Now that we’ve had some time for that to settle in, let’s do a rambling, winding follow-up*.
*But everything you write is a rambling, winding follow-up, you say! I’m not going to dispute that.
Just what is real Star Wars? That is, what counts? What’s okay to invest time, money, and emotional attachment? If you want to stop reading at the end of this paragraph, the short answer is whatever resonates with you counts. It doesn’t matter if your preference lies in the films, television, books, comics, toys, games, Disney rides, or even fan works. There’s no singular right answer or a universally accepted truth as to what is worthy of your own personal fandom. In other words, if you enjoy it, it counts.
Still with me? Let’s have a chat about gatekeepers under the jump.
There’s a tendency in fandom for some fans to act as gatekeepers of sorts, a mindset that’s often more destructive and off-putting than it’s not. What is gatekeeper behavior, you might ask? There’s a lot of ways you could define it, but I think at its core, being a gatekeeper is trying to project and force your view of Star Wars (or whatever fandom you’re in, this is a pretty universal concept) onto other fans. To a certain degree, I can understand why people do this. Star Wars is something you love, and you want other people to experience and enjoy it in the same way you did.
The problem with this is that the gatekeeper mentality, ultimately, results in exclusionary behavior. It’s an extension of the True Fan nonsense that drives me (and other people) crazy. In essence, the gatekeeper tries to police and screen other fans by using a set of ultimately arbitrary standards that they came up with on their own. See the fallacious Fake Geek Girl meme for a macro-fandom example.
Within the context of Star Wars, you see countless different gatekeepers casting judgment on others. You’re not a real fan if you like the prequel films. You’re not a real fan if you don’t like the prequel films. You shouldn’t care so much about the books and comics. You shouldn’t be so emotionally involved in the Clone Wars. You shouldn’t bother with the video games. The gatekeeper seeks to dictate who is a fan and how they should behave and enjoy the fandom.
As you can clearly see, that’s ridiculous.
This essay and the piece posted on Wednesday were actually written at the concurrently to illustrate a point, and I do apologize sincerely to those who were offended by it but I ask you to hang with me for a few more paragraphs. I assure you, I don’t for a moment think that the sequel trilogy doesn’t count. Quite the contrary, I’m excited and I plan to be bouncing around like an eight-year-old after downing a Big Gulp of Mountain Dew when the midnight premiere of Episode VII rolls around.
For many who aren’t exposed to the Expanded Universe, Wednesday’s post made them angry, and justifiably so. In that piece, I took some of the most commonly used (and infuriating) arguments, rhetoric, and tone that gatekeepers use to exclude and discourage those who are invested in the Expanded Universe and turned them against the sequel trilogy. Obviously the sequel trilogy is real and counts even though George Lucas has sold his stake in Lucasfilm and isn’t down in the trenches anymore. You would have to be deluded to think it doesn’t count and isn’t real. But why, then, is it wrong to use those arguments against the sequel trilogy but okay to use the same ones against the Expanded Universe or any other element of the fandom?
Well. It’s not okay. Those arguments and rules are entirely arbitrary, as are any rule sets or standards created by other fans to determine who True Fans are and what really counts. Who are you* to say what does and does not count? Who are you to decide what other fans are allowed to be invested in? You don’t get to dictate and control what stories or products or mediums resonate with another fan.
You are not the gatekeeper of this fandom.
*Hypothetical you, not YOU you. I’m sure you’re a lovely person that wouldn’t do this.
Let’s close out with a heavy-handed story* to drive the point home. High school was rough for me. In addition to the usual self-image and awkward 15-to-18-year-old problems that come along for the ride, I dealt with pretty crippling depression. I’ll spare the details since, frankly, I don’t like thinking back to that point in time too often. My sophomore year was probably the lowest point in my life and I retreated into books both to keep me occupied and keep me isolated from other people. While I was on a nearly school year long reading binge, I picked up a copy of X-Wing: Rogue Squadron by Michael Stackpole. Star Wars, literature. Two things I absolutely adore.
*But all of your essays have heavy-handed stories, you say! Well yeah, I’m not a particularly clever man.
I devoured the first four books in a month and begged my dad to buy a used copy of Aaron Allston’s Wraith Squadron off of Amazon because I couldn’t find it at any of the book stores nearby. When it showed up, I stayed up entirely too late reading it. A strange thing happened while I was going through the first scene in the first chapter. I laughed. Honest-to-Force laughed. I hadn’t done much of that the entire school year and it took Allston’s signature brand of irreverent humor to make it happen. The next day I went to school in a good mood for the first time in months. After school, I checked myself back into a therapist to work things out and get my life back on track. All because one Expanded Universe pulled me out of a funk just long enough to get some perspective.
Obviously that’s an extreme example of something in this fandom resonating with a fan, but it does illustrate that there’s no telling why a certain piece of Star Wars or any fandom will have an impact on someone. That’s why when a gatekeeper tells me that the Expanded Universe doesn’t matter (or it doesn’t count, there should be less of it, you’re wasting your time on it), I get reflexively and perhaps irrationally upset. The Expanded Universe means a lot to me for some very real, deep, and personal reasons. You can’t tell me that my love of these media tie-in novels is a waste of time and that I’m silly for being so invested in them because I have enough personal proof to say otherwise.
Think back to how you felt while reading the last post. If you didn’t catch on to what I was doing, you were probably upset with me. Rightfully so, I might add. It was patently unfair that I was calling your fandom into question and telling you that you were wasting your time. Now turn it around. Replace the words “sequel trilogy” with Expanded Universe, video games, prequel trilogy, original trilogy or any other element of this fandom. When you start using exclusionary arguments against other fans, they’re liable to feel the same anger and sadness you did while reading that post.
Don’t play gatekeeper. You don’t have to like everything that someone else does, but respect their right to enjoy any element of this fandom. We all have different lenses which we view the world through, and that means different things within Star Wars will speak to us more than others. Don’t try and regulate how others experience and enjoy this universe, because any arbitrary set of rules and standards can’t and shouldn’t fit everyone. As always, the litmus test for being a Star Wars fan is simple. If you can answer affirmatively when asked “do you love Star Wars,” you’re a Star Wars fan.
But here’s another litmus test: Does this film, book, comic, television show, game, fan fiction, or fan film resonate with you or another fan?
If the answer is “yes,” it counts.