I’ve had a life long love affair with Star Wars. My whole life I have played with toys, looked at pictures, read books, imagined, and watched the movies. I saw Jedi in the theater when I was seven. I’m pretty sure in high school I had A New Hope memorized. Since then I’ve continued to do all of those things, more or less. My appreciation has never diminished. My love has never wavered. My fandom, though, has. Over the years I’ve focused on other things and generally not been engaged in Star Wars things. Life has lots of twists and turns. New things push aside old things. But the old things, if they are truly a part of you, don’t die. You may keep the t-shirt from your first concert for thirty years but that expensive neon colored polo from high school is quickly forgotten. The band from that concert might not always be the number one thing in your playlist, but you at one time have listened to it on cassette, CD, and MP3.
That idea got me thinking: so what does it mean to be a fan?
It’s a tough question. Is being a fan based on emotion and passion? Or is it based on knowledge? Or maybe on longevity? Or having nerd cred? Do you have to be active to be a fan or can you simply enjoy it?
Personally, I have never been a very active fan, if I’m allowed to call myself that. After the prequels my interest waned a little (I have made peace with them) but soon I started to devour the EU, especially post Jedi stuff. To my loss I missed out on The Clone Wars (didn’t have cable). I collected a few things. But whatever I did it was generally private. I didn’t go on message boards, or later on social media, I didn’t start a Star Wars website, or go to cons. I enjoyed what I had and that was it. When I got married I executed a bit of an order 66, and I parted with my book collection and gave away my Legos (oh, how I miss you A, B, X and Y wings).
Fast forward six years, when TFA came out, and I was pulled back in. I was reinvigorated. I started listening to podcasts, which served as my first foray into fandom. And I wanted more. I wanted to interact and share ideas and hear what others had to say. So I joined Twitter. I started following people. I retweeted. I responded to tweets. I followed links. From the tweets and podcasts I learned one thing: good god the level of nerdity I encountered was astounding. I knew it was out there, but experiencing it in action I wondered if I could compete. I can barely keep up with my Twitter timeline as it is, let alone get into the breadth and detail of knowledge that is out there. Will I have to turn in my SW badge? Wait, I don’t have a SW badge. Crap, am I a bad fan for not having one? What if there is a test? What if it is written by some dudes on Reddit? I’m no Pablo; I’m screwed!
Then I calmed down, took a deep breath, and thought about it more. I started noticing some common themes emerge as I interacted with the fan universe. For instance, here are some comments I’ve heard since emerging from my Star Wars silence (I’m paraphrasing a bit):
“Dude, the prequels suck.”
“Dude, the prequels are awesome”
“I don’t like Rebels”
“Rebels is the best”
“Maul is awesome on Rebels”
“WTF, Maul is back?”
“Bring backs legends!”
“The EU is overrated.”
“TFA…best movie of all time.”
“TFA…is just a reboot of ANH”
“Ahsoka is dead!”
OK, you see where I’m going with this. People don’t agree much with each other. I’ve actually heard people argue that Vader is a weak villain. Really? Vader? He’s not up for debate. He is the most…see, there you go. That’s how it always goes. Our own view of the universe tends to be the clearest. If that’s the case, how can we all agree on what a fan really is? I won’t offer a definitive definition either. In the end it really comes down to how each of us wants to relate to others because Star Wars is a shared experience. Would you prefer associating with someone who knows that Lord Hethrir kidnapped Leia’s children and that Jacen helped them escape by using a sand dragon he tamed* or with someone who only watches the movies? We tend to associate with people who share our views. This allows us to be honest and let our guard down. If people agree with you they won’t criticize you. It also allows us to get comfortable and set, or stuck, in our ways. We inflate the worth of our opinions (relative to other people). Then with social media and podcasts and YouTube all that brewing tension is laid bare. Our comfort zones are challenged and our opinions fight for dominance. We start to criticize each other for not knowing something or for interpreting something in a different way. We use our history and knowledge as proof that we love it more. In there is some truth, perhaps. The guy that goes to the football game with no shirt and face painted in the middle of winter probably likes football more than me. I will concede that (or that he is really drunk). But I still like football. I’m still a fan.
I guess the conflict is really about how people prescribe judgement based on the level of fan that they think you are. Forgetting that there is more than one way to enjoy something, or we fail to take into account that Star Wars is now a generational thing. My son loves Star Wars, but he may never read the original Thrawn books. Should I kick him out of the house? He can’t really be a fan could he? I wouldn’t judge my own child because he has only been alive for six years. Why do we, then, judge each other?
We all have our own Star Wars story, so let’s sit back and enjoy it.
*For the record, I used this reference as a joke. This was the plot of the worst book in the expanded universe (that I have read). I wouldn’t want to associate with me for knowing it. Bonus points if you can name the book.