Plastic Dreams: My Entry into Star Wars Fandom
A brand new Star Wars movie hits theaters this week. The yearly releases are still a recent development, thanks to Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm. It was almost sixteen years between the release dates of Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace and ten years between Revenge of the Sith and The Force Awakens. A lot of fans grew up in these "dark" periods and I was one of them, having been born in 1981 and too young to see Return of the Jedi's 1983 release. While I eventually saw the Saga on home video, it wasn't until the late 90's that I finally saw the Original Trilogy theatrically during the Special Edition releases.
While we count the hours and minutes till we finally lay eyes on The Last Jedi, we wanted to have a discussion with other fans about what brought them into the fold. What specific aspect or lure of the Star Wars universe made you a fan?
For me, it was the toys. One of my oldest memories of playing with any toy involves that AT-AT walker in the picture above. I didn't even know what Star Wars was yet, but I loved that giant, grey robot-dog that carried figures inside. It wasn't until I eventually saw Empire Strikes Back that I understood what it actually did. Once I finally saw the movie, I needed a Snow Speeder or two..
While I missed the original releases, I was lucky being born in the "dark"era, because most of my toys were coming from garage sales for next to nothing. The Saga was over, there were no new films on the horizon, and the original owners of these toys had outgrown them or lost interest. My collection grew quickly - X-Wings, TIE Fighters, B-Wings, Snow Speeders, and that really bizarre Imperial Troop Transport that didn't show up in anything until Star Wars Rebels worked it in decades later.
My collection of figures expanded even quicker than the vehicles. These were generally loose figures, so I didn't know the names for a large majority of them. I generally just invented names like Tusk Face, Hammer Head, and Jabba's Fat White Guy Guard. Lots of strange aliens, Stormtrooper variants, and pretty much just two female characters: Mon Mothma and Leia in five outfits (white dress, Hoth, Boushh disguise, Slave outfit, and Endor commando).
These toys cemented me as a fan and allowed me to create my own ongoing stories and battles. As I grew older, I transitioned to the Expanded Universe by reading many of the novels (some good, most really bad) and then by playing the computer games X-Wing and TIE Fighter (this one was legitimately great).
So jump forward to today and we are on the cusp of a new entry to the Saga being released. Toy aisles are flooded once again with a mix of new Star Wars toys that span the three trilogies and there's a whole new generation buying them up. There is Star Wars branding on everything from bags of salad to actual cars. Even if you aren't a fan, I can't imagine you are unaware of the new film opening this week.
I don't really want to get into the obvious over-commercialization of the franchise (Porgs do feel like the new Ewoks), but I did want to highlight what I see as a crucial and positive change for the franchise. Disney has taken some truly impressive strides to make Star Wars more inclusive to its fans. I discussed the limited female roles in the Original Trilogy and even the Prequel Trilogy really only featured Padme as a lead female character (despite the presence of 1000's of Jedi). So what has Disney managed to accomplish since taking the reins? Let me run some names past you - Rey, Jyn Erso, Ahsoka Tano (ok, technically she was pre-Disney, but I'm still gonna count it), Hera Syndulla, Sabine Wren, and Rose from The Last Jedi. All of these great female characters have taken instant root in our pop culture and it has made me happy to see so many young fans embracing the characters and dressing up as them at the conventions I've been to over the last couple of years.
And it's not just the female characters, Disney has also injected a strong slate of diversity into the Star Wars universe with characters like Finn, Poe Dameron, Cassian Andor, Baze Malbus, Chirrit Imwe, Bodhi Rook, and likely Rose and DJ from The Last Jedi. The Star Wars universe is huge and I think it's important that all young fans see themselves represented some way or other in these films.
We made our plans for The Last Jedi months ago and I'm sure many of you did as well. We are doing the double feature with The Force Awakens and all of us are taking a half day off work. That tells you something about the draw of Star Wars. What other franchise or movies would you and your best friends skip work without a second thought?
Now we want to open the discussion to you, our listeners. What was your entry point to this fandom? What are your plans for seeing The Last Jedi? Do you have any other special stories to share about your love for Star Wars? Tell us and we'll share some of them on our episode.