Academic journal article Extrapolation

Hokey Religions: STAR WARS and STAR TREK in the Age of Reboots

Academic journal article Extrapolation

Hokey Religions: STAR WARS and STAR TREK in the Age of Reboots

Article excerpt

In the last few years debates over stewardship, fidelity, and corporate ownership have arisen in both Star Wars and Star Trek1 fandom, as long-standing synchronicity between corporate interest and fan investment in these franchises has suddenly and very sharply diverged. After several decades nurturing hyperbolic "expanded universes" in tie-in media properties, through which devoted fans might more fully inhabit the narrative worlds depicted in the more central film and television properties, the corporate owners of both properties have determined that their commercial interests now lie in reboots that eliminate those decades of excess continuity and allow the properties to "start fresh" with clean entry points for a new generation of fans. In the case of Star Wars, the ongoing narrative has been streamlined by prioritizing only the six films and certain television programs as "canonical" and relegating the rest to the degraded status of apocryphal "Star Wars Legends," in hopes of drawing in rather than alienating potential viewers of the forthcoming Episodes 7-9 (2015-2019). In the case of Star Trek, the transformation is even more radical; utilizing a diegetic time-travel plotline originating within the fictional universe itself, the franchise has been "reset" to an altered version of its original 1960s incarnation, seemingly relegating every Star Trek property filmed or published before 2009 to the dustbin of future history-in effect obsolescing its entire fifty-year history, "canon" and "non-canon" alike, in the name of attracting a new audience for the rebooted franchise.

These moves raise familiar questions about the relationship among the corporate owners of an intellectual property; the mainstream, casual audience to whom the blockbuster films are addressed; and the much smaller hardcore fan base that sustains a franchise during its lean years through its consumption of tie-in novels, comics, cartoons, radio plays, and games and their production of fan fiction and fan commentary. To which population does an imaginary universe properly "belong," and how do fandoms navigate opposed loyalties to differing "canons" in a contemporary moment in which the pace of "reboots" seems only to increase? Considering fandom investment in the processes of world-building and continuity across the landscape of SF media forms, this article will focus specifically on Star Wars and Star Trek. Perhaps along with superhero comics and the British television series Doctor Who (1963-), both of which I discuss briefly in my conclusion, these franchises are the two key vehicles for the explosive popularity of science fictional media over the last fifty years as well as two key loci for the development of fandoms and fan practices across the SF genre. A key irony in both cases is that these now-denigrated expanded universes and "fan canons" have exhibited some of the most complex and imaginative world-building in their respective franchises, elevating both Star Wars and Star Trek from what Darko Suvin negatively characterized as mere "science fantasy" to the level of genuine "science fiction" through fan attempts to rationalize and regularize the events depicted on screen;2 this expansive transmedia world-building, though now viewed as a potential economic liability, has long been among both franchises' greatest assets in terms of renewing fan investment and generating new intellectual property, thereby ensuring ongoing profits on the part of their corporate owners.

Star Wars

The Star Wars films would undoubtedly suggest themselves as a "merely generic"3 media formation to many SF scholars, frequently dismissed as the bad Other against which the quality of good, worthy SF is thrown into sharp relief. The three original films-Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983)-wear the trappings of space-operatic SF, but actually operate narratively within the logic of the fairy tale or even the religious parable, most notably through their depiction of maximally good protagonists versus maximally evil antagonists that is famously concretized in the totemic notion of a mystical "Force" governed by "Light" and "Dark" "sides. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.