Documentaries, interviews and opinion pieces capturing a slice of Star Wars fandom tend to have one thing in common – showcasing that first crop of fans from 1977. This, we’re led to believe, is the golden generation, fandom’s year zero, and with it comes a kind of superiority, an elitism, whether intended or not. What can be quantified, however, is that these recollections and anecdotes dominate the conversation about how any given individual discovered Star Wars for themselves. Unless you were there in ’77 who cares, right?
Except that’s only a small part of a much wider story. It’s been over four decades since the release of A New Hope and there’s been generations of kids who’ve found other entry points over the years. For me and thousands of other early nineties kids born into the so-called ‘Dark Times’, we inherited that hinterland between the end of Return of the Jedi and the release of the Special Editions. It was as though fandom fell off a cliff, at least where pop culture was concerned. Though there were books, comics and other media, the mainstream had grown weary and moved along.
But I want to present the story of discovering Star Wars from a different point of view. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment I discovered the franchise, it’s just always kind of been there, as if some innate part of my psyche. My primary school years pre-1999 were filled with Star Wars in one form or another. Though my friends and I re-enacted lightsaber battles and tried to catch the original trilogy whenever it was on TV, there was one among us who was already an obsessive. At six or seven, he already knew so much of the minutiae of the galaxy and, like my own personal Yoda, he taught me. More importantly, he and his movie magazines kept me abreast of the latest release, even revealing the title to me – The Phantom Menace. The moment is locked in my mind, I can recall it with perfect clarity and I refused to believe him. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I thought it was too exotic a title for a Star Wars movie, or maybe it was just my weird kid brain doing its thing. Either way, I didn’t believe him, at least not until the trailer appeared on TV.
My parents took me and my young sisters to see The Phantom Menace in cinemas, something I’ll forever thank them for. Of course, they had a vested interest, wanting to see the origins of Darth Vader too. It’s been almost twenty years since then, so I can’t remember the whole experience, only parts of it. I remember my dad laughing and pointing out the legs of a battle droid still walking after Obi-Wan cut off the torso. I remember having to go pee during the Gungans’ battle with the droid army. But mostly, I remember feeling fulfilled and exhilarated, like I was part of something.
That was my 1977, being the perfect age to experience the movie, even if my bladder wasn’t quite up to the challenge of the 133-minute runtime. The difference is that it’s cool to say you were there in ’77, a badge of honour, a rite of passage. That film changed the cultural zeitgeist, transformed the way movies were made, stories were told and entertainment was marketed. For my money, The Phantom Menace is a more fulfilling and rewarding watch than A New Hope, but I appreciate I’m in a minority here. Saying you were there in ’99 isn’t cool, it’s not a rite of passage and it’s not a badge of honour. But it should be. This movie revitalised a stagnant franchise and ushered in an entire new generation of fans. And guess what? That generation is now in influential positions, many even working on new Star Wars media and content – from books, podcasts and comics to the films themselves.
The theatrical release of Revenge of the Sith helped usher me into my teenage years and was the first Star Wars movie I saw with a friend, rather than family. I was there in 2005, seeing the circle complete, bearing witness to the entire tragedy and redemption of Anakin Skywalker. It was a great time to be a fan, what with the latest cycle of movies, a slew of acclaimed video games, books, comics and the Clone Wars micro series.
As the Star Wars saga shows, beginnings are important. Where we come from matters and making anyone feel ashamed about how they got into this franchise is ridiculous. People of all ages discover Star Wars through so many channels. There’s an entire generation whose entry point was animation. The latest crop of fans was ushered into the fold through the sequel trilogy. To them, the stories of Ben, Rey, Finn and Poe ARE Star Wars. Decades from now, people will explain where they were in 2015. Because today’s young fans will grow up to shape Star Wars, and I can’t wait to see what they do with it.