It was a tweet heard across the galaxy.
Following the contentious results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Chris Weitz, writer of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” stirred a bit of controversy when he tweeted out a number of anti-Donald Trump messages days after the Republican candidate won.
“Please note that the Empire is a white supremacist (human) organization,” Weitz wrote, seemingly drawing a parallel between the United States’ current political situation and the evil regime in “Star Wars.”
“Rogue One” co-writer Gary Whitta piled on, saying the Empire is “opposed by a multicultural group led by brave women.” Then all hell broke loose.
Alt-right trolls came for Weitz, claiming he was making the “Star Wars” franchise “political.” The hashtag #DumpStarWars took off, along with a false rumor that the “Rogue One” writers had rewritten scenes to somehow depict Trump as a racist. Weitz later deleted his tweet and apologized for politicizing “innocent” escapism, and though many #DumpStarWars tweets were actually mocking the hashtag, the speculation had already begun. Would the backlash cost “Rogue One” at the box office?
In an interview with HuffPost in August, Weitz reflected on the tweet and the chaos that followed. For him, it marked the moment he realized just how angry ― and anti-Semitic ― a certain subset of “Star Wars” fans could be.
“It’s a great lesson not to try to be funny on Twitter unless you know that the joke is a total hit. I think that was meant to be a throwaway fun comment, but [it] got pretty ugly pretty fast,” he told me. “I think I learned something about social media.”
The tweet was “a canary in the coal mine moment,” he explained, “when I realized there was a pocket of America and the internet that was insolently angry and anti-Semitic.”
“I literally received cartoons out of Nazi... papers of anti-Semitic caricatures,” he said. “That was pretty extraordinary.”
The thing is, Weitz’s joke wasn’t random. There’s Nazi influence all over the Empire, down to Darth Vader’s helmet. StarWars.com, the franchise’s own official website, states that George Lucas’ stormtroopers were inspired by the Nazi Sturmabteilung:
Hitler’s SA, and later the SS, were prominent in party propaganda leading up to the outbreak of war. Thanks to newsreels everywhere, the image of jackbooted storm troopers became one of the iconic images of fascism and inspired the iconic stormtroopers of Star Wars.
Weitz wasn’t politicizing “Star Wars.” It’s been politicized the whole time.
Since 2015, when the first in a crop of new “Star Wars” movies was released, toxic corners of the series’ fandom have become more and more vocal. Some called “The Force Awakens” social justice propaganda that ruined the franchise for “fanboys,” Weitz’s tweet kicked off a spate of “Rogue One”-related vitriol, and then there’s the trolling that occurred around “The Last Jedi.” Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Rose Tico, left social media over the racist bullying she encountered from “fans” upset with the movie.
In an essay for The New York Times, Tran opened up about the bullying, saying, “This is the world I grew up in, but not the world I want to leave behind.”
Although he deleted the original controversial tweet, Weitz, who’s gone on to direct the Nazi-hunting movie “Operation Finale,” continued to showcase his rebellious spirit. After the controversy hit, he chose the “Star Wars” Rebel Alliance logo with a safety pin in it ― a symbol of solidarity with persecuted minorities ― as his Twitter profile image.
“My last film [“A Better Life”] was about an undocumented immigrant. I still feel pretty strongly about the issues,” he told me in August. “I feel kind of badly about the ‘Star Wars’ stuff because I never want to damage the work of a lot of people in my life, and they didn’t ask to be dragged into all that.”
“There was a point where if it was clear that there was some sort of boycott that was affecting ‘Rogue One’ in a significant way, I would’ve felt pretty badly,” he went on. “I think I’m certainly more careful in how I express myself, but I’m every bit as [firm] about my political beliefs.”
And as far as backlash at the box office, “Rogue One” went on to make more than $1 billion worldwide. So, way to go, #DumpStarWars people. You got ’em real good.