemed negative by the Star Wars overlords, there is a total communication blackout between these two groups. And that blackout, I’m here to say, does not originate with the fans. It is a calculated thing coming from within the company, originated by those working for Lucasfilm.
I know this is not true Lucasfilm. Therefore, this cannot be the desire of the people who work so hard to create the stories that mean so much to so many. So where is it coming from? It must come from ignorance. The people in charge simply must not know that this is going on. So how do we fix it?
My experience with Ms. Gutierrez was a very brief nightmare. But other fans have lost more than I have. Fan podcasts have lost their Lucasfilm endorsement. I’ve simply had unpleasant interactions with Lucasfilm employees, like the time Pablo Hidalgo told me to shut up because my opinion didn’t matter (not in so many words, but when I asked if that’s what he meant, he didn’t deny it). But this is not the way to do business. Fans don’t want to go to a movie when they know the people behind the movie think they’re stupid. Every year, more fans sign on with the boycott, and insulting us just isn’t bringing us back into the fold somehow.
There is a light of hope, though. Recently, the hysterical Chuck Wendig went on a Twitter rant about how his Twitter rants have resulted in his being removed from all future Disney|Marvel/Lucasfilm productions. That is how to fix this growing chasm between fans and creators, between fans and fans. Get rid of the people who are fueling hostility, who think insults are a rebuttal, who viciously attack anyone for disagreeing with them.
Now, don’t misquote me; I’m not saying wipe the slate over at Lucasfilm, but Chuck Wendig knew better. He literally wrote a book full of advice for writers that contained the advice “don’t be a d*** on social media,” and if you can’t avoid that, “hire a ghost writer.” Get rid of the people who spout vitriol even though they know better.
In the end, Ms. Gutierrez did reach out to people on Reddit and ask them to let the whole situation go. I was not able to get in touch with her personally, but I think we both realized that through mutual poor communication, we allowed an overreaction to take place. That’s good. Now, in order to close that chasm, it needs to keep happening. Some people like Chuck Wendig need to go. Others, I hope, just need encouragement to speak appropriately, honor the legacy that was entrusted to them, and give fair hearing to the valid concerns of fans. In short, stop assuming that everyone who disagrees must be a troll.