Photo by Laurin WootenThe Sci-Fi Channel recently aired a special, hosted by that pesky Kevin Smith, featuring short films that fans have made in tribute to the Star Wars franchise. The films were generally harmless, and some of them were even fairly well done, but there was nonetheless something profoundly depressing about the show.
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It was not simply that these amateur filmmakers, with their plastic Darth Vader helmets and crude, homemade light sabers, were displaying a cringe-inducing level of geekiness. You see, a long time ago, in what now seems like a galaxy far, far away, I was unhealthily obsessed with Star Wars. Eventually, though, I grew up and put away childish things (or, more accurately, I moved most of my childish things out to the garage), and now, when I look at the really rabid Star Wars fans, I feel a mixture of "There but for the grace of the Force go I" and an existential despair so complete it's like Darth Vader has just used some Jedi mind trick to squeeze the breath from my lungs.
Outsiders tend to lump Star Wars fanatics and Trekkies together, but while there is some overlap between the two camps, they often don't get along. Star Trek is widely regarded as a guy thing, but go to a Star Trek convention sometime (I dare you), and you will be immediately struck by how many girls are strolling around in Starfleet uniforms. Take a poll in your office, and odds are a couple of the gals will admit to being Trekkies to some degree. Star Wars, by contrast, really is pretty much a guy thing. After decades of movies and a bewildering assortment of TV series, Star Trekhas a vast universe teeming with exotic cultures and philosophies for fans to get lost in (sometimes all too literally). The official Star Wars canon, by contrast, offers a mere five films, each of them largely focused on breakneck action and gee-whiz hardware, with a side order of mumbo-jumbo about a vaguely defined mystical force known as, er, the Force. Star Trek dorks tend to be Lefties (they have to be to eat up all that secular humanism and hand-wringing about the Prime Directive); Star Wars dorks, by contrast, cut across the political spectrum, with perhaps a slight preponderance of Republicans and Libertarians in their ranks. Given all that, is it such a surprise that many Trekkies have little patience for Star Wars, while Star Wars fans tend to find Star Trek too talky and short on explosions?
I don't really mean to denigrate either camp; I'm more Trekkie than Star Wars-ie (or whatever Star Wars goofballs are supposed to call themselves), but while George Lucas pretty much drove me away with Return of the Jedi and then spat in my fanboy face with The Phantom Menace, my brain is still abuzz with the X-Wings and TIE Fighters that got me through a long and tumultuous childhood. Yes, Lucas' current Star Wars installments are targeted exclusively at the sensibilities of children in a way that his earlier pictures simply weren't; despite Lucas' assertions that he planned the franchise as a big kiddie show all along, there is nothing in the original three pictures, not even the goddamned Ewoks, to prepare you for the moment in Phantom Menace when Jar-Jar Binks steps in Bantha poo.
But when those light sabers spark to life, I, along with untold legions of my fellow aging, aspiring Jedi, still jump in our seats like hopped-up seven-year-olds.