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Using the Force: Creativity, Community, and Star Wars Fans
Reviewed by Peggy Hailey, © 2002

Format: Book
By:   Will Brooker
Genre:   Nonfiction
Released:   May 2002
Review Date:   May 21, 2002
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

Star Wars premiered in 1977 and was an unexpected smash. 25 years later, that original Star Wars generation has grown up and become lawyers, booksellers, truck drivers, filmmakers and even academics. In Using the Force, Brooker (one of the aforementioned academics) attempts to track what the whole Star Wars saga has meant to his generation and to speculate on what it might mean for later generations.

There is an inherent danger in academics writing about popular culture. Some are too far removed from that culture to be able to portray an accurate picture of it. Others understand the subject just fine, but are unable to communicate their ideas to a general audience. Brooker addresses both of these concerns in his introduction, telling us of his own Star Wars fanship and promising to keep a more general audience in mind. Was he successful? For the most part, yes.

Brooker is a geek, who genuinely cares for the Star Wars saga and its related products and for the community of fans. He takes great pains to present a clear and honest picture of the fans he interviews without mocking. This choice to be as even-handed as possible to all of the participants is both admirable and necessary for an academic work to be taken seriously, but I have to admit that I missed the sense of fun to be found in something like Trekkies, which highlighted some of the odder Trek fans without making fun of them. Well, not much, anyway.

The book is overflowing with footnotes and endnotes and bibliographies and all of those things that make a scholar's heart go pitty-pat, but Brooker's prose is both informative and accessible. He also has a sense of humor; you'll definitely get that thrill of recognizing a fellow geek. His transcript of a group of 20-something Brits who've gotten together to watch The Empire Strikes Back is well worth a read; it's both hysterical and embarrassing. I know I've been at that party, and I suspect most of you have, too.

Brooker also makes some interesting observations about fanfic writers and fan filmmakers and the "official" reaction to both from LucasArts. It's no real surprise that 90 percent of all fanfic writers are women—that's true of fanfic pretty much across the board. It's also not surprising that an equal percentage of the filmmakers are men. What interested me was Brooker's observation of the support of LucasArts for the filmmakers (within certain rigidly-defined parameters) and the utter lack thereof for the fanfic writers. He doesn't say that LucasArts (and therefore, Lucas himself) is misogynistic or homophobic, but it is interesting to speculate about why one form of fan expression is so much more palatable to the Powers That Be than the other.

Brooker paints what feels like an accurate portrait of a subculture, and he makes a pretty convincing argument about the Star Wars saga as a cultural touchstone. But was that ever really in doubt? Perhaps I'm too biased—I'm part of that Star Wars generation, as are most of my friends, so it feels a bit like preaching to the converted. Most of the observations that Brooker is making about Star Wars fans in particular seem to me to be applicable to fandom in general. Goodness knows I know Trekkies/ers, Xenites, X-philes and even Rocky Horrorites (Rocky Horror-ists? Rocksters?) who act in similar ways.

Using the Force is an entertaining read. I have some quibbles about his overall points applying only to Star Wars, but I did enjoy reading the book, and I certainly recognized myself and some friends of mine in Brooker's descriptions. If you're a Star Wars fan, you should definitely check it out, if only for the staggeringly complete list of Star Wars-related websites.

Peggy Hailey is RevolutionSF's books editor. She can still recite all of the lines she learned for Rocky Horror. If you ply her with blandishments and shiny baubles, she might just perform them for you.

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