What does it mean to be a Star Wars fan?

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Whether it’s Solo vs. Rogue One, the prequels vs. the sequels, or Fett vs. Ackbar, Star Wars fans can find a way to debate nearly anything. But why?

Star Wars fans are among the most passionate, dedicated, and opinionated people you can find. We can find ways to reference Star Wars in our daily lives (I personally greet my coworkers with a Chewbacca roar each morning). We can arguably trace many ideas in film and television to a galaxy far, far away, thereby proving the influence that these movies have had on so many. It’s like a Beatles fan debating how all modern music can be linked to the Fab Four.

Many of us can agree that Star Wars is the best, but why do so many fans disagree with each other so heatedly? Are we not all part of the same fan base? What exactly does it mean to be a Star Wars fan?

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At its origin, Star Wars was a breath of fresh air, a distraction into adventure during a time when our country was divided by war and controversy.

If you watch the Empire of Dreams documentary, you’ll see that this time in our history is touched upon and I think the timing of its release is a major part of what made Star Wars such a unifying force for those who fell in love with the original trilogy.

Granted, I was just a kid in those days, and rose-colored glasses may have tinted my perception of what it meant to be a Star Wars fan, but try as I might, I am unable to recollect a single incident in my experiences from back then where Star Wars fans were at odds with each other.

It wasn’t a matter of which movie you liked better, or which story line, or why Admiral Ackbar was great and Boba Fett sucked. It was just about embracing the experience. The movies were great – we didn’t have need to debate over the specifics. It was like debating over chocolate and vanilla when everyone could simply agree that ice cream was great.

My belief is that the first schism of Star Wars fans occurred with the expanded universe, which rapidly took off after Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy in 1991.

On the one hand, there were suddenly new tales from this amazing franchise, and this presented many fans with some much desired material. The way Zahn captured the feel of Star Wars while simultaneously creating a group of characters who would become essential to Star Wars lore was (and still is) simply amazing. So much so that many of his ideas have transcended to the new canon and will likely continue to do so.

On the other hand, the rapidly growing EU had the unfortunate effect of alienating a lot of the fan base, people who couldn’t or wouldn’t read the books. And for a time, this was alright. Fans who had read the books could converse with those who hadn’t, sharing in their Star Wars knowledge and wisdom.

In some cases, these chats even encouraged new readers to the EU – that’s how I became an EU fan actually. Someone else’s description of the Grand Admiral Thrawn trilogy was so compelling that I became hooked on the Star Wars Expanded Universe. It was like rediscovering Star Wars all over again and it was great!

After a certain point though, it seemed that those who weren’t invested in the EU developed an animosity towards those who were. In large part I think because these Star Wars fans didn’t like bookworms informing them that their favorite childhood stories had evolved to a point where they were so far removed from the movies they’d grown up loving.

Warlord Zsinj? Sate Pestage? Kyle Katarn? Corran Horn? Who were these people and how could they possibly be mentioned in the same breath as Darth Vader, Han Solo, or Luke Skywalker? Shadows of the Empire? Yuuzhan Vong? What do you mean Chewbacca died?

The stories had taken on such content of their own that it was often overwhelming to the fans who’d only ever experienced the trilogy, and the insistence of the readers that these stories were “all canon” only divided fans that much more.

Controversial statements made by George Lucas and the creators of the EU only further added to the confusion and debate. Some days the Expanded Universe was legit canon, the official tales of Star Wars in novelized fashion. Other days the EU was to be ignored in favor of a new project that was rewriting existing tales. Still other days, the writings were to be used as potential source material, with certain elements like Coruscant, Quinlan Vos, and Aayla Secura coming straight from the pages of novels and comics and finding an incontrovertible place in movie canon.

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It was exhausting to keep up with, exhausting still to have to debate the Expanded Universe to fans who would proclaim the EU as non-canon. The potential for healthy debate was often over before it began due to the insistence that the source material you were quoting “wasn’t real.” To me, these Star Wars fans weren’t on the same level I was, and their lack of interest in the “complete” story only evidenced this.

It must have been equally as exhausting for the movie fans to have to listen to these self-important fans who talked like they knew it all. You grew up with these movies and could quote dialogue line for line. You saw the very first Star Wars in the theater the day it was released. You even owned the soundtracks to the movies. How dare anyone try to rank your fandom? Just because you hadn’t read some books? Big deal.

For the record, I am a huge proponent of the Expanded Universe, and I’ve definitely spent more than my fair share of time telling the movie fans about all the ways they were missing out. I am a firm believer that the more knowledge and experience one has in the Star Wars galaxy, the more of an expert they are, the more of a fan they are. That’s how it works in so many other aspects of life – the more you put in, the more you get out. The more you study, the greater your level of knowledge. The more times you go to see the band, the bigger the fan you are. It makes perfect sense to me that the same premise would also apply to Star Wars fandom on a fundamental level.