Notes from The Buffer Zone: A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away

I write this column at the beginning of December, before I’ve had a chance to see the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens. Let me confess something first:

I fell in love with Star Wars as a starry-eyed 16-year-old, in a movie theater in Duluth, Minnesota. I was there with a lot of my high school friends because we had nothing else to do on a weekend night. We took up an entire row in that giant theater, and normally, we were loud, obnoxious, and exactly the kind of people you didn’t want to sit near.

We were silent during that movie—awestruck and excited. I know that among the girls, the Han Solo versus Luke Skywalker arguments started that night—and for the record, I’m 100% Han Solo.

Which is why, as the trailers for the new film started, I teared up every single time I heard Han (okay, okay, Harrison Ford, you nitpickers) say, “Chewie, we’re home.” (Just watched it again. Still tearing up.)

In fact, one of the  most frustrating thing about my tie-in writing career was that I had to follow the 1990s rules for my Star Wars novel. For some reason, the Tim Zahn novels had neutered Han Solo. I tried to ignore that in The New Rebellion, but I couldn’t ignore it completely.

I loved Star Wars, I wrote some projects in the SW universe, and I spent half my career—and much of my young adulthood—defending my Star Wars obsession. I even wrote an essay about the ridiculous prejudice against Star Wars in the sf field for a book that David Brin had put together called Star Wars on Trial. The publisher, BenBella Books, has rereleased it—a brilliant move on their part, even though part of me now believes that book is dated.

Why?

Because there is no more trial and certainly no defense. Yep, there are haters everywhere, always will be, forever and ever amen. But those of us who loved that original movie won the war.

The entire culture is a Star Wars culture now—even if the new movie tanks. You’ll know that by the time you read this, although I have no idea how it can tank. There’s too much hype.

Which I’ve been watching so obsessively that my husband asked just last night why I keep looking at the clips. You’ll see the entire movie before it comes out, he said, and he might have a point. A point I don’t really care about, but a point nonetheless.

I’ve been watching everyone get interviewed, from J.J. Abrams, who managed to make me love his Star Trek movies (a greater feat than making me love a Star Wars movie), to Harrison Ford, who is older now (much older), to Adam Driver, and, and, and…

It’s not the cast I’m interested in these days. It’s the interviewers. Jimmy Fallon confessing to having Star Wars-themed sheets “much too long.” Abrams himself talking about his fears taking on a project he’d loved so much as a child.

I’ve been on social media way too much, watching the controversies spring up in the Twitterverse—did Abrams mean it when he said SW was a boys’ club? (Well, kinda. He thought that fathers used to take their sons and now mothers can take their daughters—what was I, J.J., a boy with XX chromosomes?) Did Harrison Ford send out too many spoilers? Has Lupita Nyong’o’s role been cut or not? Should I care?

Naw, I don’t care. I only care about the end product, which I hope to have seen by the time you read this. I won’t be in the theater opening night, because our local small town theater is having money troubles and often forgets to turn on the heat. But I’ll be there as soon as I can drive the requisite 2 hours to sit somewhere warm.

And frankly, right now, for the purposes of this essay, the end product doesn’t matter. What matters is the love that SW is getting across the culture. The kids who can’t remember a world without SW have grown up to be tastemakers and teachers, plumbers and rocket scientists. They all love SW, and don’t think it has “ruined” sf at all.

In fact, they can’t imagine sf without it.

I can remember sf without it. But more than that, I remember the pretentious crap-ass art films that pretended to be sf that came before SW. I was a kid who had fallen for sf, even though I didn’t really know it. I just saw a spaceship and figured the movie was for me.

Except when it wasn’t. When it was all camera shots or LSD flashbacks, dystopian crap about the way the world was going to end, or people eating other people. I really didn’t care about a broken Statue of Liberty in the sand. Big deal instead of big reveal for me. I wanted adventure, not warnings that the world was going to end.

We adventurers won this fight. And sf has taken over the world, just like I mentioned in my essay in Star Wars on Trial. I wrote that thing ten years ago, before smart phones and the ebook revolution, before wearable tech and the rise of Marvel Entertainment. Half of what I watch on television these days count as sf/f—and that’s before the shows start. The commercials are mostly sf, and those that aren’t would have been considered sf when Star Wars came out.

So I’m reveling in my science fiction universe. It’s almost a perfect world for me—at least on the entertainment side. I am no longer fighting the literati. Half of them already admit they love sf adventure. The others mutter into their beer—or is it white whine? I mean, wine—about the battles they’ve lost.

There’s more entertaining sf than I can read these days. More than I can watch. More than I even know about. Every summer, I ask my Facebook friends (there’s an sf concept that never hit the page) for recommendations for a July binge-watch, and every summer, those friends list series I’ve never heard of, at least half of which are sf/f.

So . . . success or failure on the screen . . . I don’t care. Star Wars won the battle for hearts and minds decades ago. The old guard didn’t realize it at the time, even as they fought to keep those action figures and Star Wars posters out of their kids’ bedrooms. These adults had no idea that those cheap plastic light sabers would remain the stuff of dreams for the little kids who mock-battled with them.

By now, most of you are onto the new obsession. The new Captain America film, maybe. Anticipating the mid-season return of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Trying to find spoilers for J. J. Abrams’ Westworld.

But think about the discussions you’ve been having with people who do not identify themselves as science fiction fans. How many of those discussions have been the kind of conversations you once only had with your fellow geeks? Probably more than you ever imagined.

At least, these days, that’s how it is for me.

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One thought on “Notes from The Buffer Zone: A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away

  1. Edward Philipp

    When your column first appeared in this universe I was worried. While I have loved science fiction since late grade school in the 60’s, I didn’t know you did. Now I love science fiction even more because of your affection and knowledge of it. I agree scifi has become “normal”, but I always somehow felt that way even though society in general did not get it yet. Now with “near future tech” and scifi merging in the perception of the main stream press it is a good time to appreciate our whole broad spectrum of speculative fiction.

    Thank you or your attitude of inclusiveness and our knowledgeable perspective. Thanks also for the “Story Bundles”. I may have missed the original, but I just got the current one in time to look forward to it as I get caught up with Ring of Fire, Grantville Gazette Universe. I have never before read so much of one subject in about a year.

    This has been a great read. What do you suggest I pick up next?

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