J.K. Rowling, George Lucas, and the delicate balance of personal fandom

What do we do when a creator says or does something that fundamentally changes our understanding of something we've loved for years?

When it was revealed a little more than a week ago that J.K. Rowling regretted pairing up Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger at the end of her seven-book saga, the Internet basically exploded and Potter fandom swiftly divided (again) into Ron/Hermione and Harry/Hermione camps. A discussion ignited in all corners of the web about why Rowling would bother saying this now, since the books and the films of the Harry Potter saga are done and, in their eyes, the story belongs to the fans now.

That last point sparked a realization in me, something I found both amusing and fascinating, something I've been thinking about ever since:

Harry Potter fans are getting a taste of something Star Wars fans have wrestled with for decades.

George Lucas' unapologetic and frequent revisions to his classic space opera saga are infamous, from Greedo shooting first to Hayden Christensen's digital appearance in Return of the Jedi. His alterations over the years have provoked such strong reactions that the discussion often moves from whether the changes are good to whether Lucas should be allowed to make them in the first place. Thus begins the argument that I like to call "The Double-Edged Sword of Fandom."

Many fans will argue that they made George Lucas rich through years of buying movie tickets, toys, T-shirts, Darth Vader sheets, videogames and more, so Lucas is therefore beholden to them in some way. The phrase "unwritten contract" gets thrown around a lot in these arguments, as do claims that without his fans, Lucas wouldn't be a billionaire with a host of film-based companies and a beautiful California estate. This is true, in the technical sense. If I hadn't bought all those "Power of the Force" action figures when I was a kid, George Lucas would be that much poorer, and if other fans hadn't spent literally thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to beef up their Star Wars collections, it might have made quite an impact on his eventual wealth and power, indeed. 

The problem there, though, is that we wouldn't have spent all that money if Lucas hadn't made Star Wars in the first place, if he hadn't tenaciously shopped his ideas around to studios in the 1970s until he was given the chance to launch a cinematic powerhouse. For better or worse, all of this originates with him dreaming of making his very own Flash Gordon adventure, and then putting pencil to paper. Without that happening, I don't buy those action figures, and neither do you, because they're not there. 

The same is true of J.K. Rowling.

Yes, we made her one of the wealthiest writers ever to walk the earth by buying her books, tickets to the movies based on them and all the corresponding merchandise, but we wouldn't have if she hadn't first spent all that time as a poor single mother scribbling away in cafes, dreaming of the day we might read her little boy wizard story. Just as the glory of Star Wars originates with Lucas, so too does all the magic of Potter originate with Rowling. Fandom cannot exist without something to be fanatical about.

So, there's the double-edge sword. If the creators deserve credit for crafting something timeless and universal, but the fans also deserve credit for turning that creation into a pop-culture powerhouse, who really has ownership of it when all the dust is settled? The answer, I'm afraid, is both.

I love Harry Potter. I love it enough that I've spent hundreds of dollars to travel to a theme park attraction based on it, where I happily drank my weight in butterbeer. I love thinking about it, I love talking about it, I love revisiting it. I also love that Ron and Hermione wound up together, and I'd hate to think the story could end another way, but I would never for one second think Rowling shouldn't speak up about her creation, whether it's been seven years since the last book was published or 70. If I'm still thinking about these characters after this long, it's only natural she should be too (she's known them longer than I have, after all), and whether she's saying that Hermione should've been with Harry or Dumbledore should've lived or Voldemort should've won, she can say what she likes, even if it pains me as a fan to hear it.

But where does that leave us, as fans, when Rowling, Lucas or another creator say something that makes us feel let down or even betrayed? How do we reconcile our love of something with our rejection of a new idea that came from the same source that once brought us so much joy? There's no easy answer, and every fan will deal with it in his or her own way. Mine is this:

Make your own continuity.

Respect what the creators do and say, because it was their story first, then go and revisit whatever meaning you found when you first fell in love with the story and cling to it. That's your story, that's your fandom. It doesn't mean the changes (or pondered changes) aren't there, and it doesn't mean you can't acknowledge and talk about them like an adult, but deep down in the core of your own love of that story, cling to what matters most to you. That might make you the kind of person who's constantly clamoring about "the good old days," or trolling eBay for unedited Star Wars laser discs, but if it's what you love, so be it. Even if what you love most is a version that only exists in your head, so be it. Cling to the first time you saw a star destroyer zipping over your head on the big screen. Cling to The Boy Who Lived.

That's what fandom -- the purest, most personal kind -- is made of.