“(we fans knew it!!!)”: Fan Participation in the Star Wars Canon

Sean Guynes’ article outlines the expansive canon of Star Wars (SW) in service of an argument that highlights the importance of print literature to franchise production. “Canon” and “franchise,” though different, are both at the mercy of the whims of producers and consumers. In considering the 1991 circulation of Zahn’s Heir to the Empire, I’d like to examine the voices of these so-called consumers: How might fan reactions to a specific installation impact or become reincorporated into an SF franchise or canon?

Hibernation Sickness (HS) was a quarterly SW fanzine (1987-1992) that featured fan-fiction and art—which is another “addition” to the SW canon we may consider. Issue 15 (July/Aug 1991) offers two pages of reader responses to Zahn’s Heir. The responses are largely ambivalent: “The plot is not much,” writes Z.P. Floriam, and the “half-baked girl thing” disappoints, “… but the book treats [Luke] wonderfully” (50). Regardless, Floriam claims—in terms that trouble fan impact in the creation of canon—that Heir is a “dose of SW, and some of our addicts needed it badly” (50). In more outraged language, Melanie Guttierez writes that she “hungered for SO long [to] receive so LITTLE” (51). Contradicting the fan complicity in Floriam’s addiction comparison, Guttierez claims that “WE deserved better than this—hell, most of us have WRITTEN better than this” (51). Here, Guttierez signals the productivity of fans and implies their own skills have been eclipsed in favor of an SF authorial icon. She undermines Zahn’s inherent authority over the canon, though, when she writes: “Hugos must be going cheap!” (51).

What I read here is an awareness of a divide between the producers of a canon and its fans: Zahn’s capital in the industry means little to these fans, who claim their “love” of the SW canon allow a certain authority in legitimizing its narratives (51). This divide is emphasized further when the editor of HS includes a review of Heir from The Associated Press, citing that they wanted to provide a “professional” (i.e. not fannish) review of the book (52). It is notable that, though the review is similarly ambivalent about the book, the language is less florid, less emotional and offended, maybe even less invested.

In light of this implied division, I would like to ask how the audience of a franchise (or fans of a canon) may participate in its formation. Guynes’ cites that Heir was “popular”—and perhaps it was on a scale of profitability—yet fan reactions seem largely disappointed in the installment (143). Does this disappointment matter? Are these readers contributing to a larger formation of a canon informed by multiple actors, which ostensibly includes an audience (Guynes 148)? Or are these fans speaking within the vacuum of HS, exchanging lamentations not considered by content creators? And if it is a vacuum, is that a problem? Can we consider the fictions and forums that inhabit the SW fanzines as a sort of alternate canon—one protected from those only in it “for money, instead of love” (HS 51)?

Sources:

Mrs. Potato Head, a prolific contributor to Fanlore who graciously sent me their full scan of Hibernation Sickness #15.

Fanlore’s Heir to the Empire Page (which includes excerpts from all the above Hibernation Sickness reviews)

Fanlore’s Hibernation Sickness Page

3 thoughts on ““(we fans knew it!!!)”: Fan Participation in the Star Wars Canon”

  1. Addendum: In a reductive strike against fan impact, a review of the Heir hardback in Brum Group News (a monthly newsletter of the Birmingham Science Fiction Group) amusingly suggests the book is the franchise’s swan song. “I’m not too sure that it works anymore,” writes reviewer Carol Morton, “Star Wars did give popular sf a shot in the arm, but the genre has moved on since 1977 and I don’t think the story has. Perhaps it would have been best to let Star Wars rest in peace rather than resurrect it” (11). Maybe so…

    http://www.fanac.org/fanzines/Birmingham_Science_Fiction_Group_Newsletter/Birmingham_Science_Fiction_Group_Newsletter240.pdf

  2. I’m interested in the “implied division” between “fannish” and “professional” reviews, and in how these contribute to canon formation. The “professional,” more detached language of an AP review does some posturing to ensure that it’s not a “biased” fan’s take, but is rather coming from a “qualified” judger of literary/cultural/entertainment value. Is this ever really true? Is the reviewing apparatus, connected to the prize economy, (thinking of NYT Book Review sorts of places) just another kind of fandom, which shirks that label in favor of “professionalism”? Might be that they are “fans” of something else (“literary merit”)?

  3. I’m inclined to flatten any decisions about canon/franchise formation to the profitability and thus answer your question about readers’ disappointment with a hearty “No.” But that seems a bit too simple. I can’t get this line from Rieder about SF as a genre out of my head: “All those involved in the production, distribution and consumption of SF—writers, editors, marketing specialists, casual readers, fans, scholars, students—construct the genre” (21). I believe this list and the constructive generic work these “multiple actors” perform might help us answer some of these questions related to franchise formation.

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