Henry Jenkins’ essay “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars?” describes the waves of regulation and independence experienced by the fanfiction culture behind the Star Wars franchise. He chronicles the struggles of Lucasfilm to determine its stance on fan adaptation and participation within the culture of its established intellectual property.
Jenkins begins by discussing the Atomfilms contests that began in 2003, which invited fans of the series to create their own films in the Star Wars universe.The contest spurred many unofficial Star Wars fan videos that became increasingly public with their own publicity campaigns and official posters (203). Jenkins asserts that because of the internet fan subcultural activities such as these films were gaining increasing attention (203). These communities demonstrated that fans no longer passively accepted their media as it was provided to them; they instead “insist[ed] on the right to become full participants” in the ongoing series universe (203). This participation included not just making fan films and writing fan fiction, but sharing that creation with other fans of the series using various aspects internet. This included the sale of DVDs of these fan films on Amazon, among other retailers. One fan film entitled George Lucas In Love (1999) outsold the Star Wars Phantom Menace (1999) in DVD sales in its first week (204).
Jenkins compares these fan creations to early American folk traditions of music, quilting and dance in which a sort of grassroots creativity creates art with “no clear division between producers and consumers” (204). These forms of folk art such as ballads or stories often contained “no clear marks of individual authorship,” (206) partly because of how broadly they were circulated, modified, and retold. The point to which Jenkins returns repeatedly throughout the essay is that the large companies who own these properties need to be willing to take part in convergence culture and “accommodate the consumer demand to participate,”(205) or else they will not succeed in the “overcrowded media marketplace” (205). He subsequently asserts the distinctions between different understanding of media claiming “popular culture is what happens as mass culture gets pulled back into folk culture,” (207) and that “new convergence culture will be built on borrowings from various media conglomerates” (208).
The next section of the article focuses on what legal actions have been made in order to allow or limit fan adaptation and participation. Jenkins gives various examples of how different companies control their intellectual property by intimidating fans into removing their content from the internet, or by allowing them to create and share their content when adhering to strict rules. In 2002 Lucasfilm decided to make it known that in order to respect the “spirit” of their story fans should not create new narratives that appropriate the characters and world from Star Wars and they should instead celebrate the story exactly as it has already taken place (220).
Jenkins also goes into details of the production and budgets of the many successful Star Wars fan films and projects, including pointing out what he sees as a favouritism on behalf of Lucasfilm for the more comedic parody fan films created by male fans as opposed to the more earnest slashfiction and slash viral videos created by female fans (221). This, Jenkins muses, is possibly due to Lucas’ distaste for erotic Star Wars content (221). In 2000 Lucasfilm created a designated website for their fan films that made it clear that fans may parody the existing universe but may not create a serious or earnest fanfiction which departs from the original narrative on their website.
Jenkins finishes off his essay with an examination of the various fan cultures that take place around the many Star Wars video games and how these actions have been triumphed or looked down upon by Lucasarts. He concludes that no matter what reaction anyone has to the fans content, “having felt that power, fans and other subculture groups are not going to return to docility and invisibility” and they will simply “go further underground … but they aren’t going to stop creating” (226). He further concludes that the makeup of the entire Star Wars universe would potentially benefit from creation along more participatory lines. As an example, had Lucas done so by sampling his designs and polling opinions thereof on the internet, he “never would have included Jar Jar Binks or devoted so much screen time to the childhood and adolescence of Anakin Skywalker,” (239) as these decisions inevitably alienated many fans. Lucas and others with much loved intellectual property need to realize that “producers need fans as much as fans need them” (232).
Jenkins, Henry. “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars?”. The Social Media Reader. New York: New York UP, 2012. Print.
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