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A retrospective on the Star Wars fandom, from the inside and out

Reflections on the strengths and limitations of franchises from a fan and a non-fan
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JESSICA LAM/THE VARSITY
JESSICA LAM/THE VARSITY

This past May 4, when I first arrived on the upper floor of the Midtown Snakes & Lattes on Eglinton Avenue — and laid eyes upon the throng of hardcore Star Wars fans, clad in their t-shirts and sporting man-buns, who, much like my friends and me, were there to compete in a pub-style trivia night themed around the beloved film franchise — only one thought crossed my mind:

“I have a bad feeling about this.”

Being a life-long invested Star Wars fan is like being a freemason. You’re part of an ostensibly exclusive club, but — in reality — there’s a good chance you’ll run into at least a few of your brethren, even unknowingly, in your day-to-day life.

I’m not talking about the casual fans with surface-level knowledge, who will happily watch the films and then forget about them soon after. No, I’m talking about the type of fans who are anal enough to memorize the most minute details. The type of fans who attend a trivia night on the auspicious date of May 4 — for “may the fourth be with you” — hoping that their encyclopedic knowledge of this series of children’s movies will secure them a voucher for 10 per cent off all Snakes & Lattes meal purchases.

Attending this event, in the company of equally, if not more, obsessive fans forced me to reflect on how much of my life, attention, energy, and passion I’d invested in, as my sister once piquantly called, “some grown nerd’s fantasy.”

When was the last time that modern Star Wars elicited a genuine emotion out of me, as opposed to making me go through the obligatory motions of a lifelong fan? Was it the now-iconic, frisson-inducing Darth Vader hallway massacre from the 2016 film Rogue One? Or playing the latest Oculus VR game Vader Immortal and feeling an adrenaline rush when a pixelated Rancor reached out its clawed hand and tried to grab me?

My enjoyment of Star Wars, which was once instinctive, has increasingly come in these smaller, rarer moments of elation. The optimism I’ve always felt about the films — the hope that I imagine inspired George Lucas to create his iconic space opera in the first place, amidst the cynical entertainment landscape of the late 1970s — has all but evaporated due to Disney’s corporate influence and continuous churning out of mediocre content.

But the communal thrill of the May 4 trivia night — the vindication of correctly answering the name of Mando’s starship, the Razor Crest, or some other obscure question — brought back that now all-too elusive optimism. 

Our team, Rogue Squadron, performed pretty well, all things considered. At one point, we were in third place. But other more passionate peers jumped ‘lightyears’ ahead of us after we failed to answer a question about the names of all the bounty hunters that appear in The Empire Strikes Back. My consolation was the reminder that I’m part of a larger community of hardcore fans. 

From a certain point of view, I’ve wasted my formative years investing too much hope in a science-fantasy franchise doomed to disappoint me, at the expense of immersing myself in quality narratives, or real works of ‘art,’ that my English degree has only just familiarized me with. But even if I have, it’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one.

Now, I anticipate the release of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the long-awaited Disney+ Star Wars prequel series, hoping that the final product lives up to what I envisioned as a hopeful fan years ago when the project was first announced. It’s perhaps my only hope for the future of this franchise.

– Vikram Nijhawan

And out: reflections of a non-fan

While getting lost in the supposedly familiar routes of the Toronto subway system on my way to the Midtown Snakes & Lattes, there was one thought running through my mind on repeat:

“I have a great feeling about this.”

Up until last year, I hadn’t so much as watched a full Star Wars movie. Sure, I attempted to watch the original trilogy in high school to impress a guy I liked — I ended up falling asleep during all of them — but otherwise, I remained painfully uninterested in a series that I, in my infinite English major wisdom, deemed to be ‘low-brow culture.’

That changed when I joined a film club and was suddenly surrounded by Star Wars fanatics — one of whom was my roommate. From there on out, it was basically impossible to avoid the mob, and I eventually caved and watched all nine of the main movies in about a week.

Foolishly, I thought I might have something interesting to say about a franchise that people had been obsessing over for half a century. Instead, I had to watch the movies in the original trilogy twice because I fell asleep during all my first viewings of the session — again; I found the prequels so confusing that I still barely remember what happened; and I was just as frustrated by the sequels as almost everyone else who watched them.

Needless to say, I walked away from my Star Wars binge feeling weirdly empty, like I had spent too much money on a close friend who never paid me back. And, after a while, I realized that I had felt this way once before: between my first and second year, when I reread the entire Harry Potter series.

Falling in love with franchises like Star Wars and Harry Potter is like dating ‘potential.’ I might not be a huge Star Wars fan, but I can admit that Anakin Skywalker is an iconic character that deserved better than what he got in the prequels. I’ve only seen the sequels once, but I’ve opined about how Finn and Poe’s characters were ruined by Disney’s ‘no homo’ influence. And I still think that the original trilogy is boring, but I can see how it sparked countless spinoffs, TV shows, and merchandise schemes. It’s all about their potential.

These characters and worlds — they’re not just a part of a story. They, themselves, offer opportunities for many stories, opportunities that fans have seized upon over and over again when writing, drawing, and directing separate works of art based on the franchise. 

Leading up to the event, I was anticipating that excitement — even if it wasn’t mine — and I wasn’t disappointed when I stepped into the little section of Snakes & Lattes where we were scheduled to compete. I sensed the comfort that comes from knowing that in this space, for whatever brief period of time, you have all the answers. Even if you can’t know everything about the real world, you can at least know everything about a fictional one. 

For the same reason, as the night progressed, I grew sadder and sadder as I stopped trying to guess the answers to questions that my friends got in five seconds flat. As someone who had grown out of my favourite childhood fandoms, I felt a sense of loss at no longer having my imagination piqued by a property of which I knew every inch. 

I left that night, an odd mix of melancholy and inspired. I was melancholy because I had nothing that represented such an endless landscape of possibilities. But I was inspired because I remembered that even art that many interpret as mediocre can proliferate into countless realities. 

– Marta Anielska