The Secret of Star Wars Fandom


Six feature films, three spinoff films, five television series, plus video games, books, and merchandise, plus a big chunk of the internet, all devoted to the Star Wars universe. There will always be movies with fans, but those who identify with Star Wars are so numerous, so prolific, and so vociferous, they redefine what it means to be a fan. For those of you who enjoyed the movies, but aren't rabid Star Wars fans (I'm more of the Star Trek type), here are some clues to how they feel. Andrey Summers summed up what makes Star Wars fans so different in The Complex and Terrifying Reality of Star Wars Fandom.

If you run into somebody who tells you they thought the franchise was quite enjoyable, and they very-much liked the originals as well as the prequels, and even own everything on DVD, and a few of the books, these imposters are not Star Wars Fans. Star Wars fans hate Star Wars.

Let me count the ways...

Those who love the Star Wars universe the most spend an inordinate amount of time criticizing the movies. The biggest complaint is continuity. Although no one would have preferred the series to have been delayed twenty years, real fans cannot forgive George Lucas for producing movies before he had the whole story written. In 1977, Lucas said he had a grand plan for nine chapters. By the time Return of the Jedi was released, it was apparent he didn't start with a complete outline for the story arc.

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We didn't know which of the two heroes would get the girl in the first Star Wars movie. Lucas' choice in this matter was neatly explained away by making Luke and Leia into siblings. Eww. Episode Four never looked the same after you knew that. And it wasn't possible to edit out their earlier attraction. You'd think Obi-Wan would've said something, but he apparently forgot who the princess of Alderaan was.

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In the first Star Wars movie, Han Solo kills a minor character named Greedo. When the 1997 Special Edition was released, this was changed to show Greedo shooting first. Lucas wanted Solo to be seen as a more of a hero and less of a rogue, because after all, he eventually got the girl. Fans saw this as rewriting history, like whitewashing your own Wikipedia entry, and cried foul. The explanation that Greedo shot first and missed (at point blank range) was unacceptable. When Lucas was spotted wearing a Han Shot First t-shirt, fans reacted with delight.

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Chewbacca is a freedom fighter who is friends with Jedi Master Yoda in the prequels, but later is found to be a mercenary sidekick with no noticeable familiarity with Obi-Wan or the Jedi. You can explain using the familiar characters R2D2 and C3PO in the prequels by having their memories erased, but that won.t work with a Wookiee. Check out more continuity problems here.

Comic Characters

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The implausibility of the technologies in the Star Wars universe isn't such a sore spot with fans as the continuity and character problems, but fans have fun deconstructing the science and technology of the movies. Even NASA has thought about the possibility of hyperdrive. Forums debate the physics of lightsabers. Jay Garmond figured up the necessary power for the Death Star laser. The million-to-one shot that destroyed the first Death Star not only stretched the limits of credulity, but led to conspiracy theories, as in Was the Death Star Attack an Inside Job? And McSweeney's explained the implausibility of the Death Star's trash compactor.

In the end, Summers sums up how a Star Wars fan really feels:

Maybe I'll put it like this. To be a Star Wars fan, one must possess the ability to see a million different failures and downfalls, and then somehow assemble them into a greater picture of perfection. Every true Star Wars fan is a Luke Skywalker, looking at his twisted, evil father, and somehow seeing good.