Open Letters to Star Wars Zine Publishers by Maureen Garrett

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Open Letter
Title: Open Letters to Star Wars Zine Publishers
From: Maureen Garrett, director of the Official Star Wars Fan Club
Addressed To: fans
Date(s): late summer/early fall 1981
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Wars
Topic: fanworks
External Links:
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Contents

The Open Letters to Star Wars Zine Publishers were a series of letters sent in 1981 to many Star Wars fanzine publishers/editors by the director of the Official Star Wars Fan Club, Maureen Garrett.

First, A Little History

Fans learned early on that George Lucas was no Gene Roddenberry. While Roddenberry had been a willing and entertaining convention guest and had given approval (both verbal and tacit) to fanworks, George Lucas was a completely different animal. Lucas made no convention appearances, no Roddenberry Phone Calls, and he didn't submit chatty updates to fan-created newsletters. Distant and non-communicative, Lucas remained a mystery to most fans.

It was as early as 1977 when George Lucas and 20th Century Fox began making attempts to corral and contain zines their fanwork creators.

In December 1977, a fan asks:
Would someone care to detail the EXACT position of 20th Century Fox on SW zines? Allyson has some info, so do others. Let's get it together for mutual advantage. [1]
When the editor of Hyper Space sent a 1977 issue of the zine to George Lucas, he received this reply:
Thank you for sending us a copy of the fanzine, HYPERSPACE. It is quite a creative accomplishment. Gary Kurtz read your letter and the fanzine, and asked me to send you a note, expressing how he felt. Right now we're working out a policy about fanzines. Basically, a problem with copyrights has to be resolved. Once that is accomplished, I'll be able to send a presskit, with photos and articles and biographies. I hope that material will be of use. [2]

Another example of this early control was mentioned in a 1978 letter to the zine Scuttlebutt:

Allyson Whitfield has sent 'Scuttlebutt' the following: 'As of February 14, 1978, this is the official status of Star Wars fanzines. The Star Wars Corp. wants to keep track of what SW zines are coming out. They are not out to hassle, sue, etc., anybody. They just want to convince 20th Century Fox's legal department that there are more than five SW fans who are interested in publishing zines. Even if you are planning a zine, they would like to know about it. For those of you who have already published zines, I was told in a phone call -- Craig Miller stated that he was "certain nothing would happen".' [3] [4]
In a January 1978 letter to Interstat, Sharon Emily writes:
Something with the STAR WARS question. I made a statement in SC4 that though I love the movie and would love to do something along that line, I will not make any concrete plans in that direction until STW releases word that the go-ahead has been given by the proper authorities. So, the interesting rumors that have been getting back to me are just that — rumors. At present, I am not starting a SW zine, for I have no desire to get into any more complicated situations than I am at present. [5]
In the February 1978 issue of Probe, the editor writes:
OF "STAR WARS" AND COPYRIGHTS: Not so long ago, in a galaxy not too far away, Ye Editor's own major contribution to this issue was supposed to be "Four- Sided Game", a "STAR WARS" story about what happened to the farm after Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru were slaughtered and Luke Skywalker left for Alderaan.

The only reason the story -- and a sequel -- was even considered was because of unofficial word received last September [1977] from Very Official Sources that Twentieth Century Studios and the STAR WARS Corporation were about to give sanction to SW fan fiction and fanzines. This hope was fueled by further written communication from the SW Corp., communications which could not be published, but were permitted to be circulated underground. The main message was, in effect, "Hang on. Sanction should be coming shortly, as soon as we get some legal points ironed out." But now -- as of this writing -- the Corporation is looking for people who have already started publishing SW fan fiction. The Corporation's stated intention is "not to hassle" these persons, but merely to inform them that they are in violation of copyrights. So much for the hinted-at sanction. Said sanction may eventually come. At least one member of the Corporation is trying to convince Twentieth Century's legal department that fanzines are "a good thing". But while all the haggling is going on, we thought it would be better for PROBE to stay out of the mess until the matter is settled, one way or the other. PROBE has said a lot about the sanctity of copyrights, and we try to practice what we preach.

The one SW story that Mpingo Press has published -- "The Prometheus Pattern" in SPIRIT 1 -- went to press long before this new turn of events. So be it. Other than that, our SW efforts have remained in safe areas, like satire, for which anything is fair game. We are not sure if "Ballad of the New Rebel" is 'legal'; we may soon find out...the hard way… [6]
In August 1978, Carol Mularski comments on the issue of Star Wars fiction and sex:
I do have a comment on [Eileen R's] statement [in Interstat #9] that we should keep George Lucas happy by not letting him "see" SW stories that are other than GP rated. I do hope she was being facetious. G.R. and Paramount have been more than kind in allowing us to take the ST characters and make them our own...They've held still while we've killed them off, "got-um", given them various sexual habits, etc. If they had asked us to refrain from any of this, it would have been our moral duty (I hope everyone's morality agrees with this) to respect their right to control their own characters. So, G.L. comes along and asks fans to "keep it clean" with his characters, and I think we should respect his wishes. I'm sure he didn't mean that we should completely leave sex (as apart of life) out of the picture altogether, but I suppose he means no' porn-type ditties. [7]
In November 1978, Lori Chapek-Carlton mentioned a letter she had received from Lucasfilm regarding her zine Warped Space:
[Linda M's] letter (1#12) concerning DREADNOUGHT EXPLORATIONS vs. Paramount Pictures was succinct and interesting. I'm sorry I haven't seen any issues of her 'zine. It was particularly timely in my case, because I just received a letter from Lucas-film Limited, wanting to buy any past, present and future issues of WARPED SPACE dealing with STAR WARS. The contrast between the friendly letter I received, and the threatening letter(s) Linda received is striking. [8]
From a 1980 interview with Craig Miller of LucasFilm for the zine Alderaan:
Allyson: What about fan-related material? Fanzines?
Miller: Technically fanzines are in violation of copyright.
A.: What about when you file for copyright [when you can cite] previous works. I understand you can do that.
M.: You can cite previous works and say, for example, if you have a fanzine that has one story that involves Han Solo and Chewbacca, and none of the other characters. You could file a copyright citing that "Han Solo and Chewbacca are copyrighted. Twentieth Century Fox," however you're supposed to give "received permission" before doing that sort of thing. And it's a very, very complicated situation. Right now we are unofficially "looking the other way."
A.: Oh, okay, if that's your official line, you're "looking the other way."
M.: Officially, we don't notice them.
A.: You don't notice them, but you get them through the office.
M.: Yeah, we see fanzines, but we're trying to come up with something that our lawyers can agree with that won't involve making people not publish fanzines. [9]

The 1980 how-to zine, Protocols, had this warning for prospective Star Wars zine eds: "The producers of Star Wars are very touchy about zines. They DON'T encourage them. Be very careful with a SW zine."

In 1980, Open Letter to Star Wars Fans by the Duncans was sent to fans, zine eds, and to George Lucas. This open letter was something that most certainly did not foster good relations between Lucas and fans.

Fans themselves were researching and writing articles and essays about the legality of fanfiction. One such essay is Fandom vs The Courts: Fan Fiction and Fair Use and included in a 1981 issue of letterzine Alderaan.

Despite these warnings and worries, Lucasfilm had been more or less allowing Star Wars zines (all gen at this time) to flourish, for about four or five years.

Some Early Stories that Rocked the Boat

One fan sent the het underground story Moon Silver to Maureen Garrett, with less than positive results. That incident led to the Lucas uproar regarding two stories published in spring 1981: the het story Slow Boat to Bespin, which had been published in the multimedia zine Guardian #3 in May 1981, and The True Force, in The Dark Lord #3/4.

All these stories generated the letters from Maureen Garrett and began a complicated fandom journey.

One Controversial Story: Defused by Pizza

A Marketable Commodity, published in late summer 1981, squeaked under the wire regarding hassles with Lucasfilm, TPTB, and sexual content.

A fan wrote a LoC regarding this story, and the letter as well as the authors' response, was printed in April 1983 in the last issue of Pegasus.

The fan's comment:
My second [reaction] was that this was also a story that unfortunately Lucasfilm is going to disapprove of on several levels. I don't want to see you guys get into a hassle with Lucasfilms; I like your stuff too much.
The editor/authors' response
...no lawsuits to date and no threats either. We were a bit concerned about their reaction to the story as well, but there've been no repercussions. It wasn't the Fan Club's Idea of Great Literature, but neither was it worth re-stirring the hornet's nest that had been precipitated by Lucasfilm's letter campaign prior to PEG V's publication [late summer/early fall 1981]. Which is not to say that we wrote and printed the story to spite them. Definitely not. The story had been written, typed and laid out prior to word of the controversy. It went to the printer the day before the Official Advisory Letter arrived in the mail. And by then it was far too late to rethink the more controversial aspects of the story. Which is what we told Fan Club Rep Maureen Garrett when we gave her her copies of the zine. A relaxed dialogue over deep dish pizza can do wonders for offsetting imminent bloodletting, name-calling, or whatever. Which, all in all, adds up to a long aside to those readers who were curious as to whether we'd been sitting in court for the past two years... [10]

Ships in the Night, this story's sequel published in roughly the same month (September 1981), was included in Warped Space #46 as a supplement with required an an age statement.

Linda Deneroff Responds to the First Letter

In fall of 1981, Linda Deneroff writes of the letter she received from George Lucas:

By the time this sees print, some of you will have heard about the letter I received from Lucasfilm on the 3rd of August, or may have even received a letter yourselves, but as I write this I am still very upset over the implications this letter contains for all of us. The letter I received is a warning that Lucasfilm has re-evaluated its policy 'and it will no longer be safe for publishers such as you to feel immune from enforcement action by Lucasfilm.' This is in reaction to having published 'Slow Boat to Bespin,' which Lucusfilm evidently considers X-rated... My co-editor and I were concerned about Lucasfilm's reaction to the story and we submitted it to Lucasfilm almost a year in advance... Word reached us back... that Lucasfilm had said the story was all right to print. What I resent is the attitude I perceive which says 'Go ahead and print; we'll tell you later if you've exceeded our standards.' ... Obviously, Lucas now considers 'Slow Boat to Bespin' to be x-rated (Lucasfilm's term, not ours) certainly Cynthia and myself do not, or we would not have printed it... It will be interesting to see what happens in the state of fannish publishing in the coming months. [11]

Linda Deneroff Explains Further

In 1982, Linda Deneroff, editor of Guardian, writes of the phone call between Maureen Garrett and herself:

...regarding this matter, Maureen called me some time toward the end of September. I don't remember the date, but it was before the guidelines were sent out, and we had a very interesting conversation. Basically, Maureen apologized about 'Slow Boat', saying, in effect, that she had spoken to my friend and realized that there had been a lack of communication between them regarding "Slow Boat", and that certainly in relation to the story for which the original two form letters were intended, 'Slow Boat' was small potatoes. Incidentally, as I pointed out to Maureen, for a story that was printed in a foreign country and which very, few fans in this country are ever going to see, they indeed had overreacted and I was glad to see a more level-headed policy emerging. [12]

In 1993, Linda Deneroff recounts the whole affair to fans:

Allyson has asked me to comment on the Lucasfilm flap of 1981 regarding their policy on fan stories... The short and skinny is this: In the summer of 1981, an English-language zine was published in Sweden called Dark Lord (not to be confused with the American zine of the same name that appeared later). The zine contained a story (title unknown to me) in which Han Solo was brutalized by Darth Vader in a sadistic, sexual manner. At approximately the same time, Guardian 3, of which was co-editor, premiered, and featured two vignettes both titled, Slow Boat to Bespin. Each story told a different view of what happened on that journey. The accompanying artwork by Martynn featured a picture of Han and Leia in bed with one of her breasts exposed, but otherwise rather discreet, all things considered. In any event, it is my impression that both zines reached Lucasfilm at approximately the same time, and they apparently saw this as damaging to their reputation trend. Now, I don't have first-hand knowledge of what the Swedish editor received from Lucasfilm, although I later received (through the fannish grapevine) a purported copy of that letter. On the other hand, I have copy of the correspondence we received from the Lucasfilm attorney, our reply to that letter, and the response to that letter from Maureen Garrett. Mazeltough Press's correspondence with Lucasfilm has never been published (I checked my back issues of Alderaan, Jundland Wastes, and Comlink. If we published it elsewhere, I've forgotten where. [13]

The First Letters

The editors of Guardian received the first letter. It was dated July 30, 1981.

Dear Ms Levine and Ms Deneroff: Maureen Garrett has forwarded you most recent publication, Guardian 3, to me with respect to a story contained therein entitled, 'Slow Boat to Bespin.' As you are aware a great deal of the infringing material published in small circulation fan publications has been overlooked by Lucasfilm because the costs of stopping such activities are often out of proportion to the amounts involved. This situation is tolerable to Lucasfilm only so long as the materials published are not harmful to the spirit of the Star Wars saga. The publication of Slow Boat to Bespin and the threat of publishing similar articles has caused us to re-evaluate our policy, and I can assure you that it will no longer be safe for publishers such as you to feel immune from enforcement action by Lucasfilm. I think you should seriously consider your responsibility to Lucasfilm, the copyright owner of these materials, and to the many loyal fans whose high regard fro the Star Wars saga is based in part on the wholesome character that everyone associates with it. Any damage that you do to this character hurts both Lucasfilm and the fans, and it would be irresponsible for you to act without a sense of duty you owe to both. Therefore, this letter is to put you to notice of our strong position against any x-rated treatment of Star Wars characters and to demand your written assurance that you will make no further use of the characters in this manner. Sincerely, Howard Roffman, Associate General Counsel. [14]

This is Linda and Cynthia's response, dated August 4, 1981: [15]

Dear Mr. Roffman, First let me say that was extremely surprised and hurt by the receipt of your letter. Cynthia Levine and I would never intentionally print anything we felt to be either damaging and hurtful to Star Wars, the characters or anyone connected with the same. The stories in question (there were two, they were printed as a set) we felt to be a beautifully romantic story of Han Solo and Princess Leia. We were concerned how Lucasfilm felt , and a friend of the authors who lives in California assured us that she had submitted the stories to Ms. Garrett in order to ensure that it was written within Lucasfilm's standards. Obviously there was a misunderstanding along the way. If it would not be too bold of me at this time, I would like to point out that fans of Star Wars have been hoping that Lucasfilm would print a set of guidelines for fan editors to follow. Just saying X-rated is too vague; I don't know anyone else who considers 'Slow Boat' to be X-rated. Or do you wish us to submit every story to you for your consideration? In any event, you may consider this the written assurance from Cynthia Levine and myself that you requested to make no further use of the characters in this manner. Yours truly, Linda Deneroff. [16]

In 1993, Linda Deneroff comments on these two letters:

Please note that nowhere in the attorney's letter is there any cease-and-desist. Obviously, the attorney considered our reply acceptable, because we never heard from him again. I should also point out that the attorney was absolutely correct when he said we should have submitted the stories to Lucasfilm ourselves, not to trust a third party. Like I said, we foolishly thought the situation would end there. After all, this was between us and them, we agreed to be more discreet in our our choice of stories, and we were totally unaware of the situation regarding Dark Lord. However, things got worse. Maureen Garrett, then the SW fan club president, decided to go public and address a letter to fandom in general. And thus was created the Lucasfilm flap, as we called it. It all blew over, eventually, but Lucasfilm never did issue any clear guidelines and left fans feeling very bitter. [17]

From "The Incomparable Jundland Wastes"

... Lucasfilms' lawyers sent fan editors a letter that threatens legal action against any zine editor who publishes SW-related material that could be considered obscene or pornographic. The letter is definitely not written in a user-friendly tone. Two stories in particular are said — in the fannish grapevine — to have inspired this action: a story from the Swedish fanzine, The Dark Lord, in which Vader captures and sexually tortures Han Solo, and "A Slow Boat to Bespin," (Guardian #3), as story that explores the personal relationship between Han and Leia as it might have developed while on their way to the Cloud City. Through the grapevine, it is also learned that an unpublished story outlining the adventures of Han Solo and a highly paid courtesan has been sent to Lucasfilms with less than positive results. [18] [19]

The "Form" Letter Sent to Fanzines

text of first letter sent by Lucasfilm

This is the text of what appears to be the letter, a form, sent to general zines, dated August 1981:

Dear Fanzine Editor:

Despite our word-of-mouth warning to the contrary, some publishers have chosed to print stories with the Star Wars charactres in X-Rated, pornographic situations. Attacted is our letter to those publishers, no names are mentioned.

Lucasfilm Ltd. does own all rights to the Star Wars characters and we are going to insist upon no pornography. This may mean no fanzines if that measure is what is necessary to stop the few from darkening the reputation our company is so proud of. For now, the few who ignore the limits of good taste have been turned over to our lega [sic] department for legal action.

If you, the fanzine editors, have comments, know of other stories of this nature, or wish to speak in defense of these publishers, please send such correspondence to Lucasfilm...

Thanks, Maureen Garrett, Director, Star Wars Fan Club

A Letter Sent to Warped Space

another letter sent by Lucasfilm, first page
another letter sent by Lucasfilm, second page

Text of the letter sent to Warped Space. While the letter is undated here, it was sent at the same time as the first letter (August 1981), as both letters appeared in full in Alderaan #15.

Dear Publisher:

It has come to my attention that your recent publication has included an X-Rated story about the characters and situations from the STAR WARS Saga. this is not O.K. with Lucasfilm Ltd. I'm taking this opportunity to inform you of our reaction to your story.

Previously, as the Assistant Director of the OSWFC, I circulated word that X-Rated STAR WARS material should not appear in printed form in fanzines, in cartoons, or in any other form. I assumed that since word was passed around fandom that all STAR WARS porno was unacceptable, publishers would have enough common sense not to print any such pornography. Now that you have, I, as the Director of the Official STAR WARS Fan Club have to establish a written, legal policy against such indcidents of published STAR WARS pornography.

As a general guideline, the publisher of the questionable STAR WARS material should realize that, since all of the STAR WARS Saga is PG rated, any story those publishers do print should also be PG. Lucasfilm does not produce any X-Rated STAR WARS episodes, so why should we be placed in a light where people think we do? You may quote us on this, we can and will take legal action, starting today, against any and all publications that ignore good taste and violate this reasonable cease and desist letter.

Nothing can stop anyone from writing anything they like about the STAR WARS characters, but those characters are owned and controled by Lucasfilm Ltd. and George Lucas. You don't own these charactres and can't publish anything about them without permission.

The word has come from George Lucas, himself, that STAR WARS pornography is unquestionable unacceptable. The damage done to the wholesomeness associated with the STAR WARS Sage and its characters by such irresponsible publishers is permanent and hurts both Lucasfilm and its fans. Pornography is directly opposed to the very ideals and the spirit that the STAR WARS Saga embodies.

Aside from being illegal, there are many reasons why Lucasfilm Ltd. does not want either explicit sex or X-Rated STAR WARS stories. Our main concern is now can you prevent underage enthusiasts from reading your fanzine containing STAR WARS pornography? If the parent of this underage fan found his or her child reading such questionable material, how might this parent react? The effects of such an angry parent going to the PTA, their church, the local news, or even the National Enquireer could tarnish the good name of Lucasfilm. We are very proud of our reputation and resent this attempt to darken it.

Your name has been removed from the mailing list of publishers that will receive our publicity mailings and press kits from Lucasfilm Ltd. Productions. We wtill request copies of your fanzine to check on further stories. A copy of your fanzine and appropriate data have been forwarded to our legal department and further action will be taken by them. Please write back with any reply to Lucasfilm Ltd [P.O. address].

Sincerely, Maureen Garrett, Director, STAR WARS Fan Club

A Letter sent to Jundland Wastes

The letter, dated October 7, 1981, as was published in Jundland Wastes #5/6:

Dear STAR WARS Fanzine Publishers and Contributor: As you may have heard, Lucasfilms Ltd. recently sent letters to a number of fan publications expressing our concern about the unacceptability of certain material in STAR Wars Fan Fiction. This letter raised many questions from fan editors and contributers. Our policy is as follows:

The key factor which we would like all fanzine publishers and contributors to keep in mind is the wholesome nature and broad-based appeal of the STAR WARS Saga. The character of the films and all the authorized literature themselves best illustrate the manner in which we believe the STAR WARS Saga should be depicted. Lucasfilm can only appeal to your sense of decency and respect for the STAR WARS characters in asking that you consider our desires. Lucasfilm objects to material that contains: pornography, vulgarity, or explicit gore and violence. -- The kind of writing which 99.9% of you have already labeled as "garbage."

Our wish is perhaps best expressed by a letter from an understanding fan. 'I suppose I have a rather simplistic view of the subject. If George Lucas and his friends come to my house and went out to play in my backyard, I'd expect them to abide by my rules that you don't stamp on the fuchsias, play basketball in the vegetable garden or tear fronds off my eight foot tall Tasmanian tree fern. If they choose to ignore my request, they would suffer the consequences of that choice. I guess I figure that when we publish fanzines or write fan stories for publication that involve the STAR WARS characters, we are, in essence, "playing" in George's yard. Therefore, out of courtesy and respect for him, I will abide by his rule not to publish or write for publication explicit sexual material that uses his characters.

We hope you understand that our policy is an exercise in OWNERSHIP not censorship. The law enumerates certain privileges which belong to any copyright owner; one of these privileges is the exclusive right to reproduce in any medium, the characters, plot, setting, and any other elements of his story and to prevent third parties from publishing unauthorized work substantially similar to his own.

Lucasfilm supports the publication STAR WARS Fanzines. We value you interest, appreciate your opinions, and trust your intentions. If you have any questions, please write or call.

Sincerely, Maureen Garrett, Director -- STAR WARS Fan Club [and] Frances Smith, Legal Counsel

A Follow-Up Letter

Maureen Garrett also wrote a follow-up letter which was also published in the November issue of Jundland Wastes #5/6. It was dated September 17, 1981.

An excerpt:

Most of what I have read I would not consider pornographic... but there are some stories in which authors went too far. A Lucasfilm employee who forwarded one such story to my desk was profoundly shocked. In her words, 'It was like it was happening to friends of mine!' I will continue to decline to name names, but I will tell you that the infamous 'Dear Publisher' letter was not drafted in response to Slow Boat to Bespin stories...

The legal requirements upon fan editors is that under copyright law published without permission is illegal. The cumbersome legal system makes the effort required to stop a low-circulation fanzine disproportionally large, but when such copyright infringement includes material we feel is unacceptable and tarnishing to the ideals of the STAR WARS Saga then pride and our policy require that we take steps to insure that unacceptable stories do not continue to appear...

Our legal policy is now being written. Copies will be sent to our entire listing of STAR WARS Fanzines and to those contributors who have written in requesting copies as well. Just like the 'Dear Publisher' letter, I had hoped to avoid this Herculean task by circulating the informal word as to the unacceptablily of certain topics. Now, everything must be cleared through legal and rewritten in terms a lay person can understand. The legal point of copyright infringement is simple: ask permission before you publish anyone's copyrighted material and only publish after you receive written permission. our interest lies in the ceasing of X-rated or questionable publications, not in legal action for damages on previously-published material. However, now that we are aware of the stories, we feel it is necessary to stress that they much not be printed without our prior approval.

Another Response Letter from LucasFilm

copy of letter dated November 1, 1981, click to read

When two editors of a proposed zine, "Excelsior" [20], wrote Garrett asking for clarification, they received a letter in response, one that did a fair amount of waffling about what constituted offensive content.

We decided that there would not be a set of 'guidlines' [sic] because any attempt on our part to prejudge the totality of what might be unacceptable would be woefully inadequate and would contain as many words as an average encyclopedia... We like to receive four issues of a fanzine. Bill us for three and send one gratuitously. The latter becomes part of the Lucasfilm Archives.

Who Got the Letters?

Below is a list of some publishers who reported receiving the letters, some of whom printed them in their zines.

A Small Band of Rebels

Not all fans accepted the thematic restrictions imposed by the Star Wars fan club and Lucasfilm.

In the summer of 1981, the editor of the zine Imperial Entanglements submitted a non-explicit slash story written by Barbara T and another author to Lucasfilm for their review and consideration.[21] This story was called Hoth Admiral.

In September 1981, Maureen Garrett and Lucasfilm's legal counsel rejected the story, saying:
We're terribly sorry, but we cannot authorize homosexual expression of love among the characters created by George Lucas. This controversial subject must remain detached from the world created by Lucasfilm in order to preserve the innocence even Imperial crew members must be imagined to have.

Your story does not need our characters in order to portray homosexuality among certain crew members of an other-worldly vessel in galactic space and time. There are deeper, psychological themes which should be creatively explored here, in fact you are unnecessary restricting yourself by forcing the story into the confines of the characters you have chosen to copy.

If you rework your story using characters of your own imagination, rather than being forced to abandon your ideas, you will find your self with a work entirely your own and increase its value ten-fold.

Thank you for forwarding your story. Please do not publish your story with our characters. [22]

The editor of Imperial Entanglements wrote a letter of protest directly to Lucasfilm. In the letter, she explained that the proposed story contained no physical expressions of any kind of sexual activity and lacked reference to anatomical details. By excluding non-explicit homosexual fan fiction while allowing non-explicit heterosexual fanfiction, Lucasfilm would be adopting a prejudicial and offensive attitude towards gays and lesbians. She also took issue with the concept that "even Imperial crew members" must be allowed to maintain their "innocence" by pointing out that these same Imperial crew members had committed acts of genocide, mutilation and torture. And by setting "homosexual expressions of love" in opposition to "innocence" Lucasfilm would be implying that homosexuality was morally undesirable. The letter ended with the editor somewhat wryly commenting that previously published slash fan fiction in the Star Wars universe had not harmed the Star Wars brand. An official policy of prejudice against an organized minority might, however. The editor then distributed the two letters amongst Star Wars fanzine publishers. [23]

A month passed, and soon second-hand reports began circulating that perhaps Lucasfilm might be reconsidering their stance against slash fan fiction. On October 21, 1981 one of the authors, Barbara T wrote directly to Maureen Garrett seeking confirmation of the rumors:
Thank you very much for the several statements I have heard of that you've made to the effect that you've reconsidered the Executor stories...sent to you in mid-September by [the editor], and that you no longer intend to object to their being published. I hope this also applies to other fan-written stories involving homosexual characters, as long as they, too, remain non-explicit about sex and within the rather nebulous bounds of good taste. May I have your confirmation of these secondhand reports? I have received no reply to my original letter, and as one of the authors of this material, I am naturally rather anxious to know, directly from you, what your intentions are.[24]
The response was brief and to the point:
This is to confirm our conversation that we do not object to fan-written stories involving homosexual characters, as long as they, too, remain non-explicit about sex and within the rather nebulous bounds of good taste. [25]

And so the first "officially sanctioned" non-explicit and, yes, in the rather nebulously bounds of good taste, Star Wars slash story was published.

Fan Reaction

The reactions of individual fans, of course, were varied.

Some fans didn't have a problem with Lucasfilm's policy, stating they didn't like to read about explicit sex anyway, or that Lucasfilm had the perfect right to dictate what was written as Star Wars was his creation. Some fans cited the Star Trek fandom's supposed decline into fanfiction debauchery and didn't want Star Wars to take a similar route. Other fans wrote that they would write fanfic with sex, but would keep the material "tasteful." Some fans were extremely upset, cried censorship and stifled creativity, and they questioned the ownership of the Star Wars creative world. And yes, some fans openly declared that they would write and draw whatever they pleased, regardless of George Lucas' preferences.

After the first of these letters, a common unique disclaimer in early Star Wars zines noted in their submission requests that "Lucas's standards will be followed" or 'Please observe Lucas Film guidelines" or "All stories must conform to Lucasfilm guidelines."

One thing to keep in mind: at the time of these letters, there hadn't been any Star Wars slash fiction printed at all in zines, making George Lucas' objections based solely on explicit het pass-around and drawerfic material that was being casually mailed from fan to fan.

K.S. Boyd notes that:
...these guidelines were vague and overall were considered to be fairly useless, but they had the desired effect of squashing the budding slash community working in the Star Wars universe. Adult fiction was published, but it remained deeply underground. Over the years a few cease-and-desist orders have been sent out in other fandoms, but none with the same widespread repercussions as the Lucasfilm letters. [26]
Due to these letters, at least one zined, Jani Hicks, said she would no longer publish or purchase Star Wars materials, citing fear as well as complete disillusionment:
I cannot, I will not live with censorship backed by threats of litigation when I have acted, and continue to act, in good faith with the copyright owners. I am willing to abide by voluntary controls; I will not comply with the Rule of Gold -- the one with the gold makes the rules. Therefore, and sadly, I announce the retirement of D'Ego-Boo Press from active fandom subsequent to the publication of Thunderbolt and Twin Suns #3. After that time, I will be writing, editing, publishing and buying no more professional or amateur Star Wars material, including fanzines. I would hope that a few hardy souls would make the break with me, but I advocate no boycott or other action against Lucasfilm, since that would not speak well of fandom and its intentions. Nor would I presume to dictate to the fannish conscience; we are more than capable of making our own individual moral decision. I have made mine, and I do invite anyone feeling likewise to follow the dictates of their own inner voices... In less formal terms, my decision to retire was influences by a comment from a friend. 'Remember the Clone Wars?' she asked. I nodded. She ended, 'The Clones won.' [27]
Another fan responds:
I have read some of these stories and hardly find them [porn].... The failure to set a standard of what is and isn't porn is hardly likely to inspire fans to be willing to follow guidelines that do not exist. I have the impression that [Lucasfilm] expected to be allowed to judge what we write after it's published and then decide if it's porn or not. This won't do; you cannot expect fans to wait for you to decide on a whim what is and is not acceptable. Zine editors set standards for their zines, and [Lucasfilm] has to be will to do the same, not go after people when they refuse to follow guidelines that do not exist. Either give us a clear set of rules or give up of this talk of going after alleged porno stories. I would suggest the latter; any other action will only do severe damage to you. You will bet the one who started the attack on fandom and are doing everything you can to make it hard on us. It's you, and people like you, that do the most damage by trying to decide what we can and cannot read. This kind of attitude does not belong anywhere near fandom. [28]
Another fan responds:
... regarding the current Lucasfilm flap about 'adult material/censorship': I have no intent to become a cause celebre, nor do I intend to be a defiant martyr. I appreciate all those who have gotten in touch with me to give me moral support. I think... that I will be able to continue writing in this universe, but I WILL go on record as saying that, if the SWARS saga is teaching children that love and creation and life (and yes, sex!) between two people who LOVE one another is wrong ('unwholesome' was the word used), but death and violence and destruction is NOT wrong, then maybe Lucasfilm should re-examine its priorities... [29]
Another fan responds:
Despite the light that Carol Mularski and Judith Gran [30] have attempted to shed on the subject, pornography is not the same as copyright infringement. I believe that both Lucasfilm and fandom would lose if this has to go to court. I would like to implore fandom to impose a voluntary ban on X-rated fanzines. While some might argue that this infringes on freedom of expression, Lucasfilm does have a big stake in the characters they have created. Falling out of their good graces would be damaging to all, and not just the few who feel they have the right to use the SW characters as they please. [31]
Another fan responds:
Lucas doesn't appear to want to teach children that love and sex is wrong, but think about the way children see things. The more explicit you get, the more a child will say, 'Oh, sick, gross.' Shall we teach children that sex is sick and gross? [32]
Another fan responds:
I really don't think Lucasfilm or 20th Century Fox or any other corporation has any call to interfere in fan activities. As far as I'm concerned, I've "bought" SW/TESB several times. Everytime I pay for the ticket, I "buy" a small part of the movie. This, and the fact that fanzines are a social tool and not produced for profit. Tell me, what do you think the reaction would be if a fanzine [editor] was sued, for whatever reason? Somehow I don't think that either party would profit from it, no matter who won or lost. [33]
Another fan responds:
... part of the reason Lucasfilm thinks its position is clear and fans think it isn't is that the two sides aren't talking about the same thing, and neither side has made perfectly clear what it IS talking about... My personal feeling is that I don't mind the ban on explicit sex, partly because... I don't want to see SW fan fiction go the way of ST fan fiction. My hope is that after the fracas has passed and the ruffled feathers have been smoothed down, fans will direct their attention outward. The SW universe is huge, and there are a thousand stories in; with so much wide-open space, why retreat to the caves so soon? [34]
Another fan responds:
I am a TREKfan, and I have even been involved in the whole 'K/S' bit, which is one of the things George Lucas does not want in SW. Why? Well, there are many good reasons, and without making any moral judgements, there are other things to look at. For example, take a real good look at the TREKfic being published today, and you see something over 25% of it is devoted to K/S. Now, there is nothing wrong with this per se, but I have been in TREKfandom long enough to see a change in the quality of fiction. Part of what has happened ties with K/S: people are writing scenes and vignettes; descritpions of relationships (with or without overt sex) and the good, old, interesting ST/Sf action story with a good plot and good pacing and interesting situations and characters have almost disappeared. [35]
Another fan responds:
... there is something here which goes beyond the question of legality. Whether or not fans may legally write these stories, is a question for the courts to decide if and when the question arises. But fans do have one obligation which transcends the question of legality. In this I am referring to Lucas' request that no sexually explicit Star Wars stories be published. It is my feeling that, since Lucas created the characters of Star Wars, and therefore they are best known to him, it is his decision to make whether or not such stories may be published. If enough pornographic stories appear in print, Lucasfilm will be forced to take some sort of action, if only because the cannot back down fr the earlier request. Whether or not Lucasfilm could win a court case (and I suspect they could) the entire affair could ruin the fanzine "industry". I, for one, would not put out a fanzine if I knew there was a case in court. I would not even write for one. Even if the case were not decided in Lucasfilm's favor, there would be enough fear in fandom that many zines would be put out of existence. So, this is a plea to all would-be writers of Star Wars pornography and the already-existing writers of such. Please, do not continue doing this! Most of us are having a wonderful time writing fiction and would be very unhappy to see it disappear. I know how much fun it is to write sexually explicit material; I've done so myself, but I don't plan to publish it. Writing it and publishing it are two different things altogether. If you want other people to see your lovingly assembled porn, show it around, but don't publish it "officially" or there may be trouble for which the vast majority of fandom would never forgive you. [36]
Another fan responds:
I am very interested in seeing the effect of this sad occurrence ["The Controversy"] on fannish publications in the near future. What I hope WON'T happen is that editors will get so nervous that they refuse to touch a story with any sort of sexual situation in it. It would be a sad state of affairs if we were limited to simple/action adventure stories that are a little more than a rehash of the movies, since one of the nice things about fan fiction is that it can work on levels and examine issues the movies didn't. [37]
Another fan responds:
All they are asking is that we keep the book we borrowed from George in good condition... We are all book-readers and can appreciated Mr. Lucas' wishes; it is HIS book after all and we are his courteous borrowers. [38]
Another fan responds:
We ought to have a little respect for the man whose genius has created the SW saga. We ought to be willing to trust him, not be in a hurry to vilify him and to exploit his creations for our own egos and libidos... For myself, I am in favor of this move against pornography wholeheartedly. When I first heard about K/S I was shocked and saddened. I hate to think that there are those who want to do the same and similar things to SW characters. [39]
Another fan responds:
Everything George Lucas has done only serves to raise my opinion of him. Anyone who is too selfish to appreciate his efforts, is someone whose SW fannishness I can't understand in the first place. Three million cheers for George Lucas! [40]
Another fan responds:
A fan blames Star Trek for the censorship conflicts: "STAR TREK spoiled fandom. Because Paramount didn't choose to exercise their copyright rights with regard to fan fiction, some people in fandom choose to believe that those rights never existed, and because of that, that Lucasfilm has no right to restrict stories written about their characters. Wrong. See that little mark after the name Han Solo? See that little mark after the name Luke Skywalker? Those are copyright marks. [41]
Another fan responds:
We [one of the editors of Imperial Entanglements] have the tradition of fan fiction, a genre of its own. Fan fiction may not be, strictly speaking, more 'realistic' than the movies, but it is a fantasy of another kind, closer to the psychological definition than the fairy tale one. Fan fiction uses mythic violence, but seems to be noted for its use of erotic rather than violent catharsis, one of the origins of the venerable, if frequently criticized Mary Sue genre. Erotic catharsis, in the form of of explicit lay-stories involving characters from media productions, is a valuable and strongly defined function of fan fiction, one I think is quite valid, although it is... far from the ONLY valid one. In attempting to censor such fiction, Lucasfilm is violating a tradition of the fanfiction genre which, as a couple of the letters indicated, 'altering the deal' and unfair. So it is, from this pov and this tradition... My own sympathies lie with the fan fiction tradition group, and I strongly hope Lucasfilm can be persuaded to back down in the area of other specific no-nos, as it did in the case of my specifically prohibited no-no. (For the sake of the five or ten people out there who didn't hear about it through the underground grapevine, that specific no-no was the use of homosexual characters -- non-explicit -- in SWARS fiction, including one very minor Imperial from the movies.) [42]
A fan writes an Open Letter to Lucas himself:
... I am returning the Raiders of the Lost Ark presskit that was sent to me unasked for, along with a letter that implies I owe you a copy of my fanzine, Kessel Run since the zine would not exist if not for Lucasfilm. Since I have paid full ticket price to see both A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back over 25 times each... I am seriously question just exactly WHO owes WHOM! If not for the movie fans, none of these movies would have become as successful as they have... Your comment about underaged fans' parents catching their little darlings reading what you consider to be X-rated material and having a bad reaction is ridiculous. Not only have Star Trek editors been publishing fanzines with Kirk/Spock stories for over five years without such a thing ever happening, but these editors have all but carried out their moral and legal obligation to request their buyers to present some kind of proof or affirmation that they are of legal age for buying such material. Ar you going to imply that any Star Wars editor who chose to publish similar type material would not pay heed to the same moral obligation? And, speaking of the Star Trek zines, you could do well to take a lesson in open-mindedness from Gene Roddenberry himself. [43]
A fan writes that ST and SW are different in that, while ST is Gene Roddenberry's creation, there were many different writers of the show and that with SW, George Lucas is the only creator:
It is, afterall, George Lucas's game from step one. [44]
Addressing Lucas himself, a fan writes:
On to your threat of legal action... In view of your previous UNofficial request that no X-rated/porn material be published, writers and editors certainly had a moral obligation to respect your wishes, according to their interpretations of 'X-rated' or 'porn.' But moral and legal are not necessarily the same thing. [45]
A fan writes that accusing fans of writing X-rated fiction is an "attempt to darken Lucasfilm's reputation" is wrong.
...most of what I've read I would not consider pornography... I'm sure none of the writers or editors had any intention of [that] and most likely never even thought of their work as possibly having that effect. Accusing them of deliberately causing or trying to cause damage is neither ethical, legal, nor conducive to improving relations between Lucasfilm and fandom. [46]

Fannish Commentary: Articles

A Short Note from Maureen Garrett in 1983

The 1983 Media West con program book had a short note from Maureen Garrett. Her contribution was written, in part, to publisize the new Star Wars movie. In it, she refers to past conflict with Star Wars fans and writes:
On behalf of LucasFilm I want you to know how much we appreciate your enthusiasm, support, and incredible talents regarding the STAR WARS Saga which you so lovingly share through your fanzines. We consider you our friends -- and mind you even the best of friends disagree occasionally.

One End Result of the Conflicts? A Fanzine Archive

from Datazine #45, click to read

And what happened to all the zines that Lucasfilm collected?

The zines were turned over to First Terran Enclave, and they ran it as a lending library from summer 1986 to December 1987.

Boxed zines in Ming Wathne's huge outdoor shed
Part of the Fanzine Archives

Between January 1988 and sometime in 1989, the zines resided in an unknown location and were not circulated for two years.

In November 1989, Ming wrote a letter to Comlink and explained she was re-opening the fanzine lending library and hoped to have it up and running in the spring of 1990. Soon other fans asked if she'd take copies of non-Star Wars zines, and she started collecting them, too, eventually remodeling her house to make shelf space for the hundreds, then thousands of different fanzines she acquired and cataloged. Local fans helped log in new zines, but was Ming's show for more than 20 years. The final version of her library became known as The Fanzine Archives: A Library for the Preservation & Circulation of Fan-created Material. The Fanzine Archives became a federally recognized, non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and circulation of fanzines. The Archives maintained an active circulating library of over 300 fanzines, and a permanent collection of over 3,000 titles.

In August 2008, the library was closed due to Ming's poor health. Ming asked fans to help her find a permanent home for the 3,000 plus zines she carefully accumulated and indexed. [47]

In early 2009, the Open Doors committee of the Organization for Transformative Works helped to place the Fanzine Archives with the Special Collections department of the University of Iowa Libraries as part of their Fan Culture Preservation Project. [48]

References

  1. from Interstat #2
  2. from Hyper Space #3, signed by "Craig Miller, Director of Fan Relations"
  3. from Scuttlebutt #6 (April/May 1978)
  4. It is difficult to know how many fans responded to this request.
  5. from Interstat #3
  6. from Probe #12
  7. from Interstat #10
  8. from Interstat #13
  9. from Alderaan Interview with Craig Miller
  10. from Pegasus #6
  11. This letter was printed in Universal Translator #3 and Jundland Wastes #4
  12. from Jundland Wastes #7
  13. from Comlink #55
  14. from Comlink # 55
  15. A response "which we foolishly thought would put an end to the matter." -- from Comlink #55
  16. from Comlink # 55
  17. from Comlink #55
  18. “The Incomparable Jundland Wastes” by Maggie Nowakowska
  19. This story was Moon Silver.
  20. appears to to not have been published
  21. These are the names as used on this page per Barbara T's request.
  22. Letter to the editor dated September 16, 1981, submitted by Barbara T.
  23. Editor's letter to Lucasfilm, undated, submitted by Barbara T.
  24. Barbara T's letter to Maureen Garrett at Lucasfilm dated October 21, 1981, submitted by Barbara T.
  25. Maureen Garrett's October 30, 1981 letter on official letterhead, signed " Director - STAR WARS Fan Club, Lucasfilm Ltd.", submitted by Barbara T.
  26. History of Slash by K.S. Boyd, accessed 12.12.2010
  27. from Jundland Wastes #5/6
  28. from Datazine #18
  29. from Jundland Wastes #4
  30. referring to their articles on copyright and fanfic that were published in two issues of Alderaan
  31. from Alderaan #14
  32. from Jundland Wastes #5/6
  33. from Alderaan #15
  34. from Jundland Wastes #5/6
  35. from Jundland Wastes #5/6
  36. from Alderaan #15
  37. from Jundland Wastes #5/6
  38. from Jundland Wastes #5/6
  39. from Jundland Wastes #5/6
  40. from Jundland Wastes #5/6
  41. from Jundland Wastes #7
  42. from Jundland Wastes #7
  43. from Jundland Wastes #5/6
  44. from Jundland Wastes #5/6
  45. from Jundland Wastes #5/6
  46. from Jundland Wastes #5/6
  47. "Note: As of August 2008, the Fanzine Archives is closed due to health constraints of the Librarian. Thank you to all the fans whose creativity, effort and inspiration have made this project possible over the years. We are considering passing the library on to a new librarian, if we could find someone with the capacity to store the vast collection of zines, and the willingness to distribute them freely as a service to all fans. If you think you are this person, please send a real, paper letter to Ming Wathne" Closing note, August 2008.
  48. 62 boxes of zines were transferred to the University, where they were cataloged. Ming's Finding Aid is here and the list of other fandom Finding Aids is here: Fandom related Zine Collections at the University Of Iowa.
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