The fan wars, character bashing, and general toxicity of early Star Wars fan zines

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Title: The fan wars, character bashing, and general toxicity of early Star Wars fan zines
Creator: iwasonceafangirl
Date(s): 2020
Medium:
Fandom: Star Wars
Topic:
External Links: The fan wars, character bashing, and general toxicity of early Star Wars fan zines, Archived version
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The fan wars, character bashing, and general toxicity of early Star Wars fan zines is a 2020 essay by iwasonceafangirl, posted to Reddit.

"...the world just has to know about the Church of Luke and Cathedral of Ford. TL;DR: There was a period of about a decade where everyone in the Star Wars fandom jumped aboard Team Han or Team Luke, leading to a ship war of genuinely massive proportions. Also, bonus Han/Leia drama that essentially boils down to fans being horribly insensitive about 9/11."

Some Topics Discussed: Essay

  • fandom drama before, gasp, the internet
  • Star Wars, shipping, Church of Ford/Cathedral of Luke
  • getting jossed
  • claims of fans reacting inappropriately to real events, the terrorist attacks on 911, the zine You Could Use a Good Kiss and the comments judging and shaming fans regarding their fanworks/processing emotions/why they wrote them/conflating real life and fandom
  • print zines
  • Star Wars fans, like all fans, will apparently fight over anything
  • canon, and TPTB's dismissal of their own canon
  • the pro book Splinter of the Mind's Eye
  • "This is Star Wars, where every background character has a three-page Wookieepedia article"
  • "Then, in around 2014-ish, a miracle happened. Disney spent four billion dollars on Star Wars, and they promised to turn it into something fun and cool again. After years of stupid EU books that boiled down to glorified fan fiction, kiddie shows and cartoons that never quite lived up to their potential, and Christmas Specials created by people who were clearly high throughout the entire production, fans were very happy to hear that a big multimedia entertainment company would take control and stop George Lucas from putting out more unnecessary Special Editions."
  • ...the old fans, by and large, hated the new Disney Star Wars. Some stuck around to fight with the new fans, but many of them simply left. The most popular fanfiction writers either deleted their accounts or started focusing on different fandoms, and you can actually see the point just after December 2015 where URLs started changing and tags emptied."

Some Topics Discussed: Comments

Despite the fact the essay focused on The Luke and Han Wars and the treatment of Leia Organa in old fandom, there aren't that many comments about that those topics in the fan comments.

From the Essay

The internet, particularly Tumblr, is well-known for its unique ability to provide a platform for even the craziest of fans to gain an audience. All of my posts so far have centered on the strange events that happen when anonymity and fanatical obsessions combine—whether it’s legions of women who want to fuck Claude Frollo, teenage girls writing about cannibalistic mermaid Founding Fathers, or angry antis whose idea of fun is writing fanfiction in which Peggy Carter is brutally murdered, the Internet is the place where everything goes down. The Internet is anonymous and largely uncensored, and it’s easy to keep your online persona separate from your actual life, making it the perfect arena for the weirdest, most niche drama, from actual cults to ship wars [...].

But now, we’re trying something new (or, rather, something old-fashioned): we’re taking the ridiculous fandom drama offline!

If there’s any fandom well-known for being toxic, it’s the Star Wars fandom. Part of it is just because it’s such a large community—it consists of so many demographics that people are bound to disagree at some point. The other part of it is that people have a tendency to latch onto extremely specific parts of Star Wars and ignore or hate on the rest. Like, extremely specific. Certain fans will fixate on one very, very small aspect of the entire franchise, and treat the rest of canon like it’s trash (if they even acknowledge that it exists at all.) Nobody hates Star Wars like self-proclaimed Star Wars fans.

One of the things that people have a tendency to obsess over is relationships. Admittedly, a lot of it is because fans consider one half of the couple attractive and want to write fanfic in which that person has sex, but they can’t write pure self-insert fic lest someone notice and judge them, so they write plain old vanilla fic in which the attractive character has sex with his/her canon significant other. But there’s another component, too, which I think is often overlooked. Sometimes people see a fictional relationship, and they relate to it on some deeper level. They love the idea of those two people being together so much that they’ll do anything to defend their relationship, even when it’s unpopular or inconvenient. This type of intense devotion is what causes ship wars [...] Now there’s Tumblr and Archive of our Own to fight on, and before those, there were fan forums and fan sites... but what about even earlier? Back when Star Wars first came out, the internet as we know it wasn’t a thing yet. This presented a problem: there were fangirls, but no fanfiction.net. There were fan artists, but no DeviantArt. And there were ships, many of them, but no metaphorical Tumblr-esque ocean on which to have ship wars. But obsessive fans are nothing if not resourceful, so they didn’t let a silly little thing like the fact that the World Wide Web didn’t exist bother them.

Enter zines! A zine was a kind of DIY magazine, and there were hundreds of them. They weren’t exclusively a fandom thing—there were zines for all different subcultures and movements—but fandom did embrace them, and zines quickly became the primary way to share fanfiction and fanart before Archive of our Own was even a glimmer in someone’s eye. Zines varied in price, quality, and purpose. Some were dedicated simply to discussing franchises—fans would send in letters of comment, which were often like more concise, generally politer versions of the long, rambling posts you’d see on r/StarWars and the like. Other zines were dedicated to fanfiction of a certain couple (“ship,” short for “relationship,” though that term was not yet coined at the time many zines were created) or a particular character, but these were less common, especially in the very beginnings of a fandom.

[...]

The second constant was that fanzines were generally kept pretty low-key, and this was true not just for Star Wars, but for most fandoms. This was because fan fiction and fan communities were not very accepted, and many zines contained NSFW material that had the potential to upset creators. Though some zine makers openly advertised their work, others kept it all very secretive, and trading and collecting zines became a sort of underground market. So this was the state that the Star Wars fandom was in in the mid-80s: the more enthusiastic fans produced and bought zines, which allowed them to contact each other before the dawn of the Internet.

For a while, this was fine, pretty much. One advantage of good old traditional snail mail is that you can’t hide behind a username for very long, and people knew each other’s real names (and sometimes addresses.) Fewer people were willing to start wars when they couldn’t cower behind a screen to avoid facing the repercussions of their actions. And, naturally, fan zines largely lacked the petty drama of modern sites like Tumblr, because you couldn’t just type “kys!!!!” in a box and hit send if you got mad. You had to actually go to the post office and buy stamps and write a letter and put it in your mailbox, and the vast majority of fans just weren’t willing to put in that amount of effort to make someone else angry because of a stupid disagreement. So early Star Wars fandom was actually kind of chill for a little white. People just wrote each other letters, mailed out fan fiction, and acted like normal human beings who happened to have a special interest in a particular sci-fi franchise.

Of course, nothing good can last, and if you’re a Star Wars fan, you should probably be getting a bad feeling about this right about now. Again, nobody hates Star Wars like self-proclaimed Star Wars fans.

The (First) Courtship of Princess Leia Fan War:

So picture this. It’s the late 70s, A New Hope just came out, and Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are massive fandom heartthrobs. Fanfiction about them is circulating in excess, and although debates about shipping are popping up, it seems obvious what’s going to happen. Luke is the hero, Leia is the princess, and clearly they’re going to end up together. That’s just how it works.

People were already reasonably sure that Luke and Leia would be the Official Couple of Star Wars, and Expanded Universe publications like the 1978 novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye did nothing to challenge that assumption.

[See this fan's comments on Splinter of the Mind's Eye]

The Empire Strikes Back was released in 1980 to audience acclaim, and, unlike Mind’s Eye, it featured Harrison Ford reprising his role as Han Solo. With the fanboys’ favorite smuggler back as a viable character, there was no need to portray Luke as inexplicably grown-up and mean — Luke could keep being the innocent farmboy/Jedi-in-training, and Han could be the badass cool guy instead. And, because ESB was not a low-budget science-fantasy B-movie with a plot strung together with the literary equivalent of bubblegum and duct tape, there was ample room for Luke to have real Jedi training on a cool swamp planet. This was great, but it unfortunately kept Luke rather preoccupied for the duration of the movie, leaving Leia and Han conveniently alone together without him. So, to many fans’ surprise, Leia and Han wound up getting the romance arc. This worked very well on screen—there’s a reason “I know” is one of the most famous lines from Star Wars—but it wasn’t in accordance with what people expected or what Mind’s Eye had set up.

Despite Leia and Han getting the real romance, though, Luke was not forgotten—what he lacked in actual chemistry with Leia, he made up for in innocent awkwardness that made many a fangirl go “awwwww.” The whole siblings thing was still in its planning stages, and it’s pretty obvious that that whole subplot wasn’t even a glimmer in George Lucas's eye yet. Thus, it was totally A-OK for ESB to play up any little smidge of sexual tension between Luke and Leia for all it was worth. After all, nothing pulls in fangirls quite like a love triangle. So Luke and Leia, despite never actually hooking up (thank God), had their weird ship-tease moments and even an onscreen kiss (done for the purpose of making Han jealous, but still.) As you can probably imagine, this led to many Luke/Leia shippers staunchly defending their ship—while ESB didn’t say Leia had feelings for Luke, it didn’t exactly go out of its way to dispel that notion, and at the end of the day, Luke was still the Chosen One and Leia was still the fantasy princess. Star Wars had played lots of other tropes straight, so it wasn’t entirely out of the question to assume that it would play this one straight, too. Now, if you’re familiar with literally any other fandom in existence, you probably already know why this was quickly becoming a problem. The combination of a hot usually brunet man, a cute usually blond boy, and an in-universe love triangle is infamous for fueling violent ship wars. It happened most famously in Twilight with Jacob and Edward, and again in The Hunger Games with Gale and Peeta, then again in all of The Hunger Games’ increasingly cliche successors. But it also, less famously, happened in Star Wars.

It didn’t take long after ESB for people to start writing letters of comment to the most well-known fanzines, arguing for why Leia should end up with either Luke or Han. Though these debates were somewhat civil at first, they quickly devolved into straight nastiness. Popular letter-of-comment based fanzines soon filled up with letter after letter from obnoxious fangirl after obnoxious fangirl, campaigning for Luke/Leia or Luke/Han [1] and hating on anyone with a different opinion. Leia also got more than her fair share of hatred. She wound up with Han instead of Luke, what an icy bitch! She friend zoned Luke, what an asshole! Or, alternatively: she’s clearly in love with Luke and is stringing Han along, what a terrible person! She just wants two guys at once, what a spoiled little whore! And so on. I wrote a post about the post-Endgame ship wars in the Marvel fandom, and to be honest, you could probably just swap Peggy with Leia and it’d make just as much sense. Fandom has changed, but the ridiculous character-bashing has not.

Luckily for Leia, though, it didn’t take too long for fans to forget that she existed entirely. The ship wars lasted for a good few months, but then something really shocking happened. Return of the Jedi, the last of the OG Star Wars movies, was released, and with it came a terrible realization: Luke and Leia are brother and sister. Actually, no, not just brother and sister — twins, separated at birth.

That revelation caused mayhem. Han/Leia shippers rejoiced in a loud, annoying chorus of “I told you so!”s, and Luke/Leia shippers greatly diminished in number. Save for a small group of weirdos who hung back to proclaim that twincest is wincest (ew), most Luke/Leia lovers just kind of vanished, and people who had fiercely supported the ship retreated into the background. You may be thinking that the realization that two members of the love triangle are biologically related would end the ship war, and to your credit, you’re right. It did. Anyone who stuck around to whine about Luke/Leia not coming true was ridiculed by the fandom at large, and debates about who Leia should choose ended. But fans weren’t ready to end their ceaseless arguing just yet—if they couldn’t argue about ships, they’d argue about something else. So, in the absence of legitimate arguments in favor of the Luke/Leia pairing, fans removed shipping from the picture altogether. Instead, they focused on the characters themselves. No relationship drama, no debating over who deserves the princess—just good old-fashioned pitting one character against a different character in a desperate sort of fannish deathmatch.

Like before, fanzines filled up with letters of comment, but instead of obsessing over ships, this time they were obsessing over Luke and Han. Because complaining about other ships was no longer viable, people just focused intensely on the male halves of their respective fan pairings and all the ways they were wronged. One half of the fandom talked endlessly about Luke and all of the ways he’d been “mistreated” by his creators, which was no doubt because people were bitter that he and Leia turned out to be related. Fans complained that he never got the canon romance he deserved, his happy ending was half-assed, and he was forgotten about by fanboys who swarmed to Han instead. They complained that Luke’s lack of a love interest was purely unfair—he’s the male lead in an 80s science-fantasy film series, what is even the point of anything if he goes through all this trouble and doesn’t get a beautiful girlfriend? Clearly, the only reason Luke and Leia were made into siblings was because of some sort of terrible global conspiracy started by evil Luke-hating Star Wars fans who seized control of the whole franchise and/or brainwashed the movies’ writers into submission, and you would be insane to think otherwise.

Meanwhile, the other half of the fandom had its own meltdown in response to the Luke-lovers (yes, “Luke-lovers” and “Han-fans” were real terms used by real people to describe one another, because antis and stans didn’t exist yet—as a matter of fact, most common fan terms didn’t.) Han-supporters argued that Luke was clearly an irredeemable jerk who had secretly fallen to the dark side, and he was probably an evil murderer the entire time. Thus, Han was a better person and a more interesting character and just an all-around cooler guy that everyone loved. If you didn’t like Han Solo, you were a tasteless, childish moron who couldn’t see past the surface of Star Wars and didn’t understand its true message. What was its true message? you may ask. Who knows? Mostly it was just used as a meaningless argument to criticize anyone who liked Luke Skywalker as a character.

Fans quickly found themselves divided, and it became impossible to have any actual discussion because all the letter-of-comment zines were packed to the brim with people complaining about one another. Meanwhile, other fans jumped into the conversation to whine about how everyone else should just shut up, which certainly didn’t help matters because it just offended the ravenous Luke-lovers and Han-fans further. It was around this time that the names “Church of Ford” and “Cathedral of Luke” were coined; people started making fun of the obsessive crazies who spent hours writing letters about their favorite character by comparing their devotion to that of a religious fanatic. Except people weren’t ashamed of their obsession—they fully embraced the comparisons to a church, and the general response to criticism was largely “yeah, this is kind of like a cult. So?” Between the people yelling about Luke and Han, the people yelling at other people to stop yelling about Luke and Han, and the general complaints of everyone else regarding Return of the Jedi, letter-of-comment zines overflowed with hate even worse than the shit directed at Leia during the ship war. Content creators tried to retaliate by taking particularly gross fans off the mailing list and adding notes encouraging people to calm down, but after a while of that not working, some zine authors just shut the whole thing down.

See, that was the good thing about fan zines—they were very small and very individualized, and people ran them as hobbies. That meant that when things got out of hand, it was up to the discretion of the creators to pull the plug. You can’t behave yourself? Cool, you just got taken off the mailing list. You’ve turned a zine into a battleground over an issue that doesn’t matter? Great, now the next two editions are cancelled. Hope you’re happy with yourselves. Barely anybody wanted to spend their weekends gluing together and photocopying dozens of angry, ranting letters of comment, so lots of creators simply stopped including them in their zines. After a few years of nonstop drama, the vast majority of fans—or, at least, adult fans with the resources to produce zines and the like—were sick and tired of all the nonsense, and the drama began to taper off. After all, it’s hard to have a fan war without a platform to fight on.

By the time the 90s’ rolled around and the Star Wars prequels came out, interest in the conflict had greatly dissipated. Most fandom discussion made a slow but steady migration to the Internet, which you might think would reignite the fire, but everyone was too busy talking about the prequels to really care about a fan war from a decade ago. Debates still happened, but they mostly occurred in odd little corners of the Internet that not too many fans frequented. Even when larger communities stumbled upon Luke/Han drama [2], the response was usually more along the lines of “look at these idiots, they created a whole Geocities page just to yell into the void about Han Solo” and less “YOU GODDAMN MORONS BETTER LEARN TO ACCEPT YOUR LORD AND SAVIOR, LUKE SKYWALKER.” However, the Luke and Han fandoms didn’t die—they still existed as separate entities that eventually learned to live and let live. Rather than keep trying to kill each other, they finally learned to operate in different spaces and stop interacting. The Internet made that type of specialization far easier, so fandom got more splintered. Luke-lovers went into one corner, and Han-fans into another. Animosity was there, but it was limited, and most people calmed down considerably.

Remember, though, this is still the Star Wars fandom, so nothing stays quiet for long.

Fan Comments: At the Post

About EU Canon

This also reminds me of the time the Star Wars EU had a canon shipping war over Jaina Solo. It was a tale of inter-company rivalry, feuding authors peeing in each other's cornflakes, bland drippy love interests and hot sweaty bug sex.... One of my friends said that the best thing about Disney getting rid of the Old EU was that there would never be any more stories featuring Jaycen and Jaina Solo. I can't help but agree....Jaina is a character that the writers had grossly mishandled for years. Every effort to build her up had instead been fumbled and backfired along the way, and it was clear that she lacked direction. Sadly, she never moved beyond being defined more by the men in her life then she was as a person.

I was a super secret Jaina/Jag shipper who loved reading the fic but I did not feel comfortable publicly picking a side, even though I didn't even write in the NJO and beyond era, and the author who I felt wrote the best J/J stories was BATSHIT CRAZY.

We're Facebook friends now. She has no idea I've read her problem user thread on TheForce.Net, and I don't think I can ever tell her.

I was definitely in a "secret" Jaina/Jag forum that was in a war with another "secret" Jaina/Jag forum. Sometimes I miss the old internet.

...sometimes

Did you know that the red droid that broke down so Uncle Owen would buy R2-DR was force-sensitive and named Skippy? Or that Leia’s maternal aunt, Deara Antilles, was an Imperial spy who blew her cover by buying so many muffins that Bail Organa got suspicious? Or the time Han convinced Leia to marry him by kidnapping her and gambling for ownership of a planet?

Or the time that the Galaxy was invaded by extra-galactic S&M freaks who beat people to death with eels? Or when Leia named one of her children after the man who tortured her, forced her to watch her homeworld being destroyed and bought suffering to the galaxy? Or when Boba Fett fell into the Sarlacc pit three times?
Yeah, the old EU was kind of a poopshow. Getting rid of it was a smart move from a writing and creative perspective, as well as making the universe more accessible to casual fans (Ballpark figures have suggested that somewhere about 2% of people who have ever seen a Star Wars movie were following the old EU. There are people who have been Star Wars fans for decades who weren't even aware that it existed). But it also was a good move to get rid of mountains of god-awful fiction.
I have to wonder if the old Luke/Leia ship was somehow responsible for Ao3's bizarre obsession with incest pairings. Just worth a thought.
I dropped off the old EU after the S&M eel-whippers dropped a moon on Chewie, but Daala? Seriously?!
Just stopping by to point out that Skippy was never canon, the story was from a comic series that specifically was allowed to make parodies that didn't fit in and all sorts of weird stuff. Skippy's story was a joke.

I was pretty into the SWEU/Legends (and still am — I’ve read 95% of the new canon stuff) back when it was around, but only for the post-OT stuff and this was back in the mid-2000s, so the dust had largely settled on all of this drama back in the day. I was just arriving to the party clean-up and read what I wanted. It was pretty fun that way: not gonna lie. I didn’t over half of what I read, but boy, did I read it. I had read up on some of the early internet drama, but not so much on the zine side of things, so thank you for that! Makes me glad I was too young to be aware of Star Wars and on the internet in those days :P

My one note to make is I’ve always understood it as the old EU was never Officially Canon. George Lucas allowed it, but he never considered it binding and it was always of a lower “tier” of canon. Which is how Karen Traviss, mentioned elsewhere in this thread, wound up quitting, because The Clone Wars show contradicted her books and they told her the show (and movies) takes precedent. That makes sense to me, as far more people are likely to watch a Star Wars show than read a book, and nearly everyone is going to watch a movie.

The new SWEU is, as far as I know, canon, because now things are actually planned in advance and have cohesion with the rest of LFL, including linking with the comics! But they’re never required reading for the movies or shows — they really do just expand the universe and I’ve been enjoying myself.

Lucas saw the EU as something to mine for ideas, but at the end of the day it was, to him, "another universe" that didn't represent his ideas for Star Wars.

Interestingly enough, Lucas had little to no involvement in the EU, and certainly hadn't actually read much of it. He's also gone on record as saying that he didn't actually like a lot of the EU, and especially disliked Mara Jade.

Yeah, I think he had to sign off or at least put his foot down on some things? But otherwise it was just a sandbox. And that’s why I’m fine with Legends being relegated to its current status. No one, Disney or otherwise, shouldn’t ever have been beholden to it since so much of it sucked, and it also allows for cherry-picking the neat ideas, or creating fun shoutouts. Looking at you, Jacen on Rebels!

And most importantly, Legends not being “canon” doesn’t take away any impact it had on its readers. I feel like that’s lost in a lot of discussions nowadays. Something doesn’t need to be capital-C Canon in order to matter to someone. The feelings are still there. And that goes for everything, not just Star Wars.

As a Mara fan, you see people wanting her return all the time, but I’m always like... she’s not Thrawn! You can’t just pick her up as-is and plop her into the new canon. So much would have to change, and at the most basic level, if you can’t do her correctly, why bother? I’d rather not have her be canon than have some bastardized version that’s in name only, which is what Legends basically did by the end anyway. Not that I wouldn’t say no to a new version, exactly. I just think we’d need a new hand to have a take on her (preferably a woman this time tbh, as cool as Zahn is), and that’s just a massive undertaking. I think Legends already established that she’s a tricky character to write :P

But yeah. Her canon status can’t change the impact she had on me, and I’ll still have those memories, so what does it matter? Legends and new SWEU means you can have it both ways!

The EU-hate is way overblown. Sure, not all of the novels were great, but after the first few years of the EU floodgates being opened, there was an effective over arching plot structure put in place to keep everything gelling.

Remember when Disney said we had to nuke the EU because there were too many stories about rebuilding Death Stars or Emperor Palpatine coming back? Haha ..... yeah....

Print Fanzines and Fandom of Yore

At one point, I was buying a LOT of Star Wars fanfic fanzines. It was interesting - the fandom produced both some of the very best fanfic I've ever read in my life, and some of the very, very worst. There was a largish number of fanfic writers involved who ended up 'going pro' later on with their own original materials. There was a fanfic fanzine actually called 'Wookie Commode'. There was a small zine (JediStarDarkFalconKnight) produced JUST to satirize and parody certain well-known fics with fandom in-jokes. There was a huge novel-length trilogy that would have made better prequel and sequel movies than the ones that actually came out. And there was a sheerly awful series of interconnected self-insert fics with Han adopting an impossible cute just-barely- pre-pubescent girl as his 'little sister' with seriously, SERIOUSLY squicky romantic undertones. (I still gag remembering those stories years later. They were bad. I cannot for the life of me understand how a self-respecting zine editor would publish that hot mess). I still have some of these zines - I've tried to keep the best and dump the worst. One of the more interesting fandoms I've bought zines in as to the breadth of material, for sure.

Ugh, the adoption stores were the worst. I remember very distinctly a story someone wrote where Han adopted a young girl and they entered an extremely weird romantic relationship, and the author tried to justify it by saying that the age of consent was lower on the girl’s home planet so it was all okay. There was also a really weird passage in the same story where Chewbacca bought everyone blueberry muffins, which I’ve always remembered because, like, you have the whole Star Wars universe at your disposal, and Chewie eating muffins is what you want to write about?
The muffin thing is ringing a bell, but very distantly. Maybe it's the same stories. I vaguely recall some kind of torture hurt/comfort sequence (or maybe drug withdrawls from something veeeery nasty) somewhere in there happening to the female character. Who was a minor, which made it even worse. It's been probably twenty years or more since I read this one and the memories are hazy. This is one of a very few fanfics that actually made me angry. So much badness....

I somehow came across fan art on a fanlore page because I was literally looking up “Han and Leia art” to find something and then that linked to another page about a zine. I googled “Han and Leia fan zine” to see if I could read one and just found this post. Everything that you’re saying makes PERFECT sense now! And since Han is dead and they separated them, and with Carrie gone too..... i get why creators haven’t flocked back to this ship or joined it. I’ve managed to find a few people my age that are OT stans and post about it online but for the most part my generation is focused on the sequels. I’m sorry this is so long but I was looking for this answer and now I found it. I’m able to still enjoy the original Star Wars and the new movies without bitching about Disney and being horrible about it, but I wish there were more people like that in the fandom.

That 9/11 thing is crazy.
Everything in this post is amazing. And while maybe not a lot of the Oldest Guard fans from the Zine days have stuck around for the Disney era, a crap ton of fans who came in around the Special Editions/Prequel era are still alive and kicking. I grew up reading the EU and it was often a trash fire, but I still loved it, warts and all. I keep threatening to make a giant Waru costume for Celebration (the big Star Wars convention, for anyone unfamiliar), though that's largely because Waru was such a huge in-joke at TheForce.Net and I still talk to a lot of my old fandom friends from those days.

As always great work! Wasn't there something about how LucasFilms clamped down really hard on the Luke/Han slash shippers? I seem to recall something about that, but did you come across anything concrete in your research?

Yeah, Lucasfilm was notorious for being intolerant of fan stuff, especially NSFW fan stuff, and especially especially slash fan stuff. I didn’t talk too much about it because I was never super involved in that community and I don’t want to give out false info, but I do know that there was a whole controversy about it. Slash fanfiction writers had to be incredibly secretive.
The pre-90's were pretty hostile to homosexuality in general so I wouldn't be shocked.
Star Wars does breed a special kind of fan scene and I say that as a fan.
This was an amazing write up! I'd always heard that old school SW fanzines like the ones you describe and the resulting cease & desists from Lucasfilm were the reason that fandom migrated so aggressively to LiveJournal, where everything could be locked down and membership became extremely moderated. (Anne Rice and Ann McCaffrey fans had a similar experience as well, I think.) Do you know if anyone has preserved the old paper copies of the zines?
There were tons of zines. And Lucasfilm kept an archive of them, eventually turning them back over to the fandom; this fanzine library was kept by a fan named Ming Wathne, and was eventually turned over to the University of Iowa's collections as the seed of the OTW's fan culture preservation project. (For more detail, see Fanlore) It's important to recognize that compared to others, Lucasfilm was actually quite tolerant of fanfic and fanzines - but there were certain plots/subjects they didn't want to see, and WOULD send cease-and-desist orders over (explicit sexual materials, incest, slash). Fans being fans, this worked about as well as you'd expect, with no real slow down in the production of those materials, it just went under the table. Literally - this was the era when fanzines were bought through the mail or at conventions, either in dealers rooms or from fan dealers operating out of hotel rooms. There were - and still are - entire conventions dedicated to this, which have been their own source of drama as well.
Great article! I "only" got into Star Wars around '97, when the discussion boards I frequented were centered on the looming prequels and how cool Boba Fett was (we were mostly kids). I have never paid any attention to fanfic so this was all new information to me. It's mindboggling how many of the negative behaviours we associate with online fans actually pre-date the Internet. It's also weird to me because... it's not like the Han/Leia romance was some idea in the minds of fans - we saw it happen IN THE MOVIES! Why create all this extra stuff? Was it socially awkward fans projecting their own romantic ideas onto this fictional couple? Who walked out of a SW movie thinking, "man, I really wanna watch those two BANG"

References

  1. ^ "Luke/Han" is a typo. The author meant Han/Leia.
  2. ^ "Luke/Han drama" as used here does not mean Luke/Han pairing.