May 28, 2005
Superfans Face Life After ‘Star Wars’
NEW YORK -- Now that any die-hard "Star Wars" fan worth his lightsaber has seen "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" at least once, what's a Jedi to do?
The end of the "Star Wars" movies leaves a gaping hole in the galaxy of geekdom. And it begs the larger question: Is the era of the superfan over?
No longer is there any variation of "Star Trek" on TV. The Grateful Dead essentially passed with Jerry Garcia, and even Phish is done now. The seminal pop-cult experience may be a thing of the past.
But not before this last "Star Wars" is wrung dry. Legions of stormtroopers, who now span at least two generations, have overrun theaters for the final installment, leading to the largest opening box office take ever: $50 million after one day, $158 million after four days.
It's possible "Revenge of the Sith" will eventually gross more than $400 million domestically - maybe even overtaking "Phantom Menace" and the original "Star Wars" (without being adjusted for inflation) for second place behind "Titanic."
"I definitely think there will be repeat business. The transformation sequence of Anakin into Darth Vader just begs for repeat viewing. It's such a cinematic event," says Paul Dergarabedian, the president of Exhibitor Relations, the box office tracking firm.
But in a matter of months, fans won't be able to see Anakin's makeover on the big screen again.
Where will they go? What will they do?
"I guess the rest of will just get to know our families a little bit better," says James Coleman, 31, an enthusiast who had camped outside the Ziegfeld Theater in New York to see the first showing.
Though "Star Wars" will continue with two planned offshoot TV series, for the first time since 1977, there will be no movie to look forward to. Likewise, after 18 years of some variation of "Star Trek" TV shows, the May 13 finale of "Star Trek: Enterprise" was perhaps the last televised Klingon crusade.
Captain Kirk fans, many of whom expect a new show in the future, will now have to pass time working on their Trekkie portfolio.
"Obviously people will diversify," says Steve Krutzler, the editor of www.TrekWeb.com. "There's a lot of genre material out there now, much of it being produced by former 'Star Trek' writers. It's not like people are going to all of a sudden stop being interested in 'Star Trek.'"
Of course, fanatics have often shown little need for anything as relevant as the passing of time. After all, there are still multiple "Wizard of Oz" conventions held annually. The "Star Wars" expanded universe" (novels, comic book, fan movies), will also keep the Jedi juices flowing for years to come.
These fans clearly express a different level of commitment.
"The people who do this suspend the normal rules of society," says Dr. Jerry M. Lewis, a sociology professor at Kent State University who has studied fan behavior. "Normally, you don't walk around dressed as Chewbacca or Darth Vader."
"Why do people do this? I have no idea, other than it gives them an identity," Lewis adds. "And I would guess, if we could generalize from die-hard soccer fans and die-hard Cubs fans, it gives them an identity that's greater than their personal identity."
If there's hope for a new legion of obsessives, it could come from Harry Potter. Just as "Star Wars" fans attend midnight premieres (apparently the designated hour of the superfan), Potter fans lines blocks for each new book at the witching hour.
One fan site, www.mugglenet.com, currently counts down the next installment, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," to the second.
But when "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" debuted decades ago, there was no expectation of collectibles, tie-ins, costumes or fan clubs. Like the Deadhead culture, each respective cult arose from the people, in a grassroots manner. Today, many sci-fi films open with a supporting system of merchandise that hopes to manufacture that larger cultural impact.
In music, although many jam bands and other types of musicians have extremely loyal fan bases, the industry capitalizes on such manic allegiance by charging for fan club memberships and aggressively pushing the merch, Grateful Dead style.
Could any new movie today really spawn the same dedication? Will hordes ever give up their jobs to follow a touring band from coast to coast - parking lot by parking lot?
"Oh, yeah. It goes back into the middle ages," says sociologist Lewis of the age-old practice of fandom. "They had bear-baiting. They'd throw a live bear into a pit of dogs and they were fans of this. It's the same sociological mechanism."
"You and I can't think of anything to become a fan of, but the people who want to become fans may find something," he says. "It may even be, God forbid, Ms. Hilton."
On the Net:
"Star Wars" official site: http://www.starwars.com
"Star Wars" fan site: http://www.theforce.net/
"Star Trek" fan site: http://www.trekweb.com/
"Wizard of Oz": http://www.ozclub.org/