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The debate over the Star Wars Expanded Universe is a tale of us versus them that’s been raging for some time, but only recently has it exploded within fandom. The Expanded Universe (EU) matters greatly to me for reasons I’ve previously discussed, but in particular because the novels were my major gateway into Star Wars fandom. Unfortunately, that segment of my fandom has fallen under attack from people I trusted.

The ForceCast has become the podcast where there is no fan left behind unless they disagree with your particular version of fandom, in which case they will publicly mock and shame you on their program.

That’s why I have no choice but to stop listening.

 

 

Continue reading by clicking here. )
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Last week, podcaster and Chicago radio producer Jimmy Mac covered the topic of being called a nerd on The ForceCast. His position was that the term nerd is derogatory and shouldn’t be used to describe fans of Star Wars. I couldn’t disagree more. 

The crowd at Wikipedia have defined “nerd” as “a term that refers to a social perception of a person who avidly pursues intellectual activities, technical or scientific endeavors, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests, rather than engaging in more social or conventional activities.” That got me thinking. Based on that, why shouldn’t we embrace the term nerd?

My heroes have, for the most part, been largely from the scientific, engineering, and creative communities. Many of them come from the large group of scientists, engineers, and technicians who came together and put a man on the moon in the 1960s. Those same scientists and engineers saved three astronauts when Apollo 13 catastrophically failed en route to the second planned lunar landing.

Even today, the qualifications to be an astronaut include a bachelor's degree in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics, as well as at least three years of related professional experience (graduate work or studies) and an advanced degree.

Wikipedia continues to explore the etymology of nerdom by describing the term’s origins with Dr. Seuss, Philip K. Dick, and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Dr. Seuss is legendary in his own right, Philip K. Dick developed the concept of Blade Runner and other science-fiction classics, and MIT is a hotbed of scientific and technological research that has produced at least 76 Nobel Laureates, 50 National Medal of Science recipients, and 35 MacArthur Fellows.

Albert Einstein singlehandedly expanded the understanding of our universe with his theories on relativity, progressing on centuries of scientific exploration from intellectual and esoteric thinkers before him. Science fiction as developed by Isaac Asimov (a scientist and writer), Gene Roddenberry (creator of Star Trek), and George Lucas (noted for his technical innovation) is derived from these advances and evolves with the technology explored by today’s science and engineering communities.  Without nerds, I doubt science fiction or Star Wars would exist in its current form.

In a world where some kids idolize movie stars and sports figures, I find great solace in celebrating great thinkers. Nerds – the intellectuals, the scientists, the engineers, those with obscure interests – aren’t considered cool because they don’t get the hot chicks, don’t slug baseballs over the wall 400 feet away, don’t score the winning touchdown, and don’t snort cocaine off a hooker’s butt like Charlie Sheen seems so fond to do. Despite those supposed shortcomings, nerds have very stable lives and help to save others every day. Nerds develop body armor to send to our soldiers, engineer seat belts and restraint systems to keep people safe in moving vehicles, and created pacemakers and artificial hearts to extend and improve quality of life.  Nerds may not be cool, but they're much more useful to society, and the current resurgence in exploring nerd and geek culture is a tribute to that.

Any scientific advance, including those that allow us to explore this very topic, are due greatly to nerds. Nerds may not earn millions of dollars –Bill Gates and Steve Jobs notwithstanding – but the world owes them a debt that can never be repaid.

Money can’t buy happiness, unlike my constantly expanding knowledge of the universe around me. Nerds understand what makes the world go ‘round, and I am proud to be among their ranks.


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Originally submitted and posted on September 16, 2008 in response to the September 12, 2008 episode of The ForceCast


Jason, Pete, Jimmy, and the crew,

On the September 12 show, you asked for opinions about Jar Jar Binks, and I’d like to share mine with you.

In the movies, Jar Jar is portrayed as a bumbling idiot and an outcast in his society. He’s a klutz and responsible for making an annoyance of himself in Otoh Gunga in a vain attempt to fit in. Why do I love him? Because I personally identify with him. Jar Jar Binks in 1999 is me in 1999, when I was getting ready to graduate high school.

Jar Jar was in the wrong place at the wrong time, looking for breakfast when the Trade Federation invaded Naboo. He was confused by the goings-on around him, not sure why giant vehicles are plowing through his home, and not sure why some arrogant off-worlders are pushing him around. The thing is that Jar Jar Binks is pure of heart, even if he’s somewhat dim intellectually. He offers what he has, quite selflessly, and tries his best to help with the search for a hyperdrive and the Battle of Naboo, even if the tasks are well beyond his capabilities.

Later, as we know, he becomes a senator for Naboo, is bullied by Palpatine into declaring a state of emergency, and is the catalyst for the Clone Wars and the Purges. The reason he was selected by Palpatine is that he was a target of opportunity.

Star Wars fans don’t like him because he talks strangely, is somewhat slow, and not what we expect from the other street-smart characters in the saga. I identify with him because he is so willing to help out if given the chance, even if it is clumsily. I embrace the diversity that Jar Jar brings to the Saga’s table because he isn’t the same character as any random Jedi or smuggler.

To think that fans would shun this character because he is different than the norm saddens me, because wonder what they would think of any person who is clumsy, mentally challenged, but pure of heart. If they are willing to throw away the Gungans, or even one character for this, then do the fans have the grasp on diversity that we give them credit for?

While Jar Jar Binks is far from my favorite, I find him to be one of the strongest characters in the Star Wars universe. He may not have the Force, and he may not be good in a firefight, but he is like the focus of the Saga, Anakin Skywalker, in his purity of heart and passion to do the right thing.

I have grown and matured in many ways since the release of The Phantom Menace, but I still admire Jar Jar Binks for doing the best with what he had to offer the galaxy. He’s not a racist, and he’s not annoying; Jar Jar is a test of our acceptance for what others have to offer, which is the same lesson Qui-Gon tried to teach Obi-Wan. I hope we can learn the same lesson.
 

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