Four Years and Counting: Mary
FANgirl administrator note: Earlier this fall, FANgirl celebrated its four-year anniversary in the blogosphere. To mark the occasion, I asked some of my regular contributors a series of questions looking at where we’ve been and where we’re going. Next up, Mary!
1) Name five things that you love about Star Wars.
- The Force. Obi-Wan Kenobi said that it “binds us together”. That is exactly what happened when as the Star Wars fan community developed: we became bound together by our shared passion for this sprawling modern myth. While in real life we tend to “silo” various faiths and go to war over their differences, the Force offers a fundamental philosophy that we all could share. It is idealistic, Utopian, even magical thinking that can open minds.
- The Core Characters. Many of the main characters are iconic, from the Original Trilogy through the Expanded Universe and now Star Wars Rebels. Yet they are real and flawed, which makes them human. I believe that fans care deeply about the heart of Star Wars – their favorite characters – including non-carbon-based life forms like the Falcon, Threepio, and Artoo!
- Expanding Our View of Humanity. To me, Star Wars has always represented a broader view of humanity that encompasses the meta and the minutiae. Its timeframe suggests that humankind has a vast, unknown history with many of the same problems that we experience in our contemporary world. Yet in Star Wars stories we see different approaches to those problems that, once brought to light, can change attitudes.
- Extreme Imagineering. The visuals of Star Wars, from environments to wardrobe to non-human cultures, are new and yet often familiar. I don’t believe I have ever been disappointed by the “look” (or even written description) of any part of that distant universe.
- Star Wars is an Infinite Blank Canvas. The Star Wars Universe is an infinite canvas where only a small fraction of its potential stories are fully illustrated. Enormous space remains for armies of creators to add new colors and textures in a perfect storm of storytelling that can fill all of the senses.
2) Four years ago where was your Star Wars fandom?
I was living in a pretty little rural town, riding (horses) a lot, looking after a small private stable plus helping out part-time at a large barn where I was privileged to clean up after Olympic horses. My feelings about Star Wars were – mixed – at that point. I felt:
Loss of Faith. In 2010, I was feeling separation from Star Wars with a sense of loss. The Expanded Universe books had held my interest at peak level. I was an active fangirl until the Fate of the Jedi series dealt something of a fatal blow. Certain books in that set were less disappointing than others but I felt let down by many of them and frustrated over the deteriorating quality of specific story arcs and authorial choices. Although I was always heartened by the late, great Aaron Allston’s injections of humor, even they couldn’t save the meandering course of this series and I know that I wasn’t alone in thinking that. It was a bit of a premonition: the shortcomings of the Fate of the Jedibooks signalled the beginning of the end of the EU. In addition, the wrap-up of Legacy was equally disheartening. I feared what these changes meant for the future of Star Wars, and as a fan since 1977, I felt disenfranchised.
This Call Has Been Disconnected. That year I attended my second con, Celebration V. Unfortunately, I suffered an accident at home just two days prior to flying to Orlando which left me dealing with eye and leg injuries. Frustrated and in pain, I found it difficult to enjoy this convention as much as I had Celebration IV in Los Angeles. Having traveled to CV on my own, it was very tough to cope with simple things in the massive convention center. I had to return to my hotel room for rest and ice treatments at least two or three times each day, missing out on some great fan moments. I felt distanced from the gathered Star Wars community. I fall back into that sense of isolation occasionally, but I am hoping that “The Force Awakens” provides a much-needed rallying point to revive the visceral excitement that was once the heart of Star Wars fandom.
On the Light Side. Celebration V did have its “fangirlflail” moments. This is the “All About Aaron” segment, starting with a chance meeting and chat with Aaron Allston. I created a “special edition” con badge that was presented to Aaron, and he wore it with apparent pride throughout the entire convention. At a book signing, Aaron kindly signed my copy of the very limited edition badge and its subject matter created a fun exchange involving me, Aaron, and fellow Star Wars author Troy Denning. I will never forget that. My Aaron Allston-CV memories poked at the lingering embers of fandom.
3) Do you feel more or less connected to fandom now?
Unfortunately, somewhat less connected. However, I have recently grown more hopeful.
I bought Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire on the morning it was released. I ran from the bookstore, and instead of driving home, sat in my car to read more than one hundred pages while barely taking a breath. That book brought Star Wars back to life for me, and with no movies on the horizon back then, books became “my” Star Wars universe. Now, with the Extended Universe rebranded as “Legends”, I still grieve the fact that there will be no new books. Re-reading the old ones just isn’t the same as looking forward to a new title – a new adventure – in that EU filled with characters who feel like old friends.
I don’t know why, but I was never able to connect with The Clone Wars animated series, and while I admit that I have not read them all, only one novel was memorable to me in the last few years: Aaron Allston’s Mercy Kill.
I really want to hold onto that old fangirl excitement. This was made clear on the day that the trailer for “The Force Awakens” was released. I was genuinely excited when it first aired and couldn’t watch it often enough. I laughed with delight and cried a few nostalgic tears at the sight of X-wings flying low with S-foils in attack position, and best of all, at seeing the Falcon’s sudden appearance accompanied by the magnificent John Williams score, maneuvering in atmosphere with its customary unexpected grace.
That day gave me hope.
4) Name 3-5 areas where Star Wars can improve.
- Communications with Fan Community. We used to have a few channels for communication with some high-level people at the original Lucasfilm family of companies. I feel that the loss of that contact is unfortunate for both sides.
- Diversity. Every day on social media we discover more incidences of, for example, gender bias – still happening after all these years. Thankfully, more people are speaking out to keep this issue on the agenda and some people in boardrooms are starting to listen. Yet while gender may be the issue most discussed, it is only one among many. Race, faith, sexual orientation, and more are hot topics in desperate need of acknowledgement and changes in attitude. Diversity education is still required on a wide scale.
- Opening Up to a Broader Demographic. I would like to see more attention paid to mature fans. For the most part – Episode VII being a potential exception – Star Wars today seems to be sliding down the age scale to fixate on, say, 5-to-15-year-olds. This could have something to do with the Disney demographic and sensibilities, or it could be a choice for some other reason. Regardless, older fans – the originals that started the fan community – do not seem to be considered a significant market. These are the peers of the treasured Original Trilogy actors. That seems to be an odd disconnect, and from a financial aspect, this is the demographic who buy merchandise for their kids and grandkids.
5) It’s been two years since the Disney sale was announced. Have your feelings about the sale changed?
Disney is a vast entertainment empire that makes me nervous. As a child, I had limited exposure to Disney culture, and I continue to fear what I think of as the Disney-fication of Star Wars. The acquisition no doubt made financial and business sense yet I am still uncertain whether Star Wars will remain true to its origins. I don’t yet have enough understanding of the company to trust Disney with the overarching stewardship of Star Wars. However, I feel that Episode VII is likely to be a make-or-break moment for the long-term outcome of the acquisition.
6) Name five things you hope to see from Star Wars in the future.
- More truly heroic and dynamic female lead characters in all aspects of the franchise.
- No dilution of Star Wars through the making of too many new movies. I fear there is grave danger of over-saturation given the currently aggressive movie schedule – even with a fandom as large as this one.
- New book series: stories looking forward, or at least sideways, based on the directions being taken in Episode VII. I dislike all of the books that delve into sometimes obscure situations and characters from the past, plus they focus almost exclusively on male characters!
- With every possible ounce of respect to the incredible Star Wars animators: I prefer far less animation and more live action.
- Branching out from Star Wars in the Classroom initiatives, there may be opportunities to use the familiarity of Star Wars to benefit older persons as well as youth. Not long ago I witnessed a very elderly woman playing a Star Wars game on a small tablet. I instantly recognized that this was a therapeutic intervention that helped her visual acuity, dexterity, and cognitive ability. Star Wars as a learning or remedial tool is not only for the young.
7) What has influenced you the most to keep you involved in fandom?
- My passion for the OT and the EU, plus their respective characters, even when the products themselves were less than satisfying. There was always hope that the next novel or merchandise would be good, or even great.
- The length and depth of my fandom, dating back to 1977. Giving up on Star Wars was not something I could do willingly or easily.
- My hyperactive imagination always sees so many possibilities in such a rich universe – I have never lost that kid-in-a-candy-store feeling about the Star Wars environment.
- Sharing my excitement for Star Wars with other like-minded people. There is such a strong sense of community all over the world.
- I have learned a lot being part of the Star Wars community, about writing and storytelling, and rising above your limitations.
8) Name something you’ve learned while participating in FANgirl.
- The incredible scope of social media. The impact your words can have on a large audience.
- That writing reasoned arguments and speaking out in numbers are where change begins.
- Do your research. Write from a place of knowledge.
9) List five characters you would like to see in the future of Star Wars.
Suspending reality for a moment, I would vote for EU stalwarts like:
- The Solo-Skywalker clan – singling out Mara Jade Skywalker and Jaina Solo.
- The Antilles and Fel families – highlighting Wedge, Jag, and Soontir.
- Grand Admiral Thrawn and the Chiss,
- The Rogues and the Wraiths.
Sorry, that’s my Automated Wish List and it is many more than five characters.
Back to the question: given how little we know about the characters and directions being taken in Episode VII, I would basically like to see the progeny of major Original Trilogy characters Han, Leia, Luke, Lando, Wedge.
10) Looking ahead, what ways do you want to affect change for the better in fandom?
- Continue a full-court press for better gender representation and diversity of all kinds in Star Wars and genre fiction as a whole.
- Support and extend the use of Star Wars in education by supporting the development of aids like texts or curricular guides.
- Extend the idea of Star Wars in the Classroom with programs that involve fans and community as well as educators. I would love to see a creative mentorship role that connects elder fans with children and youth in classrooms and libraries with a view toward stimulating young imaginations and presenting them with positive values.
- Continuing in the creative vein: Star Wars is so rich with visual imagery. Core Star Wars elements could be used to encourage young artists to develop their talents in areas like costume design, set design, vehicle concepts, and alien architecture. Whether it is stimulating STEM career paths or linguists, Star Wars has the potential to play a role in developing an amazing range of future talent.
A long time ago, very close to home… Star Wars freed Mary’s imagination and planted her feet firmly on the fangirl path. Since then, her geek passions have expanded to include The Hunger Games, Indiana Jones, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, and Steampunk culture. A contributor to FANgirlblog from its inception, she encourages and supports its pro-female mandates and also hopes to raise the profile of “experienced” fans that are now clearly outnumbered by younglings.
You can contact Mary via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on Twitter: @StellarArtisan
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