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What Are the Fans Saying About Star Wars: Episode 7?

Last night, there were two kinds of people up at 2 a.m.: South Jersey residents bailing hurricane water out of their basements, and Star Wars fans too worked up about Episode 7 to sleep. The announcement of a new Star Wars film franchise (helmed by Disney, which just acquired Lucasfilm) stunned no one more than hard-core Jedi geeks, who have been speculating about this moment since Revenge of the Sith wrapped shooting in 2003. Dustin Roberts, the Star Wars fanatic whom we profiled in Vulture's Most Devoted Fans series, was still reeling when we called him on Monday morning. "I had just gotten home yesterday, and I got an alert on my phone and I was like, 'Oh my God, oh my God.' My wife, she thought that somebody had died the way I was reacting," he laughed. "She was like, 'Oh, you nerd.' But I had every feeling going through me last night. It was such a rush of emotion, I didn't know what to do. I was kind of lost. I'm still just trying to absorb it all."

Having slept on it, Dustin (who manages content for three Star Wars fan sites) says he's feeling very optimistic about a Disney-Lucasfilm collaboration. But what of the other die-hard fans, some of whom have never forgiven Lucas for the existence of Jar Jar Binks and midichlorians? (Or even — perish the thought — Ewoks?) During the all-night discussion on TheForce.Net's Jedi Council Forums, the phrases "I have a bad feeling about this" and "Noooooo!" were tossed around with predictable frequency. But now that the initial shock has worn off, the cynical tone of the discussion has turned cautiously optimistic, with frequent bursts of pure, childlike glee. (In the words of longtime member DarthVengeant, "It's like 100 Christmases all in one"!)

It certainly helped that Lucasfilm rolled out supportive blog posts from two of the Star Wars community's most respected fans, which were posted on the official site following the announcement. Steve Sansweet, longtime head of Lucasfilm Fan Relations and owner of the largest private Star Wars memorabilia collection, wrote about how Disney was the only logical company to inherit the Star Wars brand, pointing out that George Lucas "has worked closely with Disney Imagineering and ILM to develop the Star Tours and Indiana Jones attractions at several Disney theme parks," and speculating that "perhaps someday the fan dream of a full-blown Star Wars Land will become a reality." Star Wars archivist and author Pablo Hidalgo also chimed in his support for the Disney acquisition, while admitting that he didn't really know anything about it yet. "At this point, I don’t know many specifics, but boy can I speculate. It’s what Star Wars fans do best, after all," he wrote. "I’m just thrilled that …  Star Wars is returning to the big screen where it belongs." Although both men have a professional relationship with Lucas, their testimonials hold weight with the community. As one fan said in the comments for Sansweet's article: "If Steve has a positive vibe, then I must don my hat to his better judgment."

Not that fans don't have their concerns. Many fear that Disney will reduce Star Wars to kiddie entertainment, citing the animated series The Clone Wars as a cautionary tale (and conveniently ignoring those toy collections they started when they were 8 years old). Others worry that the famously litigious Mouse will crack down on the unlicensed fan activity that has kept the franchise alive between movies. This includes fan-made films, which Lucas sanctioned in 2002 when he launched the Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards competition (canceled earlier this year), as well as groups like the charity cosplayers the 501st Legion (which boasts more than 5,000 members) and the fan artists who sell crocheted Yodas and Darth Vader tutus on Etsy.

There are also mixed feelings about Lucas's involvement, which he claims will be minimal. (His official role is "creative consultant" to Disney's Kathleen Kennedy.) "No Lucas? No Star Wars, period!" writes one StarWars.com commenter. "Keep Lucas himself away!" pleads another fan on TheForce.Net. "The man lost his edge as a filmmaker and visionary." The consistent counterargument, however, is that Disney has done well by Marvel and Pixar. (It's no coincidence that Kennedy name-dropped both acquisitions in the video announcement she made with Lucas.)

At this point, most fans are happy to embrace the "Sequel Trilogy" (ST for short) and all the arguments that come with it. Right now, friendly fire is being exchanged over the merits of live-action versus total CGI, the possibility of appearances by original cast members, and whether the "extended universe" (inclusive of the books and comics) should be taken into account. The biggest talking point is who will direct Episode 7; Spielberg currently has a narrow lead over Whedon in TheForce.Net's poll. Dustin Roberts, for one, can't wait for new information to start trickling in. "It's back to that buzz like before Episode I. You can feel that excitement in the air," he says, before asking us. "What have you been hearing?"

Photo: Lucasfilm