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OUT IN FORCE AS 2 BELOVED SCI-FI FRANCHISES FADE AWAY, FANS HAVE SEIZED THE SPOTLIGHT LIKE NEVER BEFORE.

Byline: Evan Henerson Staff Writer

It was supposed to be a cozy affair.

Eugene ``Rod'' Roddenberry, son of the ``Star Trek'' series creator, Gene Roddenberry, watching the final episode of ``Star Trek: Enterprise'' with some 50 of his friends. If they couldn't save ``Enterprise'' from cancellation, the forces behind TrekUnited.com and Save Enterprise at least wanted the series to have a festive send-off.

Instead, and to nobody's surprise, more than 200 people bought tickets - at $18 a pop - to attend the May 13 ``Enterprise'' send-off at the LAX Embassy Suites hotel, where they would mix with fellow fans, watch outtakes and view a trailer of Rod Roddenberry's upcoming documentary, ``Trek Nation.''

Where science-fiction franchises go, fans follow. Often in great numbers. Long passed are the days when ``underground'' sci-fi and fantasy fans could only find each other through specialized fanzines. The Internet has brought world-wide fans - and numerous galaxies - together. And there's safety and power in numbers, even among those who, throughout history, frequently have been labeled geeks.

You may also have noticed a homemade light-saber or two in your midst - or on the news - over the past several weeks. Rallying around ``Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith,'' fans of ``Star Wars'' have been pouring out of the woodwork practically since the beginning of the year.

An estimated 30,000 fans attended a three-day ``Star Wars'' convention in Indianapolis at the end of April. Author Matt Stover, who, as the author of the ``Revenge of the Sith'' novel, has bumped into a few, considers the ``Wars'' devotees the upper echelon of fandom.

`` 'Star Wars' fans just seem like kinder, gentler, more well-adjusted, grown-up people than you find in the general run of (science-fiction) conventions,'' says Stover. ``I don't know what it is. It's the Force.''

``Trek'' fans would make a similar claim to being well-adjusted. Among the guests at the ``Enterprise'' event: ``pilots, Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists, a lot of people who worked on the show, everything from janitors to lawyers,'' says Roddenberry. ``People who are hard-core Trekkies, people who admire the show, people who admired my father and those who thought it was a cool outlook on life.

``I don't think we have any of the nut cases here. I haven't seen anyone in a Klingon outfit,'' Roddenberry adds, ``but anyone's welcome to wear one.''

(Note the hastily inserted ``not that there's anything wrong with that'' remark about ``Trek''-inspired costumes. Given that a grassroots campaign by fans of the original ``Star Trek'' is largely responsible for reviving the franchise after it had been canceled, you tick off the fans at your peril.)

Many fans contend that documentarian Roger Nygard did science-fiction fandom no favors with ``Trekkies,'' his 1999 documentary about hard-core ``Trek'' devotees. Ditto William (Capt. Kirk) Shatner, who implored conventioneers to ``get a life!'' on a ``Saturday Night Live'' skit. Not too funny, say those who take their fandom and conventioneering seriously.

``The Whole 'Trek' phenomenon, with people dressing up and wearing pointy ears, it was that upswelling that caught the public's and the media's attention,'' says Deborah Geisler, graduate program director of the department of communication and journalism at Suffolk University in Boston. ``These were the fans people knew about. They didn't know about the ones who go to conventions, talk about stuff and go back to their jobs teaching journalists or being librarians.''

Derision notwithstanding, with the double whammy wrap-up of both ``Star Wars'' and ``Star Trek'' - arguably science fiction's most influential and lucrative franchises - sci fi fans are as visible and active as ever. They may not have been able to coax another season of ``Enterprise'' out of UPN, but they certainly made sure that ``Enterprise'' (and previous ``Star Trek'' spin-offs ``The Next Generation,'' ``Deep Space Nine'' and ``Voyager'') existed in the first place. Paramount has also announced a new ``Star Trek'' movie with a new cast.

``Star Wars'' fans aren't likely to simply disband even with the second trilogy having ended. There is material coming from what is called the ``expanded universe,'' which is material not directly related to the movies, such as some of the other books Stover wrote and the upcoming animated and live television shows George Lucas has announced.

Want to hook up with other fans? There are certainly regular conventions devoted to science fiction, fantasy and anime. Look no further than Internet chat rooms devoted to any show you can imagine. Or, these days, at the lines at your local multiplex on premiere nights or the weeks leading up to premiere dates.

More than 340 fans logged hours in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in the six weeks prior to the opening of ``Sith.'' The organization LiningUp.net pitched their tents on Hollywood Boulevard to raise money for the Starlight Starbright foundation and, yes, to be among the first audience for ``Episode III's'' premiere - which didn't even take place at the Chinese.

Assorted LiningUp queuers did wear costumes, and the top line-sitter, Bryan Lee, had clocked in more than 900 hours on Hollywood between April 2 and when John Williams' overture rang out at the 12:01 a.m. ``Sith'' screening last Thursday at the Pacific ArcLight.

Nathan Clukey, 33, a dancer recovering from a sprained ankle (``which,'' he notes ``is very well-timed'') isn't quite in that league. His total line time: more than 400 hours, during which he told more than a few bantering passers-by, ``You wish you were us right now.''

Will it matter whether ``Revenge of the Sith'' is actually any good? Not especially, as long as it's intelligent, says Clukey.

``It's more mature, and if you grew up with 'Star Wars,' you loved it because it was made at a kid's level,'' he says. ``We loved 'Empire Strikes Back' because it was dark, and then we grew up and wanted 'Star Wars' to be made on an adult level. It's not at that level, and that's why we're always complaining about it. We could use intense out-of-sequence dialogue. We could use excellent directing. Make us figure it out. Make us want to watch it 100 times to figure out all the intricacies.''

``Everybody shows their fandom in different ways,'' adds the Jedi-robed Capn Sid, 36 (200 hours in line). ``This is the last time I'm ever going to see a 'Star Wars' movie in its first run in the theater. So why not? It's a lot of fun.

``I'm a temp. I came down here to be an actor, like so many. I'm trying to make the rent, and I'm barely managing,'' he continues. ``So I come here (to the line) every day, pretty much. This is a big community going up, kind of like a family situation.''

``Family'' and ``community'' are a couple of terms tossed liberally around on Burbank Boulevard, where the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society has been holding weekly meetings since 1934. The society's 70th anniversary was attended by original member Forrest J. Ackerman, the man credited with coining the term ``sci fi.''

LASFS members include authors and illustrators, teachers, industry types, librarians and readers. You won't find many people under age 30 at the regular Thursday-night meetings, but second and third generations of longtime members convene for Friday night gaming and socializing. Not simply convention attendees, regular LASFS members are the people who have organized events like the annual World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) and the more local Los Angeles Science Fantasy Convention (Loscon).

``You get a lot of people from a lot of different walks of life and people migrating between clubs,'' says John Amato, one of the librarians to LASFS' 60,000-volume, wall-bursting archive. ``I don't know if you can just call it fandom in general toward 'Star Wars,' 'Star Trek' and all that. You have people here who hate 'Star Trek' and 'Star Wars' but love anime.''

Suffolk University's Geisler, who chaired the 2004 Worldcon convention, maintains that there's no significant difference between a hard-core science-fiction fan and the person who is heavily invested in some non- science interest.

In fact, she says, science-fiction fans might even possess certain advantages.

``You can't judge any community by its most extreme members,'' Geisler says. ``There are always going to be folks who have 14 Harleys in their back yard. Fortunately, science-fiction books don't take up as much space.

``Unfortunately, science-fiction fans often don't know when to throw them away.''

Evan Henerson, (818) 713-3651

evan.henerson(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

4 photos

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) THE REAL FORCE

Hard-core fanatics keep sci-fi franchises like `Star Wars' alive

(2) Imperial stormtroopers march down Franklin Avenue in Hollywood to escort ``Star Wars'' fans from the Chinese Theatre to the ArcLight for the May 19 premiere of ``Revenge of the Sith.''

Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer

(3) Eugene ``Rod'' Roddenberry, phaser rifle at the ready, on the viewing party he hosted for the final episode of ``Star Trek: Enterprise''

Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer

(4) David LaSalla, left, and Mike Villanova entertain ``Star Wars'' fans at the ArcLight in Hollywood with a light-saber duel before the 12:01 a.m. premiere of ``Revenge of the Sith'' on May 19.

Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 24, 2005
Words:1522
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