My colleague Steven Ellis recently wrote about passing on our geek legacy to the next generation , and that got me thinking about something that comes up occasionally in my own life.
When people ask me who influenced me in my geeky ways as a kid, I tend to just stare at them blankly for a moment before saying “no one”. I answer this way because it’s true. I didn’t know anyone who watched Star Trek when I was little. I don’t remember anyone tuning in to those static-filled midnight broadcasts of out-of-order episodes of Doctor Who or lamenting the fact that there was always that one episode that never aired here.
I got none of that as a child.
What I did get was sports. We only had the one TV, and it was my dad’s to control. Sure, we watched The A-Team and Knight Rider , and yes, Buck Rogers made some appearances in my youngest days, but mostly we four kids played outside while my dad watched (American) football or baseball, depending on the season.
So how did I become such a huge genre fan?
Well, E.T. and those Buck Rogers reruns played a role, and I remember liking Voyagers during its short run (no one hated sci-fi in my house, either, so it’s not like we were never exposed to it – it just wasn’t a large part of our lives), but frankly there was this one thing that changed everything. This one thing that transcended nearly all aspects of life when I was forming my opinions about entertainment.
And that one thing was Star Wars .
Not to be cliché, but Star Wars was truly a game-changer, and despite all of the issues that surround that trilogy and its spin-offs now, it’s still true that much of what we genre fans know now is a direct result of the effects of Star Wars on the world. From Spaced (“You weren't there at the beginning! You don't know how good it was, how important!”) to Kevin Smith’s films to JJ Abram’s love of the trilogy, Star Wars is still everywhere. Even that supposed opposite side of the sci-fi coin, Star Trek , owes much of its success to Star Wars . Yes, Trek came first, but without Star Wars (and Close Encounters ) demonstrating to Paramount the potential of science fiction, the Star Trek films wouldn’t have been made, and without those, we wouldn’t have got The Next Generation or any of the other Trek series. TOS would be a just another cult classic.
So Star Trek does owe a debt to Star Wars , and always will. It’s an odd sort of sibling-rivalry debt that oddly goes both ways, but it’s still an aspect to that debt that can Trek can never fully repay.
And neither can I. Because Star Wars didn’t just give Star Trek and many other sci-fi ideas a leg up, it created a cultural phenomenon that made all the kids at my school sit around and trade those little yellow-bordered cards at lunch. All the kids. Every type of kid was into Star Wars . In that one topic, there were no cliques. Everyone could relate.
And for some of us, it just stuck. I was one of those kids. I still played sports and watched them on TV, like the rest of my family, but I also devoured anything sci-fi I could get my hands on, and I never stopped.
Now, I have friends the world over that I’ve made purely because I love science fiction, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Now, it’s trendy to be a geek. There are science-fiction and fantasy conventions all year round on nearly every continent. Cosplay isn’t just for the outermost fringe of fandom anymore. Heck, cosplay and fandom are words now. And a large part of this, I’d argue, is due to Star Wars . An entire generation (mine) had never seen anything like it, and we were swept away. We grew up surrounded by Star Wars merchandising and the unifying effect of a true cultural phenomenon, and it shows. No longer was science fiction pushed to the fringes of society. It was front and center everywhere we looked for a good long while. Those of us who happened to be particularly susceptible to that were forever changed by it. And when the internet (that other huge part of why it’s chic to be geek now) came along so that we could all talk to one another, well, that was just the icing on the cake that had been baking for 20-odd years.
So I guess I have to change my answer. May the Force help me, but I do.
Who got me into science fiction?
Thank the Maker.
But for the record? I also very much endorse the machete order .