Creativity, Community, and Star Wars Fans
by Will Brooker
Will Brooker, (left) could almost form the subject for a chapter in his own book, as he describes in affectionate and witty terms, just how fans expand George Lucas' universe in ways that George probably never imagined. Moreover, in ways which George most likely hoped they never would!
The Star Wars movies have enthralled fans since 1977, and while it took Will almost a year to catch up with the rest of humanity and admit to his own thralldom in 1978, he has since made up for lost time.
Will is a master of modern media and culture, and as Assistant Professor of Communications at Richmond, the American International University In London, he has researched the extent of the fans commitment to the Star Wars universe, covering such topics as 'what is canon', fan-sites, fan-fiction, fan-films, how the fans interact with each other and their girl/boy friends, their relationship with Lucas, and the relationship between the different generations of fans. The chapter entitled, 'The Fan Betrayed' even tells how a sitcom (Spaced, UK Channel 4, 2001) was used by its scriptwriter, Simon Pegg, to express his feelings of total betrayal by Lucas, over the movie, The Phantom Menace.
The topics covered are not comprehensive, for books can only cover so much ground, and costuming, collecting, and conventions are covered very lightly, if at all. There is, however, generous coverage of fan-fiction. A whole chapter is devoted to 'Slash and Other Stories', which will be of great interest to our author community, covering, as it does, why slash is written, and exploring the reasons as to why it is a genre of fiction generally popular with women, as opposed to men. The fact that there is an uneasy relationship between the writers and publishers of erotic and slash fiction, and George Lucas himself, is discussed, and as providers of a website devoted to the more sensual aspects of Darth Maul, we need to be aware of this.
There is also another chapter, Star Wars Chicks, devoted to the woman's point of view, something often missing in the SW universe, which is generally perceived as being a 'boy' thing.
Anyone we know in here?
There are many references to the Internet sites which we know and love, including Star Wars Fanfix, Master And Apprentice, Sith chicks, and the Sith Academy. Will has been in contact with many of the web masters/mistresses of some of the best sites on the 'net, and the quoted stories are representative of some of the best fan-fiction available.
Darth Cleo's "Darth Maul Gets Internet Access" has a special mention. This is my favourite story, as it was the first Darth Maul fanfic I ever read, and was my initiation into that mysterious world of fanfiction on the Internet. It is also excruciatingly funny - a difficult thing to achieve in a story where the subject matter can become very intense and inward looking.
There is a lot for the Maul fan here, in terms of these sites alone.
The fans get busy! A new film? They argue on bulletin boards about the meaning of infinitesimal detail, and how it changes, (or does not) the interpretation of canon. They write stories to flesh out the characters, and add meaning to lives cut short, as some of the authors do on dmeb/dmeb2.net. They create costumes costing upwards of a thousand dollars when special effects contact lenses and authentic replicas of lightsabres are purchased. Those costumes are worn to conventions requiring international travel in order to attend, as well as Halloween and other holidays.
Dioramas and websites are built, fan films lovingly crafted, collections amassed and housed carefully on shelves made to display each item to best effect, toys are sewn, dolls are dressed, fan art is created and images manipulated in Photoshop - the list is almost endless. Being a fan seems to spark off a multitude of creative processes, which prompt and push the desire to learn new skills to indulge the obsession and create the episode, the picture, the character that the fan wants to see. Some fans even incorporate the Jedi code in their own moral system, attempting to live a righteous life.
Will has looked into many of these activities, and written about them. Being a fan himself, he has treated them and the subject with great humour and respect.
How much Maul?
Down to the nitty gritty. How much Maul is there in this book?
Not much, as this book is about Star Wars, not Darth Maul. However, there are twelve references in the index, i.e. more than Darth Sidious (four), and a few less than Qui-Gon Jinn (fourteen). In discussion with Becky Mackle, the British news correspondent for Star Wars Chicks, Will asks if Becky is 'into Darth Maul, at all?' When Becky replies 'Oh yes, I am', his (later) response is 'To me, it's like fancying Watto.'
Will is a man - perhaps he doesn't appreciate our interest in (obsession with?) Maul's sexual and combat abilities! Or does he? Becky summed it up very well indeed - "He's cute!" (Maul) She also mentioned 'very focused', his voice, the way he moves, and so on. We're with you on all those things Becky! Especially your comment that if he focused on you, you would end up dead, or sexually exhausted, or perhaps both.
Will, however, totally redeems himself at this point. "One way or the other, you wouldn't be walking" he suggests, and Becky agrees. No doubt a large proportion of the visitors to this site do, as well.
Does it matter that the book is not just about Maul?
No, because this is an important book. It charts the involvement of Star Wars fans with the movie series, and shows to what extent the Star Wars mythology has permeated popular culture, even to the fans who try to live their lives in the light of the Jedi moral code. This extensive reach of the myth may have important issues for those who breach Lucas' copyright, as the characters and stories may be construed, by some, to be now in the public domain.
The mythos has permeated very many cultures, not just those of the West. The Star Wars movies and books are shown and published all over the world in many different languages, they have been for 25 years now, and the dialogue, plot, and characters, form common reference points for people of all nationalities. A sense of belonging and comradeship can be formed very quickly when two fans meet, no matter what their backgrounds, as happens in any club or association where members have common interests. It is just that this club is really quite large!
There is a good bibliography, and excellent references including texts, fiction, email interviews, internet sites, novels, comics, film, and on-line articles - the whole subject is extremely well researched, and anyone wanting to explore the Star Wars universe in more detail would be recommended to use this book as a jumping-off point.
To summarise, Will is a fellow Star Wars geek, and the book is a scholarly reference concerning matters Star Wars. However, the book is most entertaining. It is both readable and informative, and there is no descent (or ascent?) into the lofty jargon of the ivory tower.
Will has published other books, and also papers on the Internet. If you are interested in comic culture in general and the Batman comics in particular, read Batman Unmasked, and if you are interested in Cultural Studies, there is even a handy little paperback to help you make sense of it all.
The paperback version is being launched soon, and there is a whole new chapter dealing with AOTC, entitled 'Post Bellum' - this is believed to be the first book to engage with AOTC. Will has very generously given us permission to preview this chapter and to give a little taste of what is in there....
Links to explore:
There is another review of Using The Force at the Revolution Science Fiction site, and an interview with the author on chrono radio. There is also an Internet interview on Echostation. To delve further into the world of media studies, start with Henry Jenkins of MIT.
'Star Wars' exerts such fascination for many of us because it is a representation of archetypes common to the majority of cultures, the hero (Luke), the shadow (Palpatine), the demon or devil, Darth Maul, and many others. For the world of myth and archetype, try looking for works by Carl Jung, and for myth, how Joseph Campbell's theories influenced George Lucas.
Hardcover: 265 pages Published 6 June, 2002
Paperback: 320 pages Published May, 2003
© 2001-2010 DMEB2.net