The week of December 20, 2015

The many, many worlds of ‘Star Wars’

By Jesse Hicks

Now in the wake of the much-heralded arrival of Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens, this week we continue our look at the effects of George Lucas’s swashbuckling space epic. In this issue of the Kernel, we’re focused less on the movies themselves and more on the other media set in the Star Wars universe.

First, Dennis Scimeca looks at the dedicated group of fans who’ve spent years trying to resurrect Star Wars Galaxies. If you’re unfamiliar, SWG was a massive multiplayer online game—one of the first and most ambitious, in fact, designed to support thousands of players living second lives in the universe of Star Wars. Rather than offer a generic movie tie-in based on the well-known adventures of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia, though, Galaxies let players make their own paths, choosing among myriad possible professions. The game was complex and challenging, great for a certain kind of fan but too much for newcomers. The company behind it first radically altered the game, then eventually shut it down. For more than 10 years, players who loved it have worked hard to bring it back in all its original glory.

By basic business calculations, Star Wars Galaxies was a failed world. Even in its radically altered form, it simply didn’t appeal to enough paying subscribers. Vivian Kane looks at another world that hopes to appeal to the mass of Star Wars fans, young and old: Disney’s upcoming Star Wars Land. If the creators of Star Wars Galaxies hoped for a wide-open, sandbox experience, Disney’s Imagineers will be looking to provide the opposite: a carefully controlled theme park that will evoke all the familiar emotions of childhood fantasies. That means, though, appealing to an audience of notoriously demanding fans—of both Disney and Star Wars. Kane looks at what it’ll take to produce a Star Wars Land worthy of the name.

Charlie Moss looks at another pastime that already appeals to young and old: the massively popular Star Wars toys. The original 3 ¾ inch figures changed the game of both movie merchandising and toy collecting, he argues, while embedding themselves in childhood play the world over, where they’ve remained for nearly 40 years. And not just as fondly remembered childhood artifacts: As fans have aged, many of the figures have become collector’s items worth thousands of dollars. Over those decades, collecting Star Wars toys has gone from a niche pastime into something like an almost-mainstream subculture, complete with meticulously researched websites and a documentary about the super-collectors.

And finally, because we can’t really avoid talking about the movies themselves, Phil Owen describes how learning to hate the prequel trilogy made him a better fan. He grew up loving the original trilogy and was known as the “Star Wars Guy” among his friends. As he headed into adolescence, the prequel trilogy began and, as he relates, it was a special kind of disappointment. It took him all three movies to really figure out how to reconcile his recognition that the movies sucked with his identity as a loyal fan. It’s a story about growing up as a fan, and learning to have an identity separate from the stories you love.

Enjoy the issue.

Illustration by Bruno Moraes