It is strongly advised that you don’t click the link below unless you’ve finished the book. Seriously.
In the wake of Return of the Jedi, fandom slowly sank into the dark times. Although there were some who kept the fandom alive, Lucasfilm had moved on to other things and the flow of merchandise had ended. Then, in 1991, a book appeared magically on a shelf bearing the Star Wars logo: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn. It was not just one book, but a trilogy of novels which introduced a vibrant character, Mara Jade, and revitalized Star Wars fandom.
Not long after that great event, a group of people found each other through RASS on USEnet and started emailing each other discussing the Zahn books, especially the character of Mara Jade. The group appreciated the character Zahn created: a woman who was independent, strong, and intelligent. The fact she was only the second female Force-user certainly didn’t hurt things. The group started out as a Mara Jade fan club of sorts, but quickly found that many of the reasons they were drawn to the character were evident in the new friends they were meeting. Members brought more like-minded souls and the group grew to include women and men from all walks of life- teachers, doctors, lawyers, mothers, sisters, scientists, nurses, daughters, writers, computer geeks, artists, and librarians, to name only a few.
So we came together around a fictional character who was not even in the movies. (The EU may put her in Jabba’s palace but let’s get technical.) We shared a love of the Star Wars universe and the magic that fans feel when they slip into that galaxy far far away. As the years grew, our focus began to spread to other fandoms – though typically they all were represented somewhere within by the same type of strong, independent and intelligent female characters (Scully, Buffy, Elizabeth Swan, Eowyn, among others).
With the recent developments in the EU, people have been asking what we, who started as a Mara Jade fan club, thought about it. Being a bunch of strong, independent, and intelligent folks, I doubt we’ll ever come to a full consensus. Some of us feel betrayed and wonder if we can ever feel comfortable playing in the Star Wars galaxy again. Others are taking it in stride and can appreciate a story well told. And some of us are scratching our heads, wondering what all the fuss is about. At the end of the day, it just doesn’t matter. Mara was a fictional character and we can all count ourselves alive and well in the real world.
The important part in all of this is that because this character existed, we found each other. Mara Jade, though the power of the internet, made a big world a whole lot smaller for a lot of us and we’re extremely grateful for it. We’ll keep moving on with Club Jade, though a little disappointed there won’t be Mara there to keep things in line. The site isn’t going anywhere, the cons will still be attended, and people will still post to list things that will make you think twice or laugh so hard you’ll swear to never read your email at work again. And we’ll continue to hope that our favorite authors will come up with someone just as wonderful to inspire everyone to fight for what they believe. (And maybe they’ll fill in some of Mara’s missing timeline?)
Until then, to borrow a favorite quote of a friend: “I came for the Star Wars, I stayed for the friendships.”