Fan Phenomena – Star Wars

In an age of increasing dependence on technology and where science trumps spirituality, Darth Vader stood up and proclaimed, ‘I find your lack of faith disturbing.’ -page 66, Fan Phenomena – Star Wars

Fan Phenomena – Star Wars, edited by Mika Elovaara, is a collection of essays that illustrate the cultural impact of Star Wars and the significance of it’s thriving fanbase. Through the essays, the book explores numerous concepts, one of them being fan ownership. While Star Wars certainly doesn’t belong to the fans in any legal aspects, it does belong to them in part psychologically and in spirit. By embracing Star Wars, fans have enabled the brand to survive through the years. As stated in the book, Star Wars has gone from something we watch, to something we do. It has become a fan phenomena.

There are ten essays in the 112 page book. Each is written by various authors with various writing styles. Some are academic, while others are more practical and forthright. While none of the essays dig too deeply into any one facet of Star Wars—most of the essays are only 7 pages in length—they do bring up some interesting viewpoints of the franchise and fandom. Throughout the book, many fan articles, fansites, fanzines and fanfilms are mentioned and sometimes quoted. At the end of each chapter is a list of books, films and websites for further exploration into the myriad subjects. I thought it was a rather nice touch how the authors of the essays included specific members of fandom in order to illustrate the phenomena of the franchise.

The content of the essays cover topics such as gender, religion, merchandising and fanworks. One chapter focused on the language of Star Wars. Like many of the essays, it provided an overview of the franchise in regards to the topic, in this case language. It pointed out the existence of the working Mandalorian language created by Karen Traviss. Sites such as The Complete Wermo’s Guide to Huttese & Other Star Wars Languages were mention for their extensive work in cataloging the in-universe languages of Star Wars. Yet the chapter went a step further by illustrating how even the sound effects of the films are a language in of themselves. The mere sound of a lightsaber can easily be identified and conjures a wealth of images. In this way, they went on to show how all the various parts of Star Wars come together to make a metalanguage that’s comprised of words like ‘Jedi’, of sounds like R2-D2’s beeping, and even the language of the Ewoks. Together all of these elements form their own language which is Star Wars. I thought it was a cool idea and it was certainly a perspective I had never thought of before. Through the book there are numerous ideas like that which are brought up and explored.

If there remains any doubt that the universe George Lucas has created communicates with its fans in anything other than its own unique language, if there remains any doubt that the fans communicate with one another in that same language, perhaps it is appropriate to turn to C-3PO himself as the final example. Master translator, a protocol droid fluent in over 6 million different forms of communication, ‘Threepio’ could have told the Ewoks his story in their own language and been done with it. Instead, he utilizes the very language I’ve been describing. The droid blends a little Ewok, a little Galactic Basic, and a lot of clearly recognizable sound effects with the result that the Ewoks, the gathered heroes, and I daresay the audience of the film, become completely entranced. He uses a greater language that emanates from the universe at the same time as it describes it. It is a language that Star Wars fans understand implicitly whether they realize it or not. It is the greater language that unites us all. -page 75, Fan Phenomena – Star Wars

In contrast, though, some of the essays took a more academic approach to their topics. Chapter One: “Star Wars as a Character-Oriented Franchise” took a look at the character focus of Star Wars and how George Lucas used that to create an audience. It takes into consideration the character-focus trend in Hollywood preceding the release of A New Hope. Comparisons are drawn to Disney’s strong character approach and how these elements helped lead George in the making of his story. Afterwards the toyline further strengthened the character focus of Star Wars with the fans and in later years that bond with the fans was deepened with the likes of fanzines and fanfiction. In the end, fandom took the character focus to a whole new level. All of these interesting ideas are brought up in the essay, but they are also buried within a very dense, academic writing style. Whereas the style of the chapter about language was very forthright and easy to read.

Each author brings something different to the table. The scholarly essays certainly require more attention to follow along with, but of the few that take that approach, they usually provide some thought provoking points. The other essays read like any other article you might find in your favorite entertainment magazine. They’re easy to follow along with and a bit more enjoyable. Looking at the essays and authors in the book, each has a different style and aptitude, different topics and appeal. That said, there’s a nice connectivity between the essays as they will often reference each other. While reading the chapters, it always felt like each author knew what everyone else was writing about, and was thus able to build upon the other author’s ideas or make sure not to retread something that was already covered.

While some of the essays got a little too broad in scope, or skewed a little too heavily toward the academic side of things, most of them were easy to read and covered some neat ideas. The book includes some full color pictures to accommodate the text, and there’s a couple of pages devoted fully to a famous Star Wars quote that nicely fits into the subject matter. Although the book does not exhaustively explore any elements in extreme detail, it provides a nice overview of the phenomena of the franchise and the part fandom has played in it. The various notes for further reading/viewing/listening are a boon for fans who would like to delve deeper into the subject. As such, it’s a good book to check out to see what else is out there. It certainly piqued my interest in new areas and raised my awareness of subjects I hadn’t considered or knew nothing about. I give Fan Phenomena – Star Wars a four out of five metal bikinis and recommend it to any Star Wars fan who would like to take a deeper look at the fandom they are part of.

Reviewed By: Skuldren for Roqoo Depot.

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