With its seismic box-office returns (over half a billion dollars for The Last Jedi in less than a week) and place as the focal point of just about every non-political conversation happening on the internet, Star Wars is more ubiquitous than ever. So complete is its grasp on pop culture that the notion that there was a time before every new trailer was examined like the Zapruder film seems like myth, a foggy half-rumor equivalent to the whispers about old Ben Kenobi during his time on Tatooine.
And yet there was indeed a time in which the only conversations you could have about Star Wars were with friends at work and the occasional minor comic book convention. Ask Philip Wise, the webmaster for TheForce.net and RebelScum.com. He can recite tales of this dark time firsthand. Wise was 23 years old in 1977 and learned about A New Hope from a radio ad he happened to catch while shopping. He saw the movie, became instantly enamored … and then couldn’t do much about it for the next 18 years but chat about the franchise with friends.
"As fans, we just sat around wondering if there'd ever be another movie," Wise told co-hosts Jordan Zakarin and Emily Gaudette on the latest episode of The Fandom Files. "All you could do is talk about it at work. There was no online. I had no sense of any community with anybody other than people I worked with and my mom and dad. I sat at a drafting table and drew pipes all day at work, and talked about it."
After nearly two decades of forced passivity, he found himself smack in the early stages of the internet’s consumer boom. It was fortuitous timing; his daughter became interested in the new line of Star Wars toys (which gobsmacked him) and his wife worked for Prodigy, one of the original web service companies. He started a site to keep people in the Dallas area abreast of the latest shipments of Star Wars toys — local stores were often sold out — and the rest is history.
Wise is now considered one of the pioneers of the Star Wars fandom. As the webmaster and part owner of the influential fansites TheForce.net and RebelScum.com, he’s “kept the light on” for fans of the franchise. Through thick and thin, prequel and sequel, the sites have been there to provide new information and a place for Star Wars fans to discuss every little detail of the galaxy.
Wise also the owner of one of the largest private collections of Star Wars toys and props, and has the license to re-create various items, including Luke Skywaker’s lightsabers. And for years, his company was the official autograph dealer for Lucasfilm, which put him in close contact with the franchise's stars, including Carrie Fisher.
"Carrie was always fun to be around," Wise remembers. "The last time we were at Carrie's house, we were signing autographs in her bedroom, on her bed. You never knew what you were going to see when you went to her house. She would sing, she had a beautiful voice, and she was so smart and so sharp. All of that evaporated [upon her death], and we felt that was such a shame, because she was not done making people happy. She loved making people happy."
The Last Jedi made for a sad, but fitting, coda for Fisher's life. Wise was delighted by the film, a review unspoiled by any sort of fan theory or marketing. After being disappointed by all the scenes that appeared in Rogue One trailers but were cut from the final movie, Wise decided to ignore all marketing and press for the film. That left him particularly surprised — and delighted — by some of the major twists in the movie, an endorsement of particular weight given his 40-year relationship with the franchise.
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