The triumvirate of Star Wars fans

With less than 35 days until the opening day of the first Star Wars prequel, “The Phantom Menace”, fans worldwide — myself included — are practically hyperventilating with anticipation and suspense. Movie theaters continue to whet our appetites with two mouth-watering trailers while critics are predicting that the prequel will overtake the unexplainable, yet record-breaking, box office sales of “Titanic.”
When the first trailer appeared in November, theater managers reported that ticket buyers would often purchase a $7 ticket, watch the trailer, and then leave. Since fan loyalty is running at an all-time high, it seems only appropriate to reflect on the legacy of “Star Wars” and examine what exactly goes into the making of a true “Star Wars” fan.
Why has “Star Wars” continued to fascinate millions of people after almost 20 years of near-dormancy? The three mainstays of any successful movie unquestionably fail to appear within the trilogy: The acting is far from stellar, the plot is predictable and clichÇd and the dialogue is so pathetic it almost makes you want to cry. “I’m Luke Skywalker and I’m here to rescue you!” Puh-leaze. Yet “Star Wars” fans adore every corny line, every hokey scene and every unsurprising plot twist. “Star Wars” toys continue to top the charts of the most popular children’s gifts, and fans spend billions of dollars on merchandise every year. Practically no other film has spawned such a profitable market or such a loyal fan gathering. The ultimate basis for the trilogy’s success can be partially explained by the history of movies Before “Star Wars” — BSW — and After “Star Wars” — ASW.
In the BSW years, movies were grounded in a reality tinged with cynicism. During the 1960s and ’70s, “The Graduate”, “The Godfather” and “Jaws” were all released, portraying a world of violence, horror and moral ambiguity. Society desired something for which to cheer. They wanted handsome heroes, superhuman feats of courage and eyeball-bulging special effects. George Lucas fulfilled that craving, gracing audiences with the fantastical “Star Wars” Universe, where epic battles were fought, young heroes overcame old villains and all the characters modeled rad ’70s hairdos. The “Star Wars” trilogy reaffirmed and repopularized common themes highlighting good versus evil and humanity versus technology.
In the ASW years, movies continued to change. Otherworldly adventures started to dominate the big screen, from the classic “Alien” to “Independence Day”. Today, these special effects movies continue to flood the market, e.g., “Titanic” and “Armageddon”, but few contain any true substance. Because “Star Wars” still remains as one of the few perfect unions between special effects, science fiction and satisfying storytelling, its global fan base continues to thrive and grow.
Which brings us to our examination of what a true “Star Wars” fan is made. There are three levels of “Star Wars” fandom, including the Luke-Warm Fan, the Carbonite-Hard Fan and the all-surpassing, always-obsessing “Star Wars” Disciple, the crown jewel of the fan hierarchy. Following are some general demographic facts and the knowledge ranges of each different category for quick and easy recognition.
The Luke-Warm Fan is usually a 30- or 40-year-old, and counts the trilogy’s original release among fonder memories. He or she may have been a Carbonite-Hard Fan during youth, but the years have slowly deteriorated both memory and emotions. Thus, the Luke-Warm Fan forgets about past obsessions and ceases to be moved by re-watching the trilogy for the 359th time.
Given this loss of memory and intensity, the Luke-Warm Fan’s amount of retained information is minimal. Such a fan can remember the main character’s name is Luke Skywalker, and one of his enemies was some obese, disgusting, worm-like creature. With effort, the Luke-Warm Fan may be able to recall blurry images of swamps and trees from Yoda’s home planet of Dagobah.
The Carbonite-Hard Fan covers a smaller age bracket, ranging from toddler-age to puberty. These young fans are usually collect-aholics, possessing all the Dark Horse comic books, the many figures and play sets, and at least one copy of the trilogy. Yet these younger fans often miss the subtler undertones of the trilogy and fail to appreciate the artistic and symbolic aspects. Carbonite-Hard Fans are usually more interested in the weaponry, the vehicles and the technology of the “Star Wars” Universe.
Carbonite-Hard Fans pride themselves on the number of far-out facts they can recite on a moment’s notice, and their aerobic minds remember almost everything encountered. Complete mechanical information regarding the size of the ion engines in a TIE-Interceptor or the firing range of an Imperial Blaster is like the ABCs for every Carbonite-Hard Fan. The older, more advanced Carbonite-Hard Fans are able to detail the complete armory of Jabba’s sail barge, as well as the precise geographical location where it was blown up.
And then, we finally come to the “Star Wars” Disciple. Attaining this highest and most glorious tier of “Star Wars” fandom is often a laborious and discouraging trek. Most fans in this category are in their late teens or early 20s, falling in-between the age ranges of the Luke-Warm Fan and the Carbonite-Hard Fan. The mythology of the “Star Wars” Universe is considered the essential baggage of the intellectual Disciple. They are well versed in the history, the creation, and the underlying and overlying tones of the entire trilogy. In one conversation, they can compare aspects of world religions, C.S. Lewis books and “Smurfs” cartoon characters with the Jedi Knights and their tenets.
The “Star Wars” Disciples no longer need to hoard every piece of knowledge; they have it genetically coded into their DNA. The ability of the Disciples is breathtaking. They can relate that Luke’s character was originally named Luke Starkiller, and then will subsequently list off Mark Hamill’s entire filmography, including chronologies and short synopses. The Disciples not only possess a working knowledge of Hutteese/English translation, but also can draw up the entire Hutt family tree, including Zorba the Hutt and Pizza the Hutt. Yoda occupies a special area in all Disciples’ hearts. They constantly live with the knowledge that Yoda’s eyes were inspired by those of Albert Einstein, and that on June 9, 1980, Yoda made the cover of People magazine. Besides habitually practicing the levitation of rocks and robots, Disciples also hone their ability to foresee the future.
Regardless of the differing levels of knowledge ranges, ages or emotional intensities within these groups, each and every fan is awaiting the new prequel with an unprecedented devotion — to them, it is almost comparable to the second coming of Christ. Already, fans are camping out in Hollywood, relieving each other in four-hour shifts, and Webmasters are continually updating their Web sites with up-to-the minute prequel information.
If you are a Disciple, the Force is already with you. If you are a Carbonite-Hard Fan, the Force will be with you in the future. If you are a Luke-Warm Fan, it is too late; the Force has already been lost. But no matter what planet you come from or what language you speak, I encourage you not to miss the biggest event of the 20th century. There is still plenty of time left! It is humanly possible to watch the trilogy at least 128 more times before May 19. If you want to borrow either of my copies, look for me outside a movie theater with my “Star Wars” sleeping bag, my “Star Wars” tent and my fellow “Star Wars” Disciples!

Samantha Pace’s column appears onalternate Fridays. She welcomes comments by e-mail to [email protected]