The Fandom Awakens

young_rey_by_daztibbles-d9x656l

“Young Rey” by Darren “Daz” Tibbles

There has been a no small number of words bandied about the internet over the last couple of weeks about the brokenness (or not) of geek fandom. It mostly started with Devin Faraci announcing “Fandom is broken” in his editorial, which itself was a reflection about this post from the A.V. Club. This set off a powder keg of shares, tweets, and reaction posts from both creators and fans. If you want to follow what has been an interesting discussion, try these posts: an article mostly concurring with Faraci from Movie Pilot, this measured rebuttal from blastr, a strong reaction that gives voice to concerns of minority fans from Fusion, and a passionate look at Faraci’s past and current views on fandom from tumblr.

I’m opening with this bevy of links for two reasons:

A) I think this is an important topic. In the digital age, the line between fans and creators is becoming electron thin. Fans and creators have more access to one another than at any time in history, and those interactions are going to shape the stories of the future.

B) I’m not going to spend a lot of time addressing the issue here. I don’t have to. The Star Wars community is one among many where I’ve seen ample evidence of a fandom which is vibrantly alive.

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For me, there’s three indicators for a fully functioning fandom: participation, passion, and people. These three things are interwoven in a variety of ways to make up the fabric of any particular fandom that you see and experience. For the sake of discussion, we’ll try to disentangle each individually and briefly look at them here.

Participation at its most basic is showing up to the party. This is when fans have been there, done that, and have the t-shirt. It means buying tickets to movies, tuning into the show, and proudly displaying your geek swag.

In 2012, Disney bet $4 Billion that they could find fans to participate in a 35 year old property. I believe wisely so. After all this time, Star Wars is still a pop culture juggernaut that people are happy to take part in. Even with relatively cool reviews to the new canon, the tie-in novel Aftermath was a New York Times Bestseller. Star Wars: Battlefront was among the top 5 bestselling games of 2015. And let’s not forget, The Force Awakens had a record breaking theatrical run, earning the biggest worldwide opening weekend and managing to be the fastest film ever to earn $1 Billion in just 12 days. None of this mentions the massive marketing push that Disney has running in conjunction with their media releases. Raise your hand if would love to have an adorable remote control BB-8 of your very own.

bb-8 rolling

I can haz, please?

Of course, ticket sales and toys aren’t the only way to participate in a fandom, and that’s where passion comes in.

Passionate fans engage their fandom on a deeper level. Clearly, Star Wars resonates with people. The Saga has been with us now for almost 40 years. It is a cultural touchstone. Fans with a passion for these stories and characters are expressing themselves in hundreds of fascinating ways. These are the fans that have filled Deviantart, tumblr, and other corners of the internet with outstanding artwork. It takes passion to design and build your own costume, then endure the inevitable discomfort of wearing Disney Mandalorian armor in July. Fans of Star Wars who are creating art, making costumes, writing fanfic, or blogging are taking time out of their day to share a piece of Star Wars with the world. It goes beyond just love of that Galaxy far, far away. It’s a place that matters to them on a personal level.

Torn Apart

I’m not crying. YOU’RE CRYING! “Torn Apart” by Irma Ahmed.

However, if you’re familiar with the Sith Code, you know that passion can lead down a dark path… To quote Obi-wan regarding strong feelings, “They do you credit, but they could be made to serve the Emperor.” Like many other fandoms in the world, Star Wars fans can fall to the dark side.

The people aspect of a fandom can be the trickiest part to get right. It involves the fans themselves, the community they build together, and their acceptance of new people to their ranks. I have heard firsthand accounts of people experiencing criticism from Star Wars fans that they are not “doing it right.” This is geek gatekeeping, and it has no place among Star Wars fans.

Gatekeeping is an elitist attitude towards your fandom. It reinforces the idea that there is a certain way to be a “true fan” of a genre or property. Gatekeeping occurs when passion for a fandom mixes with a jealous ownership of it. It can show up in all sorts of ways. Gatekeepers might insist that you are not a “true fan” unless you’re familiar with the Expanded Universe. They may say that no “true fan” would accept the video games as canon. I have even spoken with fans that hold the audacious belief that no “true fan” of the Saga can enjoy the Prequels.

Bradenton Mural

Don’t build walls. Paint them. Awesomely. Bradenton Star Wars mural by Richard Brasil and Eddie Rivera.

To clear things up, I have created a sure fire questionnaire that determines the worthiness of any Star Wars fan:

Question 1) Do you love Star Wars? Yes.

Okay. We’re done here. Welcome to the fandom. It’s that simple.

Just like the Force with its Dark Side and Light Side, fandoms have another path they can follow. One in line with the peace, openness, and community building you would expect among the best Jedi. The path of Ambassadorship. Star Wars is perfectly situated in this moment in time to be a fandom of ambassadors, not only into the love of Star Wars specifically, but even as a gateway into geek culture and SFF fandom at large.

We have already touched on the fact that Star Wars is a cultural icon. It is a big, geeky, space adventure that is light on science elements, full of fun, and even throws in tropes from the fantasy genre. People looking to jump into genre fiction can find a lot to love among Star Wars’ quirky characters and rich settings. Add to this mix the fact that one of the biggest media marketing companies on the planet are now at the reins of the franchise, and you have a perfect storm for welcoming a new generation of fans.

And this is where I say something controversial. Something I had not realized myself until recently. Disney gave us as an incredible gift as we strive to be geek ambassadors to the droves of new fans the new movies will generate. This gift was turning the Expanded Universe into Legends.

Hear me out long time Star Wars fan. I love the Expanded Universe (EU) as much as anyone. The ongoing adventures of Luke and the gang, and later of Wedge’s ragtag Rogues, helped me through the awkwardness of high school. Just a couple weeks ago I wrote here on this blog about parts of the EU that I love and still hope to see continued, but the truth about the wonderful tapestry of decades of novels, comic books, video games, and the Star Wars Holiday Special is this: They are completely inconsequential.

That is a different thing than saying “they don’t matter.” They matter. Those works are a part of fan experiences, but what Disney has accomplished by making them Legends is giving us a rich history to invite people towards without the idea that a “true fan” must be familiar with it. Any gatekeeper who would hold up knowledge of the EU as a benchmark no longer has an argument. The novels and other materials are now esentially high production fanfics. Their effect on the Star Wars Universe is roughly equivalent to that of a really great #Stormpilot short story on tumblr.

All of these are enjoyable supplemental materials. A way for us to revisit the Galaxy between canon releases of movies and books. The incredible media of the EU, as well as the vast collection of fan driven art and stories online, create spaces where we can invite people deeper into the Star Wars fandom. These are ways that people can participate in something we all love, and hopefully find their own niche to be passionate about.

I love Star Wars. I love Star Wars fans. The Force Awakens with all its nostalgia, great characters, and dazzling action was a blast to watch, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to continue geeking out online as I peruse the art and fiction produced by fans. This has been in some ways an even greater experience. We are not being satisfied by the official line from Disney and its partners. We are forging our own routes through the Galaxy far, far away, and we are doing it together. So, keep it up Star Wars fans. Keep inviting new people to experience this great thing we love. Keep creating amazing art and stories to further engage our growing community. Keep being awesome and while you’re doing that, I’ll be over here trying to rework the lyrics of Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need a Hero” into a parody song celebrating my Stormpilot OTP. “I need a pilot…”

Stormpilot Johnson

If the director of Episode VIII, retweets the art that makes it canon, right? Right?! Art by Jeffrey Winger.

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Going “Rogue” with Star Wars’ Tone

noto rogue one

Have you been following the news about the Rogue One reshoots? The latest article I’ve read can be found here. The gist of it is this: Disney is not happy with the tone of Rogue One and has ordered that a rumored 40% of the movie be reshot.

I’m personally remaining optimistic about this. That’s a lot of reshooting, but some degree of going back behind cameras is common to big budget films. And certainly Disney has a lot riding on the first official live action venture outside the Saga films. The rumors swirling here are mostly regarding the films tone, and bringing the final act more inline with the tone of A New Hope. Apparently, the events of Rogue One are supposed to take us up to within 10 minutes of the opening of the original trilogy.

My biggest concern here is that Disney wasn’t certain of what they wanted at the beginning. I enjoyed Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, at least on a purely visual level. It was a big spectacle film that still managed to keep the danger of giant Kaiju brawls felt at a human level. From the beginning, he has been saying this will feel like a war film set in the Star Wars Universe. So setting it so close chronologically to A New Hope does seem jarring. Could you imagine binging Star Wars films and you finish a stark war film only to jump into Threepio’s opening banter?

I don’t blame Disney for trying to align the films a little more closely. I don’t blame Edwards for trying to pursue a vision of something we haven’t really seen from Star Wars. I’m still hoping we get an awesome adventure set in the Galaxy far, far away. What do you think? Do you want to see Star Wars films with a wide range of themes and tones? Or do you want a strong tonal cohesion between all the films regardless if they are Saga or Anthology?

Five Ways to Expand the Current Star Wars Universe

Five Ways to Expand the Current Star Wars Universe

Hi folks, Nathan here, filling in for Kiri while she gets into the groove of this whole motherhood thing. All the best to Kiri and her little Jedi as they start this journey. May the Force be with you for sure!

Okay, so let’s talk about the old Expanded Universe. It was just over two years ago that this collection of novels, comics, and game narratives loved (and occasionally loathed) by Star Wars fans was relegated to the status of “Legends”. In that time, a great deal of digital ink has been spilled decrying Disney’s decision as well as talking about all the critical pieces of the EU that should have been kept canon.

And none of it has mattered. At the end of the day, I understand why Disney made this call. The EU became a convoluted collection of Galaxy ending disasters occurring every other week and an indistinguishable knot of interpersonal relationships. Some of it had to be jettisoned in order to create stories that were still fresh and compelling and accessible to new audiences.

However, the EU was still home to a bunch of great ideas. No small indication of that is how The Force Awakens borrowed some of them, at least conceptually, to fill out its characters and places. One example is Starkiller Base which certainly recalls The Sun Crusher. And of course there’s the reveal that Kylo Ren is in fact Jacen Solo, er, I mean Ben…

In the wake of The Force Awakens, I want to look at aspects of the EU that are ideas that can still be used to fill out that Galaxy far, far away. The idea here isn’t that Disney should lift these five things whole cloth from the pages of our favorite Star Wars novels. Rather, I believe these five concepts should be used to help flesh out the new canon, even if not in the exact form we’re familiar with.

Lando’s Bad Luck

You remember the bustling mineral business from Nomad City on Nkllon? Or the Galaxy famous theme parks of Cloud City? Or the time Lando fought a rancor for priceless Meek artifacts?

No? That’s because in the EU Lando had a long history of betting big, and failing bigger. It was part of the old space pirate’s enduring charm. He was always out for the big score, even if that was going to land him in more trouble than it was worth.

It does appear that so far in canon stories of Lando will fall along the same vein. His appearance on the Rebels show involved many shenanigans leading to the revelation that he’s going to be using puffer pigs to root out valuable minerals. Also the Lando comic series (I’ll be talking more about this soon!) starts with Lando acquiring a certain trinket to pay off a debt, only to have the term familiarly “altered” at the last minute. Let’s keep Lando out in front of some of the Galaxy’s most magnificent schemes, and maintaining his winning smile when the dust settles from the eventual crash.

Black Sun and Prince Xizor

In the late 90’s, Lucasfilm was looking thinking about releasing new Star Wars films into the world. There were ideas floating around, but the Prequels were still a few years off. The media company had formed many relationships in the nearly two decades since the Original Trilogy, but questions were being asked how these various media entities could work around a single big release. Could they work in conjunction to release materials in multiple formats that would compliment each other and continue to build on the Star Wars fan base? The answer to those questions was the Shadows of the Empire multimedia project.

It started as an experiment to see if Lucasfilm and its partners were ready for a major motion picture release. For the first time, we as fans received new stories that explored the period between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. We were introduced to new heroes and new villains. Among those were the Black Sun crime syndicate and its indomitable leader, Prince Xizor.

Black Sun exists within the current canon. They were a faction with Darth Maul’s Shadow Collective, but I feel like they lack some of the teeth they had when introduced through Shadows of the Empire. Perhaps that has to do with the enigmatic, over the top Prince Xizor. Xizor was written to be the ultimate badass. And while I don’t think the canon needs a character exactly like him (pure evil complete with rapey seduction pheromones), a powerful crime lord that rivals the Hutts and is confident enough to scheme around the Emperor would be a very cool addition.

The Courtship of Princess Leia

The Courtship of Princess Leia was the first EU novel I read as teenager. The story of a lovesick Han Solo essentially kidnapping Leia, to woo her on a planet he won in an underground sabacc game. A planet that just happens to be home to rancors and a lost race of “magical” force users that leads to squaring off against the strongest of the Imperial Remnant, Warlord Zsinj. All the while Han is pursued by Luke and the jilted Prince Isolder attempting to prevent civil war within the fledgling New Republic.

It was truly a soap opera in space writ large, and I devoured it as a young Star Wars fan. Courtship was a fun, fast read. It had its flaws and these days doesn’t rank quite as high among my favorite EU novels, but it was really my first big introduction to the EU and for that it will always be adored.

What I would love to keep from The Courtship of Princess Leia is that it is going to take a big, raucous adventure, and maybe risking everything our heroes have fought to build, for Han to admit his feelings and decide to ask Leia to marry him. Because one thing about Han Solo, and this has been established in the canon, its going to take an awful lot for him to consider family life. You know.

Grand Admiral Thrawn and the Chiss.

You knew he would make the list. Grand Admiral Thrawn is one of the most enduring elements of the EU. Timothy Zahn’s seminal trilogy elevated the Expanded Universe. No small part of that was due to the strength of Thrawn as such a fascinating character. He was a brilliant strategist and a blue skinned alien that had risen to Grand Admiral in the notoriously xenophobic Empire. Next to perhaps the reborn Emperor, Thrawn was the Empire’s best chance at reestablishing its former glory.

With the First Order’s clear similarities to the Empire, it seems obvious that the Imperial Remnant didn’t fade away after the events Return of the Jedi. Having a strong, brilliant presence similar to Grand Admiral Thrawn would go a long way to explaining the Empire’s continued influence 30 years later.

If that character were to have ties to a mysterious faction in the Outer Rim that has its eyes set upon extending its dominance into the Core Worlds, that would add even more intrigue. The Chiss Ascendancy would be a fascinating foil to both the plans of the Alliance and Empire.

Add to that the fact that Luke, Leia, and Han appear to have a less influential roles in the Galaxy after Ben Solo’s betrayal, and threats from the Imperial Remnants and the Chiss would require a new set of heroes to face them. Some of those heroes could be members of…

Rogue Squadron

Talk to me about Star Wars fandom, and it won’t take long for me to reveal my love for Rogue Squadron. I’ve said before that Wedge Antilles is possibly my favorite character. He certainly is outside of the Original Trilogy’s main heroes. In my late teens and early twenties, I just could not get enough of these scrappy men and women who accomplished the impossible without any Force to aid them (mostly). They relied solely on their Incom T-65 X-wings, their exceptional skill on the stick, and each other. Corran Horn said it best, “I’m with Rogue Squadron. Impossible is our stock in trade, and success is what we deliver.”

Rogue Squadron does exist in the current canon. Technically. It was the designation used by Luke and Wedge’s snowspeeder group on Hoth. I’m going to be watching the development of Rogue One very closely. I hope the use of the moniker there can somehow develop into a collection of the Rebellion’s best fighter pilots. I also like what I’ve seen of Black Squadron in the Poe Dameron comic series, but it’s not quite the same to me. I’m really hoping for a Star Wars universe that includes the Rogues.

What about you? What from the Expanded Universe would you like to see make the jump to Disney’s current canon at least conceptually?