Of Sausage, Fandom, and Vision

Long ago, I saw an interview with one of the makers of Casablanca, in which he explained that had they known they were making one of the great classics, they would have done a better job of it. Production was messy and rushed; Ingrid Bergman displayed real ambivalence between the male leads because the film was only half-scripted when filming began. We now know what “if he could do it over again” looks like: the Star Wars prequels and Greedo shoots first.

Reading the recent rumor-mongering and the trolling, flaming wreck of its comments section, I was struck by how people seized on a SW:TOR aside in a WAR post and how emotionally vested some people are in (and, quite vocally, against) Star Wars. It is strangely circular to have competing religions of fandom and hatedom exist around a setting that is only important because so many people are emotionally invested in it. Star Wars is pretty good sci fi; it has been done better and worse; we know it came from the same half-planned kluge that much of Hollywood does. Timothy Zahn’s trilogy will remain lesser known but better written than the originals, while other parts of expanded universe canon read like poor fan fiction.

Star Trek fandom and hatedom seem more comfortable with the notion of having mixed quality within the canon. That probably comes from having television series, with many chances for success or failure. You can ignore the bad episodes while enjoying the good, or you can mock the lows while granting the existence of the highs. You get stronger reactions around the movies, in which you have 90 minutes to get it right or fail spectacularly, with higher expectations for production quality and a coherent vision.

Are Star Wars fans similarly comfortable with variable quality in the expanded universe? My impression is that some people think the bad pieces defile Star Wars in a way you cannot defile William Shatner. If you do Star Wars badly, it is a wasted opportunity that can never be regained, while Star Trek, oh well, next year there will be another series or movie or book or whatever. Few people hate or love Star Trek as a whole, while Star Wars is a more unified faith.

Maybe that comes from The Vision. There seems to be an expectation that there will be one central Star Wars story line. If you mess that up, you have ruined the entire universe. One bad decision about who falls to the Dark Side and now everyone is stuck with that as canon. In Star Trek, only the Enterprise has anything close to that status, and even then you have centuries and mirror universes full of Enterprises.

Maybe that is just my outsider view as a hard sci fi guy. Neither one is even vaguely hard, so what is it to me if the psychology or rhetoric are held to the same standards as the physics?

: Zubon

7 thoughts on “Of Sausage, Fandom, and Vision”

  1. I think it’s a somewhat different divide – not one of orthodoxy but one of emphasis. I can’t recall seeing much (if any) vitriol being directed at SW:TOR for deviation from The Canon, but rather that the game won’t be the bastard offspring of Eve and Darkfall (with perhaps a lashing of Wing Commander). It’s the divide between a computer game (that happens to take place in the Star Wars setting) and a Star Wars experience (that happens to take the form of a computer game), made worse because the original SWG (especially with the benefit of nostalgia-tinted glasses) was the former, and Bioware have made it abundantly clear they’re making the latter.

    I suspect LotRO would have gotten the same kind of reception if the original UO had been set in Middle Earth instead of Brittania.

  2. In 1977, when I was still at school and playing guitar in a punk band, I wrote a song the first lcouplet of which ran “Star Wars’ a bore and I haven’t even seen it/Critics say it’s good but I know they don’t mean it”.

    Back in the 70s, American movies released in the U.K. the best part of six months after their U.S. premiere. The huge impact of Star Wars in the U.S.A. made news worldwide. There were pictures of the lines outside cinemas in America on our main T.V. new bulletins and heavy analytical articles in the serious press. Star Wars was a huge cultural phenomenon before we’d ever had a chance to experience it.

    I finally got to see the film in my first year at University, 1978. I went fully expecting it to be trash. I was a Science Fiction fan as well as a punk, a member of the Cambridge University Science Fiction Society, and no-one I knew expected Star Wars to be any more than a joke. It blew us away.

    Star Wars, virtually on its own, saved cinema in the U.K. Movie houses that had been cut up into tiny screens little bigger than your front room with screens scarcely bigger than your television, showing pornography or badly dubbed martial arts films, began to revamp themselves into full-size auditoria showing films for a mass audience on a huge screen. Attendances skyrocketed. The entire concept of going to the cinema was reclaimed for a popular audience that had been on the verge of being excluded.

    And despite all that, I still agree that, as science fiction, Star Wars barely reaches mediocre. The S.F. aspect of Star Wars is probably the least important thing about it.

  3. Well, the Star Wars expanded universe is more serious overall, while the Star Trek universe isn’t. FFS the X-men visited the Star Trek universe. Kirk fought alongside Abraham Lincoln and visited a gangster planet. Star Trek TNG gave us The Wesley. So people expect more. Even the animated films tend to be serious.

    I’ve read hard SF but it’s fallen way out of fashion since the authors got very extreme with the worlds to the point of alienating the audience. That’s what killed the genre for me for the longest time till I came back. Too many worlds were writer’s Utopias but hell for everyone else. Heck, even some of the greats have fallen. Asimov is second fiddle to the gnostic Phillip Dick, and Greg Bear or Gregory Benford used to be hot but seem to languish in obscurity.

  4. I’m not much of a fan for either, but I’ll take a stab at a guess.

    The perceived “purity” of Star Trek seems to have been diluted over the years with multiple writers, and the original creator Gene Roddenberry appears to have relinquished creative control very early in the process. As a result, Star Trek fandom might be more about the ideas behind the Enterprise – a bunch of free-spirited humanitarians flying about on a big spaceship, running into pulpy fun episodic adventures about aliens that look suspiciously like humans.

    Any time this treatment is done correctly and gives a strong story with characters to care about, it becomes a cause to celebrate. If it’s not well done, then well, it’s just like one bad TV episode, which were themselves present in the “original” canon.

    Star Trek canon has been pretty loose and piecemeal anyway since many writers never bothered keeping it straight between episodes. In that sense, it’s like Marvel fandom – time travel, alternate universe, just pick-and-choose what you like to ignore. It’s more about the essences of the characters and world.

    (Any real Star Trek fans, feel free to correct me if I went awry here.)

    On the other hand, in Star Wars, George Lucas has been sitting up there pretty with his overarcing storyline of the how-many-movies-has-it-been-now-six? Whatever he writes in, steers the universe.

    I suspect, but cannot prove, that the Star Wars universe is loose enough for individuals to follow the canon in the majority, but add their unique fan spin to it in their minds – creating their own heroic Jedi and Sith to run about in the world. This later becomes a problem when their own conception of the Star Wars universe starts bumping into other people’s conceptions (in novels, in games, etc.) and conflicting badly.

    Hence the amounts of hate when something doesn’t match up (including hate tossed at the creator for putting in ridiculous aliens when they had preformed a concept of a dramatic universe.)

    I guess it doesn’t help that established canon for Star Wars has been changing in huge movie-episode chunks, across a span of decades. Much of it the fault of the creator himself. (I’m not impressed by Star Wars, can you tell?)

    Let’s contrast a couple other fandoms. Babylon 5 is my poison of choice. I suspect B5 fans are even more particular than Star Wars fans about the canon being done right. It is JMS, or no one. Why? Because JMS has the grand overall plan, guiding the first two seasons and writing every last episode of the final three seasons. Without JMS giving the ok, it is not Babylon 5 canon. It is fanfic which can be of decent quality, or trash, both of which can be accepted or ignored at will.

    How about Joss Whedon’s Firefly/Serenity? I’m not that well informed about the fandom, but I think it similar. Joss Whedon set the tone and the original canon in the episodes. And the browncoats seem to be quite particular to make sure future spin-offs are in keeping with the themes and lore.

    Ditto Tolkien and Lord of the Rings. In this case, the creator has passed on, but his estate and the book(s) of canon remain. Anything (the movies, the MMO) must reference the book and commit to getting the small details right before it is considered good.

  5. I don’t particularly attach myself to either series, because the simplest answer to Kirk or Spock is “neither, it’s Bill Adama bitches”.

    I am quite impressed by the consistency of the Star Wars universe though. The folks at Lucas have kept a tight leash on the storyline to ensure there is no point in time where stories intersect or timelines are violated or anything is chronologically out of order. Pick up any Star Wars book, the first two pages will likely give you a complete chronological timeline of everything that happened in the Star Wars universe, including the six movies, the animated series and the plethora of books written about the IP.

    Star Trek suffers from the opposite. Everything is malleable. You see one version for some 40+ odd years, then Spock time travels in 2009, and Vulcan is destroyed even before the major events of TOS. Seriously, what the hell?

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