Interview with Stephen Sansweet.
J. Sansweet is known for his great passion for science
fiction as well as for being a writer and a collector.
He graduated from journalism, worked for the Philadelphia
Inquirer and The Wall Street Journal as a reporter.
In 1996 he joined Lucasfilm Ltd. as Director of Content
Management & Head of Fan Relations His task is to
to promote Star Wars to fans.
Stephen J. Sansweet has written twelve books, the majority
of which is dedicated to the Star Wars phenomenon.
The below short interview has been performed
via e-mail thanks to the great help of Kasia Drabik - our
common friend :)
I thank Kasia for help and Stephen for answers to the questions.
And I also thank you all for wanting to read it!
are an expert on fan relations thus, I suppose, you had opportunities
to observe various aspects of fandom activities around the
world. Could you
try to make some kind of classification? Divide fans into
groups taking into
consideration ways of fulfilling their hobby?
never cease to amaze me with their differences-and their
similarities-despite the fact that they comes from every
possible background and every part of the globe. Some fans
consider themselves "purists" and are just interested
in the movies themselves. Some really get into the Expanded
Universe and read as much as they can about the happenings
in the world that George Lucas created. Others mainly are
video gamers, delighting in immersing themselves in that
far away galaxy. And, of course, there are the collectors
of everything from action figures to autographs. But in
a very real way, all fans are collectors... of experiences.
And those individual experiences blend together and make
up what we call fandom.
Are there any general differences between approaching
Star Wars subject
among fans in different countries?
really, although I have observed fans in some countries-Mexico
for example-translate their love for Star Wars into art,
dioramas, vehicles built out of wooden sticks and tin plate,
creatures made from papier-mâché, etc. That exists everywhere
to some degree, but in the U.S., for example, there are
a higher percentage of fans who are collectors. I've spent
time with fans in many countries and one thing is universal-they
love the camaraderie of fandom, which is being together
with other Star Wars fans.
What does Poland look like against the background
of entire fandom? Are manifestations of Polish fans actions
visible to environments connected with Lucasfilm?
whole, Star Wars fandom in Eastern Europe has been slower
to develop than elsewhere because of political and economic
history. While the movies opened in Poland at around the
same time as the rest of the world, the first legitimate
screenings in Russia, for example, didn't occur until 1991.
But countries such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic
have had a long fascination with science fiction and fantasy,
so it hasn't taken long to catch up. The spread of the Internet
has made all things possible! There are, of course, still
language barriers that separate fans and keep the knowledge
of what's happening in other countries fairly low. I think
Poland has only recently popped up on the radar of most
other fans worldwide.
Were you interested in the history of Fandom? The
readers connected with Starwarsy.pl site are most interested
in "vintage" era - that is before 85'. As a person,
who himself was a SW fan you must know precisely all the
regalia associated with this phenomena in USA. But do you
have any information about how it was like in more exotic
countries, like Poland of that time and other Eastern European
countries or Turkey, Mexico, Brazil, etc.
I am fascinated with the history of fandom all over the
world, and this is something that I have explored. As part
of my collection, I have early fanzines and fan newsletters
from many countries and frequently talk to people about
their personal introduction to fandom and what it was like
in the "early days." There was a similar pattern
of great enthusiasm, followed by a quiet decade after Return
of the Jedi, and then a resurgence of interest around the
time of the Special Editions and then Episode I.
Polish fans there are many persons who treat their hobby
creative way: they paint pictures, draw comics, write stories.
What is their
chance for appearing as an author of the world of SW? E.g.:
what should a
Pole do if he/she wrote in Polish language a really good
novel which plot is
laid in the world of Star Wars?
started with "fanzines", stories written by fans
that were mimeographed and later photocopied and sold at
cost to other fans. They filled a need then, because there
was little in the way of other fictional material out there
for major properties like Star Wars and Star Trek. It was
a way fans could really become part of the broader story
by contributing to it. Today, all Star Wars novels are carefully
planned out years in advance and Lucasfilm works with its
U.S. publisher, Del Rey Books, to find the best and most
experienced published authors to write the novels (these
are then translated into up to 32 languages.) Neither the
publisher nor Lucasfilm can accept submissions-manuscripts
or even ideas-for legal reasons. I'd suggest that if there
is are budding Polish authors who just have to write Star
Wars fiction or they will explode, then the best outlets
are non-profit fanzines and online.
his collection and some ugly kid.
is your attitude towards then produced (before year 85)
articles in these countries? E.g., for us - Polish fans who
happened to explore Star Wars in the years of cold war -
figure bootlegs, black and white photos of foreign toys,
books copied on typewriters and on duplicating machines
were the only hope for fulfilling hobby. Today, they remind
us of years gone by and awaken nostalgia. Does Lucasfilm
condemn this phenomenon or maybe sees it as the curiosity
of former times that confirms the film popularity and its
huge impact on people's minds around the world? What is
your personal attitude towards such memorabilia?
is history; there is nothing to be condemned by anyone.
I know some U.S. collectors who collect only bootleg items,
some of which have become very expensive! Certainly Lucasfilm
has and will go after major counterfeiters of Star Wars
products worldwide; it's not only a matter of lost revenue,
but there can be safety issues as well as poor perceptions
of Star Wars by people who don't know any better. I do indeed
have some vintage, unlicensed items in my collection, and
I consider them mostly historical oddities.
You are a collector yourself and your collection is
huge. There are so
many items produced in the world that, surely, it is still
expand it. In what branch of collecting are you interested
most? Do you
still happen to find something surprising? Any object, you
items I didn't know about nearly every day-either new ones
I didn't know were being produced, or vintage ones-especially
from outside the U.S.-that show up on eBay constantly. It'd
be very boring if I had-or even knew about-everything ever
produced! I think the things that I love the most right
now are fan-made objects that show both the passion and
skill of the maker. These are usually one-of-a-kind objects-some
that I buy and some that are given to me as gifts. I also
love the limited-edition items such as patches and coins
that the 501st and Rebel legions make for internal distribution.
You present your knowledge on Star Wars stuff in
publications. Any moment now your newest book will come
out. What matters do you touch upon this time? Rumor has
it that there are two CDs to be attached. What do they contain?
by now you know the answers to these questions, so let me
answer a question that you didn't ask. The Star Wars Vault
is, in a way, the culmination of many of the 11 other books
I've written about Star Wars. It uses the 30th anniversary
as a way to look at every facet of the Star Wars phenomenon-the
making, marketing, merchandising, music, impact on fans,
etc. It does so in "bit-sized" chapters, lots
of new photos, and very cool replicas of actual items, such
as a crew invitation from Alec Guinness to have drinks,
or George's actual handwritten story treatment for The Empire
Strikes Back. The two CDs contain very early and more recent
interviews, very strange vintage radio commercials, and
even Carrie Fisher singing the Life Day song from the infamous
Star Wars Holiday Special!
Are you going to visit Poland ... some day?
an invitation? I would love to visit Poland and meet Polish
fans, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Tank you a lot for the answers.
: Kuba Turkiewicz.