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Unabashed geek Jordan King-Lacroix notes that thanks to the popularity of Star Wars, geekdom has never been more accessible – or acceptable – for everyone.
Confession time: I love Star Wars. I have since I was little. I watched the VHS tapes of those films until they were scratched and snowy. Between Han Solo and Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford was the man I wanted to be. Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia Organa was my first real “celebrity crush.” Darth Vader scared me, and then made me sad.
It was a goddamn roller coaster.
And it went into a deep tailspin with those prequels. Oh, boy.
But I don’t want to talk about which films were good and which ones I’d rather forget. Which ones were written well, directed poorly, or whose performances were perfect, or perfectly awful. I am not going to lament that Star Wars that could have been. I want to talk about how Star Wars shaped us all, and how it is a meeting ground between geeks like me and those who don’t identify with the moniker.
I am a geek. I play Dungeons and Dragons every week – which sometimes includes forays into the Star Wars universe via pen and paper. I play a lot (read: too many) video games. I read a lot. And I get really excited about all those things. So, you can imagine how excited (and exceedingly trepidatious) I was about The Force Awakens. I saw The Phantom Menace when I was eleven and, though Jar Jar Binks seems funny at that age, he isn’t. And the whole thing didn’t go well.
Star Wars is for everyone. It’s accessible sci-fi. Where Neal Stephenson’s prose is too dense, when Asimov and Frank Herbert and Phillip K Dick have too much to get into, Star Wars is there. You can play the games if you want to, read the (astoundingly large amount) of extended universe novels, or read the comics, or watch the animated series, but you don’t have to. If the world of the films is enough for you, that’s fine. I love the movies and the games, and some of the comics, but I don’t really care for a lot of the novels. My friends do, and they tell me things about the universe that are awesome, some that are stupid, but it’s a glowing universe. One that’s been reset. If you don’t want to read or play a lot of the new extended universe stuff, check out this Verge article – but be careful, it discusses Force Awakens plot points.
There’s been an overall acceptance of all things geek in the past decade or so. But before I talk about that, I want to talk about my experience with midnight screenings.
I went to the midnight screening for Revenge of the Sith for my brother’s birthday a few years back. Now, it’s not a good film, but it’s the best of the prequel trilogy by far. When we went, there were a lot of different kinds of people there, but mostly, it was costumed nerds. People like me. I may not have been costumed, but most Star Wars fans (at the time), who weren’t really into it, would never have gone to a midnight release. That kind of thing was for weirdos and nerds. There were some people there, nerds all grown up, with their kids. It was lovely.
Well, actually, the projectionist cut the film wrong and it skipped forward to the massive Anakin reveal and some enterprising soul covered the projector before we saw too much. We had to wait forty-five minutes or so for them to fix it.
But those costumed nerds, they had us covered. One dressed as Darth Vader and one as Luke decided to entertain us with dialogue and a lightsabre battle. It was actually pretty great, even if the film wasn’t.
Compare that to the Force Awakens midnight screening I went to not a few days ago. Looking around me, it was a lot of geeks wearing their favourite Star Wars t-shirts, to be sure. But there were Xbox bros who’d probably only realised it was okay to like Star Wars when Battlefront came out and was awesome. There were biker-looking guys, covered head to toe in tattoos. Literally. Hidden in there, I would wager, is at least, one Rebel Alliance symbol. I saw tired business people, excited men and women everywhere.
There have been, I think, three primary instigators of this acceptance shift towards geeky things. The first, and I think the biggest in terms of impact, has been that those isolated kids who loved sci-fi and fantasy have grown up. They’ve grown up and entered the film, game and writing industries. They’re producing more of the content they love, and they’re doing it well and with decent budgets. They’re proving that there are lots of people out there who love this stuff.
They’re proving that there are lots of people out there who love this stuff.
And they’re present on social media. They’re everywhere. I’m not just talking about JJ Abrams, Peter Jackson and their ilk. Other celebrities who aren’t seen as necessarily in the business of geekdom are flying their freak flags; people like Vin Diesel, Mila Kunis, Jennifer Lawrence, Zoe Saldana – hell, Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) was the inspiration for current Ultimate Spider-man character Miles Morales. It’s coming in from all sides, for all different kinds of reasons. These people grew up with it, and have fun participating in the creation of it. That makes it cool – and okay, more to the point – to like it.
Those aren’t even the mention people like Felicia Day, Zoë Quinn, Brianna Wu and Anita Sarkeesian, among many others, who are not only making it okay, but making it safe for women in geekdom. The voices that weren’t heard, weren’t catered to, now are on their way. There’s still some road to pave, but it’s at least the construction is underway.
The second big difference has been the Marvel films. They’re big blockbuster action films, they look beautiful and have gorgeous actors in them. They’re everything people want from a good flick, and they happen to be geeky. These audiences may not have been interested in the comics before but they might be now! Suddenly, if a jock-like person enjoys the Marvel stuff, he might meet a geeky person who knows a lot about the Marvelverse that they can have a conversation with. Someone who can point them in the direction of some good comics to start with.
The third thing, which I think has been so gradual and normalised that it’s hard to think of today without it, is the prominence and popularity of video games. Before, say, the late ’90s, only nerds played video games. Unless you were at the arcade; that was always cool, for some reason. If you had a good computer or a Nintendo system, you were a dork and a dweeb, and, go the hell outside and play football.
Everyone has games. Whether they’re on their phone, or on their computer, or on a console. Businessmen play Candy Crush on their phones. Preppy cheerleaders play Life is Strange on Steam. Fratboys bro-out on Call of Duty on Xbox.
It is normal to have video games. It’s not weird to like them anymore. Suddenly, a huge portion of what made people nerds and dorks and geeks has been totally normalised. All of us suddenly have something in common. Yeah, I might not like Madden, and you might not love Shadowrun, but there’s common ground. And no one is going to beat me up because of it.
There are still a lot of geeks, I would bet, who are worried that these aren’t “real fans” because they don’t know just how many Bothans died bringing the Alliance information on the Death Star (two dozen) or what race Jabba’s guards are (Gamorreans). People who are scared of sharing these things with the people who likely teased them about enjoying it before. These would be the same people who rail against “fake gamer girls.” The same people who perpetrated Gamergate. They whine and opine about everything becoming “mainstream” when, really, that’s what they’ve wanted all along. They’ve wanted to be accepted and not bullied for their interests. They want to prove these things are awesome. And they are.
These people will grow up sooner or later. They’ll realise that sharing the thing they love with more people doesn’t ruin the thing, it just means more people love it too. It means there’s common ground. It means you finally have something to talk about with them.
Thanks, Star Wars, you brought us together, and I don’t think you even knew it.
Now the rest of you, go see The Force Awakens so we can talk about it!