The Fandom Menace

Living on the sidewalk for a month. Sleeping with Wookiees. Thousand-dollar action figures. Think the new Star Wars is just a movie? You poor fool.

But today, Boba Fett is just about the most popular character in the entire Star Wars universe, second only to Han Solo. To gain insight into Star Wars fandom, it is first necessary to understand Boba Fett. The cult of the bounty hunter developed during the dark age, between the early '80s and early '90s, when it looked as if Lucas had abandoned plans to make the promised prequels and sequels to the original trilogy and fans began to lose faith. They still spent a lot of time with the films, however, picking them apart and eventually falling in with the minor characters, the droids and aliens who got only a scene or two but who seemed so authentic, so cool, so real. Lucas overlooks no detail, mundane or otherwise, and neither do his followers. Some discovered the mystique of Boba Fett. They explored his past, debated his death. Today, he has several comic-book series and pulpy novels following his trail of cold, clinical killing and kidnapping. And Bulloch gets invited to science-fiction conventions and comic-store openings all over America.

The weekend after The Phantom Menace opens, Bulloch will appear at a special celebration of the Star Wars trilogy hosted by the Sci-Fi Expo and Toy Show at the Plano Convention Center. Fans from as far away as Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Sweden, and Switzerland have already purchased $60 VIP tickets to the event, which include tickets to a screening of The Phantom Menace. And it's easy to see why they're coming. Well, it's easy, at least, if you're a rabid Star Wars fan.

"A lot of people say, 'You changed my life. Thank you,'" Bulloch says of fans, who send him poems, paintings, drawings, and sculpted busts. "I say, 'Don't thank me; you must thank George Lucas.' I have to own up that all I did was wear a mask."

Bulloch now gets cast as bad guys--"psychopaths, crooked policemen, dodgy doctors, negligent scientists"--but describes the often misunderstood Boba Fett as "a fair man, the kind of man who'll walk up to you and say, 'I'm going to kill you now.'" The bounty hunter captures Han Solo, and he always keeps an eye on Darth Vader. He takes care of his own business. But who is Boba really?

"The serious people really want to talk about and analyze the peripheral characters," says Morgan Phillips, a fan who lives in New York City and admits to having a Boba fetish, an intellectual investment in the character. "What are these things that are hinted about but not explained? [The vagueness] allows you to project your own feelings onto the characters."

Phillips doesn't plan to stand in the line, but his passion for the trilogy has led him into a career of sorts; he works with Hasbro and creates dioramas of action figures for toy-industry trade shows. He's also a musician and has put together a CD called Star Wars Breakbeats, a collection of 25 "character treatments" mixed from dialogue, sound effects, and an eclectic array of dark, funky samples. Star Wars hip-hop and house music.

Boba Fett had become so popular by the time Lucas put together the Special Edition that he added two new scenes with the bounty hunter, a knowing nod to his fans. In an addition to the first film, Boba Fett simply walks across the screen, looking this way and that, not saying a word.

"I watched the Special Edition in, I think, Nashville," says Bulloch. "I was with Peter Mahew [Chewbacca], and I remember when Boba Fett appeared and people cheered. I got this spine-tingling!"

And in Return of the Jedi Special Edition, Boba Fett hangs out at Jabba the Hutt's smoky, loungy pad, taking in a band and flirting with three dancers. As he leaves, the Fett gently cradles a dancer's chin and gives her a peck on the cheek. This inspired Phillips to write a passionate essay called "Boba Fett is the Mack," which explores the more romantic side of the man behind the dented green mask.

"You never see Boba Fett do anything except handle his business," Phillips says. "And when you see him in a private moment, he's trying to get ass."

To anyone familiar with the two most popular, and different, camps of American science fiction, it seems silly and unnecessary to say so, but Star Wars is not Star Trek. While a few traitors cross over between the two universes, the most efficient way to define a Star Wars fan is to say, simply, that he is not a Trekkie. In Cline's Fanboys screenplay, the four heroes questing to Skywalker Ranch have to pass through Riverside, Iowa. "It's the future birthplace of Captain Kirk," says Cline. "There, they get into an altercation with Star Trek fans."

Few "civilians" know the difference, but the rift is deep and sore. The voyages of the starship Enterprise, a monolithic storytelling franchise that encompasses four decades, seven movies, four television series, and countless novels and games, claims the largest and most visible fan base in American sci-fi. The very snapshot of a science-fiction aficionado is the unfair Trekkie stereotype, a basement-dweller who defines his life by the Prime Directive and the lusty rantings of Captain James T. Kirk. Star Trek fans gather at conventions and have organized meetings in local chapters named after starships. The world of their fandom, like that of Star Wars, has elements of a loose religion, but more closely resembles a city council meeting.

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