Star Wars lore is special for fans
What made us fall in love with Star Wars? On May 25, 1977, from the moment the opening crawl hit the screen with its story of a Galactic Civil War in a Galaxy Far, Far Away, we were hooked. The next 40 years gave us more films, hours of television, and hundreds of books, comics, and games, all made possible by the incredible reaction of Star Wars fans.
1970s America had lived through the Oil Crisis, the Vietnam War, Watergate. 70s Hollywood produced some of our most enduring disaster movies and dystopian sci-fi films. Star Wars was A New Hope, exploding through the gloom with escapist fantasy—an epic saga of adventure and victory against overwhelming odds.
But if fans came for the classic underdog story, they came back because Star Wars transports you to another universe. Every scene of Star Wars is so filled with characters and events, in the forefront and in the background, we just know that the story we’re watching is only a small part of an infinite universe. Every character, every detail no matter how minor, is a question for fans wanting to know more. Who is that wolf man in the cantina? Who is TK-421? Why does Darth Vader wear that armor?
Piecing together the puzzle of Star Wars became an intense hobby, fueled at first by the advent of official reference books released by Lucasfilm, and later by the swelling ranks of novels, games and other media.
For the biggest fans, exploring the lore of Star Wars is how they show their love for the universe, and how they fall in love with it again. The answers are out there, and knowing they can be found powers fans’ passion. Whether it's the identity of Supreme Leader Snoke in The Force Awakens, or how a spaceship worked in a comic from 1986, every detail matters.
By the 1990s, fans had taken it upon themselves to document everything they knew online on bulletin boards, Usenet newsgroups, and onto the emerging World Wide Web. Lucasfilm even started their own internal database, the Holocron, to track continuity and help writers and other creators understand the lore of the galaxy.
A new era for fans of star wars lore
Something changed in 2005. Editors who first documented the Star Wars franchise on Wikipedia were feeling constrained by Wikipedia's policies. Unable to change rules such as the one relegating minor subjects such as planets, vehicles, and weapons to list pages, these passionate fans looked for another home.
Two editors, Chad Barbry and Steven Greenwood, knew that there was enough information on Star Wars to fill a wiki of its own. And on March 4, 2005, 28 years after the release of Star Wars, Wookieepedia was born with the mission to chronicle the lore of the Star Wars universe.
"I'm an immense fan of the details," Greenwood says. "They make the Star Wars universe feel authentic like these environments have seen millennia of use." Contributing to Wookieepedia became an outlet for Greenwood and thousands of other fans to share their love of the world-building of Star Wars.
The site grew rapidly, attracting editors who created thousands of articles in the first few months. By its one-year anniversary, Wookieepedia had nearly 25,000 articles about Star Wars lore.
Twelve years on, Wookieepedia is a community of hardcore fans working tirelessly to keep the site up to date. A dozen members in countries including the United States, England, Finland, and Australia comprise its admin team. They are joined by dozens of active users around the world who volunteer their time to create new articles, update existing ones, and keep the site free of vandalism and spam.
A new mission for Wookieepedia
Wookieepedia reached a crossroads in 2014. Contributors had fallen in love with lore through a vastly expanded universe of novels, comics, and games. At the time, although the stories of George Lucas always took priority, these stories were an integral, indispensable part of the Star Wars universe (“canon” in fan-speak).
After acquiring Lucasfilm in 2014, The Walt Disney Company announced that these past stories would become "Legends" , no longer part of the official Star Wars story. A new canon would be created with the six original films and The Clone Wars television series at its core. This change allowed the creators of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and all future stories to have maximum creative freedom, without having to be beholden to almost 40 years of often inconsistent and contradictory history.
Editors on Wookieepedia were devastated. Their fandom was built on the idea that the details mattered, that they were essential. Fans had spent years lovingly cataloging every piece of knowledge they could uncover in this universe, and sharing what they found with a welcoming community. How could all of those details be rendered "untrue" by a business decision? How could the indispensable have been so easily dispensed with?
"It was really kind of the end of an era," says the Wookieepedia admin ‘Toprawa and Ralltiir.’ "It's one of those moments like when you graduate from high school, where you know you really did turn the page on a chapter in your life that you’re never going to be able to experience again."
That said, the decision was not entirely unexpected. It seemed like a sensible move, even if it was one long-time fans hoped to avoid. Mike Delaney, another Wookieepedia admin, said that he understood the decision from a creative standpoint. "But as a fan who was invested in the stories and histories, I was and still am deeply saddened.”
But the Wookieepedia team knew they had a job to do. Faced with an encyclopedia that had almost overnight been declared incorrect and outdated, but unwilling to throw away years of work, a new system was devised. Wookieepedia would be the definitive resource for both continuities, under two banners: Canon and Legends. For subjects like Luke Skywalker, for instance, this meant having two articles. One would document his canon history, and the other would document everything from Legends lore.
This approach was prescient. Lucasfilm still draws on Star Wars Legends for characters, planets, stories and inspiration for their new canon. These stories still matter, and Wookieepedia reflects that.
The ultimate Star Wars Resource
The willingness to change showed that fans at Wookieepedia are committed to maintaining the site’s status as an essential resource for all things Star Wars, as does their enthusiasm for keeping it updated. Contributors update Wookieepedia at a sometimes breakneck pace. Articles for subjects introduced in new books and TV show episodes are updated moments after those stories are released. When the first full trailer for The Force Awakens was revealed, new information was on Wookieepedia in mere minutes. The novel Thrawn had dozens of articles created the day it was published.
It's no surprise, then, that traffic to Wookieepedia spikes with every Star Wars release. When the aforementioned The Force Awakens trailer debuted, the article about Kylo Ren's iconic crossguard lightsaber quickly became not just Wookieepedia's most popular page, but the hottest page on any FANDOM wiki community.
Like the original Star Wars, The Force Awakens left fans hungry to know more. Where did Rey come from? Why did Kylo Ren fall to the dark side? Why did Luke Skywalker go into hiding? When the film was finally released in December 2015, fans scrambled for answers. And in something that would have felt like science fiction to fans walking out of A New Hope in 1977, the answers were waiting for them in a massive, worldwide, fan-built database.
On the opening day of the film alone, over 2 million users visited Wookieepedia, a number that grew to 6.5 million by the end of opening weekend. "It has been astounding to see the tremendous hunger for Star Wars knowledge on Wookieepedia," Craig Palmer, president and CEO of FANDOM, said at the time. "As fans see the film we're seeing them immerse themselves in the content and continue the excitement online."
As important as Wookieepedia is for the fans who consume it, it's equally important for the fans who have built it. David Statman is an administrator on Wookieepedia who, for the last nine years, has contributed under the username "Ifindyourlackoffaithdisturbing." Offline, he is a graduate student and sports reporter at West Virginia University. Wookieepedia played a role in developing his passion for longform writing. Although the two mediums are different, writing on Wookieepedia helped Statman learn and enjoy the writing process. "Putting together information from different places into one cohesive whole, that's so much of what I do now," he said. "I learned a lot from Wookieepedia."
Shaping the Star Wars galaxy
It’s the passion and dedication of fans like Statman that has powered Wookieepedia to new heights. Today, even the cast and crew behind Star Wars productions cite it as an invaluable reference. At Celebration Orlando in 2015, Star Wars Rebels star Vanessa Marshall and series creator Dave Filoni both told FANDOM that they regularly use Wookieepedia for looking up in-depth information. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story star Felicity Jones said that, during the making of the film, she was "constantly going on to Wookieepedia and checking things and checking references and trying to work out the history and all the characters." And in wishing Wookieepedia a happy 10th birthday, Leland Chee, Manager of the Holocron at Lucasfilm, also said that Wookieepedia makes his life both easier and harder—as much of the online obsession around what's canon and what's not can arguably be traced to Wookieepedia.
Greenwood swells with pride when talking about Wookieepedia’s impact. "To think that something we started so long ago has finally reached a point where it’s helping create a part of the universe we’ve been documenting -- it’s simply outstanding.,” he says. “I feel like a proud father seeing his child graduate high school or college. I’m grateful to everyone involved in keeping the site running, and others like Felicity Jones, for using and trusting the content that we strive to keep as accurate as possible.”
On the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, as the re-energized franchise expands faster than ever, that's a mission that Wookieepedia’s alliance of admins, editors, and contributors are as passionate about today as when they first encountered The Force. For Greenwood and the legions of other Star Wars fans who are part of the Wookieepedia story, the saga continues.