American Nerd & Culture

Earlier today, while browsing through Slash-dot, I came across what looks to be a facinating book entitled American Nerd: The Story of My People, by Benjamin Nugent. As the title suggests, the book is about the nerd/geek culture, looking back over its history in popular culture. Checking up on the publisher’s website, I found the description blurb:

Most people know a nerd when they see one but can’t define just what a nerd is. American Nerd: The Story of My People gives us the history of the concept of nerdiness and of the subcultures we consider nerdy. What makes Dr. Frankenstein the archetypal nerd? Where did the modern jock come from? When and how did being a self-described nerd become trendy? As the nerd emerged, vaguely formed, in the nineteenth century, and popped up again and again in college humor journals and sketch comedy, our culture obsessed over the designation.

Mixing research and reportage with autobiography, critically acclaimed writer Benjamin Nugent embarks on a fact-finding mission of the most entertaining variety. He seeks the best definition of nerd and illuminates the common ground between nerd subcultures that might seem unrelated: high-school debate team kids and ham radio enthusiasts, medieval reenactors and pro-circuit Halo players. Why do the same people who like to work with computers also enjoy playing Dungeons & Dragons? How are those activities similar? This clever, enlightening book will appeal to the nerd (and antinerd) that lives inside all of us.

Followup poking around found some articles on NPR, On Point and the New York Times, all of which had some interesting things to say about the book, but also some of the cultural differences that help to spring this argument.

Nerds, it is explained, are a type of stereotype of a small group of any given population where logic, knowledge and to some extent, social awkwardness are the key defining features of a person. That doubtlessly doesn’t need to be explained to anybody, for who can forget about that kid in High School? From what I’ve been able to glean, Nugent looks to a number of areas to find out where this perception comes from – literature, history, society, and from listening to a couple of interviews and similar articles, he hits the nail right on the head, and provides some really interesting examples of where this comes from.

I’ve long identified myself as a geek, and I’m always remembering that I had a comparatively easy time in high school. I had the glasses, social awkwardness, nose in a book and a huge interest in a lot of my school work. This isn’t to say that I was a stellar student, but when I was interested in something, I went after it. For me, a defining feature of geekdom is something that a roommate of mine said in England: “I’m jealous of you – you have a real passion for what you’re interested in – that’s something that I don’t have.” Something that I’ve long identified with people who tend to be more geeky/nerdy is that there is an intense passion for detail with whatever interests them. In the 501st, that tends to be costuming accuracy, with some PhDs that I know, that tends towards historical accuracy, completion. Film and music nerds collect or at least know about everything that a particular artist or director releases. As the saying goes, Knowledge is power, and there’s certainly good argument for that, when you have people like Bill Gates being one of the most important innovators in the world today, from the simple roots of building his own computers.

There’s a whole gamut of activities that define geeks – Dungeons and Dragons, space, Science Fiction magazines, comic books, and so on. What’s interesting to me here is that (as the book recognizes), geekdom and nerd culture has become much more popular in the past couple of years. I noticed it at camp when one of the classes that I taught, fantasy gaming, filled up very quickly by the same group of kids who lugged around Dungeons & Dragons, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars books and action figures wherever they went. Since then, I’ve noticed the same thing – geeks are ‘cool’ now, or at least the expected appearance of a nerd is.

To some extent, pop culture is responsible. Commercial juggernauts such as LOST, Heroes, Harry Potter, Spiderman and any number of other genre-related media items certainly haven’t hurt, and most likely, have helped this subculture along nicely. The books and films can be among some of the most creative and thought provoking works out there. Indeed, on the occasions that I’ve been out in armor for the 501st, ridicule is overwhelmed by awe and fascination from bystanders. People are fascinated that I’ve put together my own armor, and the times when people make fun of me are fewer and farther between. That doesn’t stop some of our members from experiencing major problems, such as assault, which does happen on occasion.

Still, I don’t believe that popular culture picking up geek culture is totally responsible for its growing acceptance. Not all nerds are interested in Science Fiction and Fantasy, and its certainly not a defining feature of the group. Rather, I think that its the degree to which people like me can obsess and escape to things that are presented in science fiction and fantasy that makes the genre so appealing, as it pulls from a number of intellectual levels with made up languages, obscure sciences, literary items and practical craftsmanship.

Furthermore, I have to wonder if these traits – the desire for knowledge, social awkwardness and logic – are becoming more acceptable in and of themselves in a digital age. Certainly, geeks and nerds were at the forefront of the computer revolution because of its complexity, but from my experiences, the internet nullifies some of the barriers that make geeks more socially awkward – for this reason, it would seem, games such as Second Life or World of Warcraft are very popular (monster-slaying reasons aside) as people can vicariously live through their characters and open up a bit more without being self conscious.

Nerds are certainly here to stay, and from all indications, will become far more hip as popular culture allows, and as the traits that define us become more needed and desired, something that I can easily see happening as the internet becomes more inclusive. In the meantime, I’m going to buy that book.

Coming Around Full Circle

Yesterday was the Woburn Halloween Parade in Woburn MA, which is turning into a major 501st NEG and Rebel Legion Alderaan Base event, typically drawing in troopers from a couple other garrisons from the surrounding area. It’s a big parade, and last year, we started the tradition of a big, major, eye opening prop to parade around with. Last year, it was Jabba the Hutt. This year, it was a life-sized Dewback.

A year ago, I rejoined the 501st after a long break. While I had joined in 2004, having received my armor in 2003, I only was able to troop once, in 2005, for Celebration 3, and then I essentially dropped off the radar, until last year’s parade. Since doing so, I’ve trooped with three different garrisons on their home territory (New England, Connecticut and Canadian), while meeting an additional two in their own territories (Empire City Garrison and the Alpine Garrison), not to mention the numerous people from Carida, Ohio, German, Carolina and other garrisons who’ve been at these events. I’ve trooped 31 different events in a year, essentially just over one troop every other week, ranging from really big ones, such as the Woburn Parade and the Darth Vader Balloon, to the smaller cons and events in the region. The events have been fairly trivial, such as a couple of library visits, with just a handful of people, to incredibly relevant and meaningful events such as the Autism Walks that I just did.

I troop (as we call attending these events in armor) because … I can’t think of just one reason. I troop because it’s fun, because the people that I’ve met have become some of the best friends in the world to me, but because it’s important. Being a part of the 501st has become a major part of my identity and who I am. I’ve noticed over the year that at family gatherings or with friends, when turned to the subject, I talk about it at length, the virtues and the downsides, but why trooping matters to me.

The simplest answer is : I do it for the kids. Kids, everywhere, old and young, always have the same look of amazement and wonder on their faces when they see a storm trooper in front of them. At parades, I hear children screaming “Darth Vader! Darth Vader!”. Ignoring for a moment that we portray villains, we step off the big screen and become reality. In doing so, we make something that kids only imagine, real, and that is something special.

But that’s not the entire answer. Trooping, I’ve found, has provided me with a valuable community that I hold above all else. I’ve found that where I go, I can meet people who are just like me, with one major shared interest. Politics, skin color, language – none of this matters. True, within the group there is a variety of opinions and differences, and should the floodgates open to that particular argument, I suspect that it could get quite heated at times. But that is what groups are – they have their own dramas and issues, and I’ve made a share of mistakes along the way. But with mistakes, you get up and move on, and that’s what I’ve done.

Looking back over pictures from last year’s events, I’ve been thinking about how much has changed over the past year since I returned to the fold. I’ve had some incredibly difficult months in my personal life, experienced things that I didn’t want to, but by the same token, have met some of the most wonderful people in the world, and have had some of the best times of my life with these people. I’ve started grad school and am almost halfway done. I’ve become a very different person, I think, because of these experiences, and much of that for the better, especially recently. Looking at my suit, I realize just how far I’ve come when it comes to costuming accuracy, and I shudder to think about just how badly I must have appeared on that first troop in Indianapolis, in tennis shoes and taped seams. My armor has undergone numerous modifications and alterations – it’s had the velcro ripped out, replaced, ripped out again, glued, reglued, taped, modified and added on to, body suits have come and gone, as well as helmets and handplates. I’ve picked up two sets of armor, and I’ve recruited at least three people into the legion, one of whom is already an active member who’s most likely catching up to me in troops. I don’t like to dwell on my successes, or trumpet them, but dammit, I’m proud of what I’ve done thus far this year.

One thing has not changed in this past year, and that’s the enthusiasm and excitement for the Star Wars universe. It sounds corny, but it fits. I like celebrating the films that have had such an impact on my life, but also bringing that to life for the people that we come across and help out, and I get to be a complete geek while I do it.

I wonder what the next 365 days will bring.

Review: Order 66

Karen Traviss’s four book series based off of the Republic Commando video game came to a close with the publication of her latest Star Wars novel, Order 66. The book is a slightly uneven affair, with a number of story lines coming to a close in a quick, complete fashion. The book is by no means a bad or uninteresting read, but it’s not the best of the four.

I came across Karen Traviss when I was in High School, when I began to read Asimov’s, a long-running Science Fiction magazine. Karen had published a couple or short stories through them, and I had found that I enjoyed them very much. When it was announced that there was to be a tie-in novel about the Republic Commando game, I wasn’t all that interested until I heard that it was Traviss who would be writing it, and the first book didn’t disappoint, introducing readers to a series of new characters and a moral element that has largely been lacking in a number of the Star Wars books that have come out recently.

Order 66 picks up where True Colors leaves off- Jedi Etain Tur-Mukan has had her child, Jusik has left the Jedi Order, Fi has been brought to Mandalor, the ARC troopers are working on infiltrating the computer systems of the Republic and Skirata is working to find a way to reverse the rapid aging in order to give the clones a full and normal life after the war is over.

One of my main concerns with the series as it’s progressed over the past couple of books is the vast complexity that they have come to. There are a number of very diverse story lines that have largely taken away from the main focus of the original novel – Delta Squad, with Niner, Atin, Darman and Fi. The cast of characters has been expanded, and that goes for the story lines as well. To some extent, this is a good thing, and it falls in with what Karen has done with her other, non-Star Wars books – they’ve become extremely rich with plots and characters, turning them into books that really make you think. In the Star Wars universe, this is a rare thing, and Order 66 stands as one of the better books in the series for this trait. On the other hand, it feels somewhat overburdened at times. The first half of the book starts off fairly slowly, and its not until the last half in which the action really picks up, where Karen shows once again that she’s one of the better writers when it comes to combat situations – Clone operations here are possibly the most realistic and logical than in any other book series, save for the X-Wing Series by Michael A Stackpole and Aaron Allston.

What also sets this, and her other Republic Commando books, apart is the care and devotion that is paid to the Clone Troopers. I’ve made this point in other reviews – the clones might be genetically the same, but Karen has expertly crafted numerous characters that are wholly different from one another in different situations and in the way that they approach problems. This comes particularly at the end, when one of the team members is left behind in a battle and presumed killed. Karen doesn’t shy away from making the characters really hurt when she needs them to be, and the book ends on somewhat of an unclear and unresolved note, which seems very fitting, given how this book ends around the time of Revenge of the Sith.

The absolute strongest point is the morality of the characters, and constant questioning of right and wrong on the part of the Clone Troopers and the Jedi and Republic that brought them into battle. The reactions of many of the Clones during the order to kill the Jedi surprised me, given where I was thinking the story was going and the attitudes of the Jedi up to that point, and it makes me re-think some elements of the movie – the clones weren’t mindlessly following their orders to kill their Generals – they had legitimate issues with the way that they were treated and used in the war, and genuinely saw the Jedi as a threat.

One of the big sticking points that I found in this was not the overall complexity, but the Mandalorian subplots that Karen has worked into the series. While it was running full tilt by the time this book came around, the plot took up a lot of the book in places, where it didn’t really seem to need to. Karen pulled it out and made it a fully-formed and well realized idea, but at points, it seems a little out of place. This was one element where I wished that the sequels were a little more in line with the first book, in that they focused a bit more on the combat actions of the Clone Commandos.

One of the interesting parts is how the issue of only a couple million Clones has been resolved, and by doing so, ties in her novel with several other pieces of Clone Wars fiction, most notably Timothy Zahn’s short stories, Hero of Cartao and his Heir to the Empire trilogy, with the use of the Spaarti cloning technology. Throughout the events of this novel, it’s clear that a vast wave of Clone Troopers, including elements of the 501st, were a much larger, quickly grown generation of Clone Troopers, coming in during the months leading up to the final battle over Coruscant. This has been a sticking point for Karen and has caused some trouble for her on message boards by irritated and annoying fans. Despite the troubles that have been caused, it is nice to see that this issue is somewhat resolved, and it is fantastic to see mention of the 501st, of which Karen is an Honorary Member, and a group that she looked at a lot in her novelization of the Clone Wars. The 501st Dune Sea Garrison is honored with a thanks in the beginning of the book.

(This should have been the cover…)

Order 66 is a fine installment in the Republic Commando and Clone Wars series, and I’m sad to see it go. It is a rich and complex read, one that is far superior to most of the novels in the Star Wars line for its stand on moral issues, its writing and genuine care that makes me remember that these books are leaps and bounds above most of the tie-in novels that are on the market nowadays.

While the book is not a perfect read (or cover, for that matter. Side note – I’m not sure who thought that the current cover was a better one than the original, but it’s not, and should be changed back. Like right now. Ahem.) but it’s a superior one that stands out from the rest of the books out there.

Why I Troop

This question has come up a couple of times, and I’ve been thinking over the reasons for why I’ve been trooping for the past couple of years. To fully comprehend it, I’ve been trying to think about my entry to the 501st in context, which pulls into a larger arena, why I’m a geek in the first place, and how it’s largely affected me over the years.
Thinking quickly, it’s easy to remember when I first saw the Star Wars movies, back in 1997. I think that I was aware of Star Wars, although I didn’t know anything about it, but I do remember hearing the Imperial March on the radio when the announcer was talking about the release of the Special Editions. Shortly thereafter, my father took me out to see the first film. He’s recounted the story so many times that I remember how it goes:

Dad: Do you think Andy will want to see Star Wars?
Mom: Maybe. If he gets scared, you can always take him out.

I was excited to be going, I remember that much, and I remember walking into the theater and wanting to go see The Empire Strikes Back, but fortunately, we saw A New Hope. Scared, I was not. Dad later said that he didn’t think that I blinked once during the entire movie; that I was completely drawn in by what was happening on screen. Every now and then, I remember the feeling of seeing the movie for the first time. After the film was over, we returned home, and I’m pretty sure I babbled the rest of the way home about the movie. I do, also, remember the guys in white armor, and thought that they were really cool. As the other movies came out, Dad took me, and now my brother to see both the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I was hooked.

This was probably the most memorable event, but thinking back, I know that there were some precursors to this. I remember being read the Merlin stories as a child, and when Mom drove us to school, we had an audio book of one of those stories called Merlin and the Dragons, that we listened to every day. I had a game boy with Zelda on it, and a couple of the computer games that I played early on were fantasy ones, King’s Quest, and one that I cannot remember for the life of me (despite my best efforts to try and find out what it is). Because of these things, I think that I had a good foundation for which to become a geek. I read obsessively throughout most of Elementary School, mostly the Hardy Boys, but some other things, including Tom Swift.

The introduction of Star Wars gave me something of a purpose towards geekdom. They opened my imagination and helped steer me to Science Fiction and full geekdom. The Star Wars books that Del Rey and Bantam published helped – they provided an outlet for my allowance, but more importantly, steered me towards more mainstream science fiction, with such authors as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert and numerous others. I began posting on internet message forums relating to Star Wars, such as theforce.net and starwarz.com. One of the highlights was going with my friend Eric to Barnes and Noble to meet Michael A. Stackpole for a book signing. I brought along 9 books, and I don’t think that we stopped pestering Mike the entire time, which I’m somewhat ashamed of doing…

I’m a self proclaimed geek, and it’s funny when some people, generally those who don’t know me, say something like “No you’re not…”. I don’t see the negative connotations that seem to be typical of geeks. My high school wasn’t an oppressive one that seems to be commonplace. I was never beaten up, although some people did make fun of me for what I was reading. I was never good at confrontation or was really that social, so that caused problems on its own, but for all intents and purposes, I was never ashamed of being a geek.

Working at Camp Abnaki helped as well. Throughout high school and middle school, I was very shy and withdrawn, quick to take offense and not a very social person. Camp helped teach me to be me, and introduced me to several people whom I consider friends to this day. One of them, Sam, was like me, and very into Dungeons and Dragons, and introduced me to the game, which became a dominant feature of camp life for all of us. Over that summer, I also saw Titan AE, which helped keep conversations going about all sorts of geeky things. This would continue over the 7 years that I worked there.

The 501st comes in when I reached my senior year and we played Star Wars in band. This was most likely the culmination of about 5 years of pestering Mr. Rivers to play the music, and it played off very well, and I was excited, but I wanted to make it memorable. I knew about the 501st, although I didn’t know too much about them. Once we knew when the concert was happening, I contacted them through their website, and for the concert, we had a trooper come up.

I was over the moon about this. It was the first time that I had seen one of the legendary 501st members up close and in person, and I knew right then, that I wanted to get a set of the armor. The trooper, Scott Allen, TK-0413, was very helpful. For the concert, he marched down the aisle to Imperial March, bringing the crowd to an uproar. Scott told me that he would be able to get me armor, and was highly encouraging. The price was too steep at the time, but over the summer, when I got a raise of about $800 due to a clerical error (my initial contract was about $800 too low), I knew exactly where that money was going. Check was mailed off, and several weeks later, a couple days after camp was over, I received my armor.

This was also around the same time that I started working for a website, The Unofficial Clone Wars Site, which helped me get in touch with numerous authors and artists, as well as giving me an outlet to write about Star Wars and the Clone Wars. To some extent, it was a prominent place in the Star Wars fan community, which was interesting, and my interviews (without trying to sound arrogant about this) helped put the site on the map. I ‘met’ Karen Traviss, Aaron Allston, Troy Denning, Jan Duursema, John Ostrander, Matthew Stover, and numerous other authors and artists during this time.

For me, this was a kid in the candy store. Building the armor was a little daunting, but I don’t think that I slept at all that night, and by the morning, it was fully assembled. Looking back, I should have spend more time on this, actually gone out and bought new Velcro, sanded the seams, etc. But at that point, it didn’t matter, because I was a storm trooper – it was a dream that I’d had for years, and it had come to life. Right away, I signed up for the 501st, and was accepted in late 2003 or early 2004. I can’t remember exactly, but it was after Halloween.

Because of my location, I had a hard time getting to events, and my first troop was in may of 2005, where I attended Celebration 3. I was in armor each day for the long weekend, and met a lot of 501st members while I was there, as well as some other people whom I still keep in touch with. It made me excited about Star Wars, and the upcoming movie, and shortly thereafter, I trooped the Revenge of the Sith opening in armor, which was exciting, even though I was the only trooper there. I even made the front page.

After that, I took a break. College took up much of my time, and looking back, there were some tensions in my garrison, and it wasn’t anything I could do anything about, so I essentially went on inactive status, checking in every now and again. During college, I wore my armor a couple of times, at camp and on campus, but I’m sad to say that I almost lost interest in the 501st. I had some other things to occupy my time, and being in Vermont, it was hard to stay involved, especially without money and without a car. I read and breathed Science Fiction though, through books and movies.

I got back into the fold at the end of 2007 with the Woburn Parade, and that’s when everything really clicked. Up until that point, I didn’t really comprehend the 501st – to me, I was part of it, but isolated. Now, however, I could become involved. At C3, I picked up on some of this. Here, outside of a geeky environment, I could see how kids lit up when they saw a bunch of Storm Troopers and a Vader. And at Woburn, I rejoined the garrison, and was welcomed back, which was a really great thing, because I’d been away for so long.

Since then, I’ve remained involved and really gotten into trooping. This brings me full circle to why I troop, and why I am a geek. I do it because of the community of like minded people around me, and because it’s the perfect outlet to make a different. When I put my helmet on, I become a storm trooper, and to children, who need this sort of inspiration and entertainment, love being able to see something that they’ve seen on the screen in real life. I can’t begin to imagine the number of times I’ve seen a child’s face light up with wonder and excitement when I’ve come out and given them a high five or shook their hand. It’s those small things that really can lift my day and remind me why I keep doing this.

Beyond that, I like the group of people that I’ve found with the 501st. Generally, we’re an accepting, friendly bunch of people who share a number of common interests, and who I can rely on when I have problems or something along those lines. Among my travels to Utah, New York City and Connecticut, where I met up with other troopers from other garrisons, I’ve met some of the most incredible people. I’m regretting that I never looked up anyone while I was in London, because it would have been really helped at times. Next time, I guess.

The moment that I really remember was on the last day of Celebration 3. I was walking along a hallway, when I came across a young mother with a 3 or 4 year old daughter. The girl was sleeping, but the woman came up to me and asked: “Can my daughter shoot you?” Odd request, but I stopped, and the mother gave her daughter a hasboro E-11 that was almost as big as she was. He aimed it at me and had a huge smile on her face. I could tell that for a second, she was princess Leia in the movie, and I just know I made her day.

Review: The Clone Wars

[This review contains spoilers for The Clone Wars]

Earlier this year, the Star Wars Lit community was abuzz with the news of a couple of things – that there was an untitled Karen Traviss novel coming, and that there was a Clone Wars movie coming out. A couple of months ago, fans learned that they were both connected, as Karen turned out to have been writing the novelization.
The release of The Clone Wars brings about the first book released in the time frame since Traviss’s last Republic Commando novel, True Colors, which was released last year, and once again shows that Traviss is one of the better writers for the Clone Wars.

This novelization isn’t the best work that Karen has released. The book is a very short one, and plotwise, has a bit to be desired. In a nutshell, the Seperatists have kidnapped the son of Jabba the Hutt, hoping to anger the Hutts enough to ensure that the Republic can’t utilize their space lanes.

The book is rife with action, which is Karen’s strong point, especially when it comes to Clones. the main characters are introduced with a battle, where Karen puts her expertise gained from the Republic Commando books. What I really enjoyed was seeing an author put a level of military realism to this – the Clones talk and act like soldiers.

Karen leaves a lot of nods to the 501st, helping to further explain the role of Vader’s fist, the battalion seen in Revenge of the Sith, named for the 501st Legion. One of the more interesting characters in the book is Captain Rex, whom a number of Legion members are building in anticipation of the film’s release. Karen pushed these guys to a particular prominence in the book, which is a great nod to the group, of which, she’s an honorary member. There weren’t any mentions of Republic Commandos, which surprised me a little.

The plot of the book leaves more to be desired beyond the military sections. There are some interesting political ideas here, but the idea that the Republic would send two of their most highly regarded Jedi after a Huttling is somewhat ridiculous. While this is addressed somewhat at points, I found it hard to believe.

More so, I found the notion that the Hutts, or more particularly, Jabba, would completely base foreign policy on a kidnapped child a ridiculous notion. Granted, this is a novelization based off of an animated movie, so expecting something on the level of Karen’s other books or other Clone Wars novels such as Shatterpoint is somewhat expected.

Unfortunately, the book is short, clocking in at around 250 pages, taking me a total of five or so hours to read. Fortunately, Del Rey seems to have realized this, and as a result, I only paid $12 for the book (yay for a 40% discount at Borders).

Overall, this is a decent enough read, despite the fact that it is short and not as good as her other books. However, with four more books to go in the series, there’s plenty of room for more improvement and Clone action.


Sigh, More Fanboys Drama

Sometimes, I think that the internet is a wonderful tool. Other times, it seems to really bring people out of the woodwork. Not since the release of the new Battlestar Galactica have I seen so much pent-up drama and somewhat misguided angst over a film.

For those of you who don’t know, the upcoming movie Fanboys is about a small group of fans who go out to Skywalker Ranch to steal a print of the upcoming Phantom Menace. In version A, they steal the movie to show a dying friend, aka the Cancer Subplot. Version B, no mention of cancer, the guys just steal the movie because they want to see it first. There’s been a bit of teetering about which version would be released, and it’s seeming like Version B will be released to theaters.

Okay. Take a breath. I was looking forwards to the Version A, because it does have that heart and moral point that would set this film apart from other comedies that are out there. Granted, there’s nothing in the trailer that shows the Version A, and the trailer alone is pretty funny, so I think that regardless, we’re going to get a pretty funny, if somewhat more mindless movie, which is fine – I go to a comedy to laugh, not necessarily for a profoundly interesting story.

Now, where the 501st comes in. They were in the movie – The Dunes Sea Garrison was part of the film, and they supplied some props for the film. This is pretty cool, to get some troopers on the big screen. We also got reined into this when someone started bandying our name around when they started a web-based protest against the film, the Stop Darth Weinstein movement. Or myspace.

We sent them off an e-mail about their use of our name and logo, because as a legion, we don’t have a stance on the film yet. And while members have a range of opinions, using our name in that way paints our whole group in a bad light, something that we really don’t want.

To me, the SDW group is really overreacting and injecting a whole lot more drama into a situation that really doesn’t warrant it. While it’s a little redundant to say “It’s just a movie”, we are all movie fans here, and Star Wars is something that a lot of us have gotten emotionally attached to. Fanboys, a film that hasn’t even been released yet, isn’t something to get attached to.

I’m going to address some points from their blog;

The thing that people have to remember is that this is a movie – it’s a product that’s designed to bring in more money than it cost to make. End of story. Weinstein’s is in the business to make money, and then continue to make more movies. It’s senseless to boycott a movie that they’re going to try and open up to a larger audience, which seems to be the case there. The original film was a Star Wars fan film, and the current director was a Star Wars fan, but this film wasn’t made simply because a couple of Star Wars fans got together and into the same room.

“Last summer, the director, Kyle Newman, screened his rough cut of Fanboys for the fans at the Star Wars Celebrations in both Los Angeles and London. It received several standing ovations at both screenings. The creators of this website are fans just like you, and were at those screenings. We witnessed the audience reaction ourselves! Everyone in attendance absolutely loved the movie! Fanboys is like Stand By Me for Star Wars fans. It is the ultimate Star Wars fan film!”

Of course is recieved a standing ovation, you idiot. You’re at a Star Wars convention – you’re going to have an audience there that’s going to absolutely love anything that has any remote connection to Star Wars. I’m sure people there loved it, and there would have been a wonderful vibe in the room – however – that’s just one part of the target audience that the film’s intended to go to.

“The head of the Weinstein Company, Harvey Weinstein, seems to think he’ll make more money if he rips the heart out of the movie and turns it into another mindless comedy. And he thinks fans like us won’t mind if he recuts FANBOYS so that it portrays Star Wars fans as idiotic criminals who would break into George Lucas’s offices just because they’re hopeless dorks.”

I’m sure that they will make more money this way. The sad reality of American entertainment is that it’s incredibly watered down. Go watch something from the UK when it comes to comedy and just see how weak some of our things are. The thing is, people here buy it. It doesn’t really matter what Star Wars fans think , really. As a group, we’re subject to all sorts of stereotypes, and this sort of protest, written out the way that it is, doesn’t help things at all. Yes, I mind that a bunch of Star Wars fans are going to be portrayed in a humorous situation because they’re geeks, but it’s nothing new, and a movie isn’t going to change that at all.

“Now that the film is finished, the Weinstein Company, the studio who controls the film, is trying to change the plot of the entire movie SO THAT IT RIDICULES STAR WARS FANS!

For some reason, Harvey “Darth” Weinstein thinks FANBOYS it will make more money of it mocks its target audience.”

I think that was sort of going to come across in the first place – you can’t have comedy without people to laugh at, and it’s going to be the guys on the screen. And, as I said before, we’re not the target audience. The broad 18-24 through late 30s crowd is probably the main target demographic, and they sure ain’t all star wars fans. And if it’s a bigger audience, it’ll make more money.

Group’s been sending out e-mails to people involved with the film, and received this one back allegedly from the director:

” I can hook you up with the facts on this one.
My only advice is don’t judge something til you have seen it. Have you seen the cancer version of this movie? I have. It is unreleaseable. It would be irresponsible to release it. The cancer is used as a convenient subplot and is actually offensive to anybody who knows anything about or has gone through cancer. Trust me. You are fighting for something that you would not be proud of. Cancer is trivialized, marginalized and reduced to the worst kind of contrivance. That is what you are fighting to see. And you will see it. At least on the dvd. And you will cringe at the bad, manipulative melodrama that goes against the true spirit of the piece.The non cancer version is true, joyful and and in no way
condescending to star wars fans. But again. You should see it. And perhaps you will. If you stop ranting about things you have not seen. You honestly remind me of the religious right condemning movies and books they haven’t seen or read, and have only been fed inflammatory facts about….usually from people with an agenda. Your precious Star Wars homage movie has been made, and has been preserved……you will see. And then you should apologize to Darth Weinstein……”

I somewhat doubt that this is actually from the director. However, it does have a couple of good points – The new version hasn’t really been seen by anyone. The Cancer one was, and it got good reviews all around. If they can eliminate the cancer plot with just a couple of re-shoots, I highly doubt that the quality of the film will be impacted that much.

Now, I’m not thrilled that Steven Brill was handed the film – from what little I’ve seen of Without A Paddle, it’s certainly lower common denominator comedy, but keep in mind that he was only brought in for the re-shoots – this isn’t something that’s likely to change the entire film from it’s original screenplay – remember, they did some re shoots, but they didn’t reshoot the entire film. This leads me to believe that we’ve got much of the original still intact.

The group’s also getting a lot of press, which is just fueling them up a bit more. Weinsteins has countered:

“We are thrilled to see all this great interest and excitement for ‘Fanboys.’ While a potential conflict like this has not occurred since Luke last walked into that bar in Tatoonie, everyone can be assured that there has been no stir in the force and the film stays on target.”

Okay, a bit mindless there, but this is generating a lot of press for the movie. The group’s claiming that 500 websites list their story. That’s going to bring more people out to the film to see what all the fuss is about. Any news is good news.

A nice thing is that a good chunk of people in the Star Wars community is concerned with the film’s status. According to a Starwars.com poll, 75% of respondents said that they knew about the drama and were concerned. A further 2 % said that they knew about the drama, but weren’t concerned. The remaining 23% didn’t know and didn’t care.


“What do these poll results tell us (and Darth Weinstein)? Several things.

77% of the fans have been following the production of FANBOYS. The majority of the fans are interested enough in the movie to follow what’s going on with it. Star Wars fans CARE about this movie and about how they will be portrayed in it, Darth Weinstein!

And 75% of them are “pretty concerned” with the current state of the film. A whopping 2% are “not too worried.”

Someone with enough intelligence to wrap their head around these confusing numbers might get the distinct feeling that…


1 – Internet polls aren’t really that reliable. This star wars one targets only people who vist the main page, and doesn’t list the number of people who responded. Again, it’s not targeting the entire target audience, just the built-in audience. They’re annoying their built-in audience, but not alienating them. If they hired Paris Hilton, they’re be alienating their built-in audience.

“Fine, Darth Weinstein. You have officially incurred the wrath of the Rebel Alliance. Our new goal is to make sure your next release (SUPERHERO MOVIE) grosses exactly $0 on its opening weekend. On the day it opens, there will be a crowd of Star Wars fans outside every theater, urging people to go see “Run Fatboy Run” instead. That movie stars Simon Pegg – and he’s an actual Star Wars fan. Like all of us.”

This is after the Weinstein Page changed text to reflect the new version. Please, I’m sure they’re quaking in their boots. There’s no way that these guys are going to have any substantial impact on the film (although I am hoping that nobody will see it – it’s going to get slammed critically, and will probably earn a good spot on the top 10 for a week), because it’s a known formulaic comedy. It might be crap, but two protests in the US are hardly going to slow anything down.

“The Weinstein Company has ignored the vocal outcry from Star Wars fans around the globe, all demanding that they release the original version of Fanboys.

They have ignored the results of the Official Star Wars website poll which shows that 78% of the fans are following the production of Fanboys, and that an overwhelming 94% of those fans disapprove of the changes they’re making to the film!

They have ignored our pledge to boycott all Weinstein Company/Dimension films, even though our intentions have been reported in the New York Post, the Daily Telegraph, Vanity Fair, and on thousands of websites.”

Um, it was 76%, and it’s a 97% margin of respondants who are concerned. Let’s learn to use a calculator and read the polls correctly, shall we? Again, a poll like that pulls in a small number of people out of the target demographic – it can’t be construed as reliable by any stretch of the imagination. And they might have ignored the poll, so what? Honestly, this movement and your pledge aren’t really that worrisome – if anything, they’ll generate more interest in the film, which in turn means more people going to see it. You have just under 500 friends on myspace, which, at let’s say $7 a ticket = $3500 in lost revenue. Let’s count the 115 people on the facebook group as different people, and that brings up to a lost $4305. Maybe a couple hundred more in lost ticket sales to people who join on with protests. A drop in the ocean when it comes to what films take in nowadays.

Honestly, I’m just annoyed that these guys were trying to use the good name of the 501st to galvanize things. It just annoys me to no end. It seems to me that there’s a lot more productive ways to go about this.

I’m looking forwards to this film, a bit less so than before the news of the recuts, but I’m still going to see it. It’s not good to see what was a very promising and interesting cut of the film taken out, but for a film like this, it’s not really worth getting all worked up about.

The Original 6

Earlier this year, I picked up a wonderful book on the making of the first Star Wars movie – The Making Of Star Wars, by JW Rinzler. I was paging through and started looking for where they started doing things with the Storm Troopers in the film.

The first reference I came across was on page 138:

“One item that stood out, however, was the cost associated with the stormtroopers, who ran up a tab of £ 40,000 ($93,000) – and whose final outfits were still not ready a week before location shooting was to begin. ‘Stormtroopers were the nightmare costume’ Mollo explains. ‘We got a model in of suitable size, did a plaster body cast, and Liz Moore modeled the armor onto this figure. Then everybody used to go in and say, “Arm off here, arm off there,” and George changed all the kneecaps. This went on for several weeks. Finally that was all taken away and produced in vacuum-form plastic – but the next question was: how foes it all go together? And I think we had something like four days before shooting, but we just played around until we managed to string it all togetgher in such a way that you could get it on or off the block in about five minutes.’
‘On top of all this, George announced that he was going to take some Stormtroopers on location, and he wanted them in Combat Order. I said “Oh yes George, what’s combat order for Stormtroopers?” and he said “Lots of stuff on the back”. So I went into this Boy Scout shop in London and bought on of these metal backpack racks; then we took plastic seed boxes, stuck two of those together, and put four of those on the rack. Then we put a plastic drainpipe on the top, with a laboratory pipe on the side and everything was sprayed black. [laughs] This was the most amazing kind of film! George asked, “Can we get something that shows their rank?” So we took a motorcycle chest protector and put one of them on their shoulders. George said “That’s great!” We painted one orange and one black and that was it!’ Mollo concludes, happily.” (Rinzler, 138)

Reading over that, it seems that the storm trooper armor creation was very typical of the creation of the movie – very quickly done, with a lot of improvisation, all on a fairly tight budget. The price really surprised me – $93,000 for six suits is a lot of money, especially for a film that is on such a low budget.

It appears that the troopers were created by much the same way as we make them today – vacuum-formed plastic, although there also seems to have been a lot of working out how exactly the suits would be put together, and after the fact, the sand trooper variant was created almost as an afterthought, with fairly commonly found items.

The Original Six

Further on in the book, on page 147, there’s a picture of seven people – the six original storm/sandtroopers, and an unidentified person. None of the men are named. One points his gun at the camera, while the rest hold their helmets at their sides, looking at the camera. One of them is sitting on the Dewback used for the shot, looking over his shoulder at the camera. A side panel explains a little of the costuming here:

“‘We had a black all-in-one leotard for the stormtrooper costumes’ Mollo says, ‘over which the front and back of the body went together; the shoulders fit onto the body, the arms were slid on-the top arm and the bottom arm were attached with black elastic – a belt around the waist had suspender things that the legs were attached to. They wore ordinary domestic rubber gloves, with a bit of latex shoved on the front; the boots were ordinary spring-sided black boots painted white with shoe-dye. Strange to say, it worked'” (Rinzler, 147)

Indeed it did. All components that are still used today, although in some cases with the 501st, we probably use higher quality stuff – boots that are specially made, gloves, etc.

The stormtroopers aren’t really mentioned any more in the book after that point, although there are several behind the scenes images of the actors in costume, and a mention of Mark Hamil’s experiences in armor (wasn’t pleasant).

By and large, the original storm troopers were very expensive prop pieces, played by local Tunisians. It’s a pity that their names aren’t listed – it would be absolutely amazing to try and track the six men down and have them inducted into the 501st as honorary members – after all, we have them to thank for our group.

Another person who should probably be inducted into the legion would be John Mollo, the costuming designer, who took the concept images and created our suits. Mollo entered production on the movie as the department head in January of 1976 – he had been recommended to Lucas, who was looking for someone who was familiar with armor and military costuming. According to Lucas: “I wanted designs that wouldn’t stand out, which would blend in and look like they belonged there.” (111). Very true, and it worked – looking at the storm troopers in the film, and how people interact with them, it’s very clear that these are commonplace soldiers in the Empire, and that they are wearing a very functional protective suit (although naysayers will often cite how often troopers will go down with one shot. Argument for another time…) While Ralph MqQuarrie was the original designer of the look and appearance of the storm troopers, Mollo seems to be the one who brought them to life.

(Rinzler, JW. The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film. Ballentine Books, New York, 2007. 138)