When Geeks Ruled the World

It can be argued that, other than Bill Gates, no man has done more to bring geeks into the mainstream than George Lucas. Just as computers have become part of our way of life, Star Wars has redefined pop culture for many Americans, and cannot be marginalized like other geek franchises such as Star Trek and Dr. Who. With the release of a new Star Wars movie, fans who would otherwise shun a geek label of any kind take on the yoke as they revel in the media overkill leading up to a new installment in the science fiction series.

Take, for example, the Sci-Fi Expo, held in May 2005 in the affluent Dallas suburb of Plano, Texas. For one brief weekend, hard-core geeks with a love of Star Wars were the center of attention, as even casual fans of the movies turned out to meet actors from the films and blow a week’s pay on new merchandise from dozens of dealers inside the city’s convention center. They were joined by geeks of just about every other persuasion who hoped to feed off of the Star Wars hype.

For most Star Wars fans, the love of the films does not rise to the level of making and wearing costumes or buying high-end prop replicas, but for those with enough time and disposable income, you too can swing a florescent tube lightsaber (complete with sound effects), purchase a set of Stormtrooper armor, or make your own R2-D2. The uber-fans are out in force at this conventioin, no pun intended. There are a few whose costumes would make you think they just fell off of the movie screen. Others, not so much. There should be an unwritten Star Wars fandom law: if you are 5’9″ and just over 200 pounds, you do not qualify for the Darth Vader outfit. There are also those who get extra credit for effort; while some obviously bought officially licensed costumes at hundreds of dollars a pop, many make their costumes from scratch. While they may not look just right, it takes a special kind of fan to go through that much trouble. Of course, there are some who pass from fandom to a whole different place entirely. Usually sporting an embarrassing bathroom robe and lightsaber, they fall far short of the “jedi” effect, as most followers of the Force do not have a goatee, ponytail, and LensCrafters super large coke bottle glasses.

This convention is different from those I have attended in the past, in that it received heavy publicity with the new Star Wars film Revenge of the Sith, which opened the next weekend. Admission was free, so attendance was heavy with first-time convention goers. Many were young professionals, thirtysomethings with young kids who, like them, were growing up in an era of new Star Wars films.

In the lobby between the dealer room and the autograph room the celebrities inhabited, I saw the interaction between the newbies and the geeks. While you may think that many would turn their nose up at someone dressed as an obscure Star Wars character, the absolute opposite happened. It was as if this one event brought out the inner geek of all who came through the doors, and stuffy types in suits meekly asked guys who were a little short to be stormtroopers if they could pose with them for pictures. Men and women alike who never set foot in a comic book shop lit up when a kid in a Jawa costume wandered past. Many stared in awe at a guy in a Darth Vader costume, even though he violated the 5′(‘, 200 pound law suggested before. Lines for autographs were long the entire weekend, as fans plunked down $20 to meet Dave Prowse, who donned the Vader costume in the original Star Wars, to Matthew Wood, who provides the voice for Revenge of the Sith villain General Grievous. Fans in Jedi outfits staged mock lightsaber battles outside, to applause from passers-by.

The social unity was not limited to Star Wars fans; at one point, members of a society that dress and speak Klingon, Stormtroopers, a guy in a an incredible “Master Chief” HALO costume, and a Marine from the movie Aliens all stood together and posed for pictures. For once, all of geekdom was united as all celebrated a common thread. If only I had a camera.

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