Legions of Lucas fans keep franchise kicking

FOR ALL THE TWITTERING about “Twilight,” aah-ing over “Avatar” and itching for “Iron Man,” the most perennially prominent fixture at Comic-Con — the otherworldly force that helps attract 125,000 fans — remains “Star Wars.” Indeed, the annual San Diego convention provides an MBA-quality demonstration of the battle-tested Lucasfilm legions that keep this franchise alive and ever-present — more than 30 years after the movies took off, and four years since the latest batch ended.

Given Hollywood’s obsession with concocting such steady, assured sources of revenue, the small army (presumably not Imperial) of about 100 that participates in maintaining the far-flung “Star Wars” universe at these events is easily taken for granted, especially if you’re not obsessed with its intricacies. Still, Lucasfilm’s skill at stoking the embers even when there isn’t much new to report — as well as managing various spinoffs, licensing deals and brand extensions to ensure that they don’t collide with each other — represents a remarkable achievement, guided by a level of precision that other intellectual property owners would be well-advised to study.

At the just-concluded convention, fans who attended Lucasfilm’s latest state-of-“Star Wars” presentation learned about additional levels to an existing videogame, a touring show titled “Star Wars in Concert” and previewed the second season of “Clone Wars,” the beautifully rendered animated Cartoon Network series that — in its slimmed-down half-hour format — has in many ways been superior to and more satisfying than the most recent movie trilogy.

As Archie Bunker would say, “Whoop-de-doo.”

The presentation amounted to small compensation for enduring the painful, irritating antics of hosts Kevin Pereira and Olivia Munn of G4, which televised the panel in what marked a Comic-Con first (and, God willing, last).

AS EXCITEMENT GOES, it was hardly 2004 — when Lucasfilm unveiled the title “Revenge of the Sith” and fans went wild — but it’s enough to keep the flame flickering. Lucasfilm head of fan relations Steve Sansweet called the conventions “essential” to the franchise, adding that while it’s sometimes frustrating when fans have such a “sense of ownership” of a property, engaging them is a vital part of keeping the conversation going.

Each convention displays the gaudy assortment of the “Star Wars” paraphernalia in circulation, from books, toys and games to C-3PO and Darth Vader flash drives. Moreover, each permutation must be incorporated into the rest so that new offshoots don’t interfere with past, current or future timelines of the elaborate mythology.

Lucasfilm has thus managed to consistently replenish itself with new generations of fans — in a way that something like “Star Trek” didn’t before this year’s bigscreen reboot.

Sansweet has been struck by the growing family composition of the crowds, as children glom onto “Clone Wars” and share their passion with their parents. “They have passed along this ‘Star Wars’ gene to the kids,” he told me.

Hey, take that, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog: Proof that some “Star Wars” fans have actually managed to reproduce.

Granted, not everything about the enduring mania for “Star Wars” goes down easy. Autograph hounds, for example, had to pony up $100 to get something signed by Mark Hamill, which, even with the hunger for collectibles, strikes me as highway robbery. Using calculations strictly predicated on career trajectory, by that math one presumably would have to back up a Brinks truck for a signature from Harrison Ford.

THE RELATIONSHIP between “Star Wars” and Comic-Con has always been strangely symbiotic. The then-fledgling event was still principally a comicbook gathering in 1977 when the first movie made its debut, with a puny movie-studio presence. Today, it’s become a sprawling movie/TV/pop-culture showcase largely co-opted by the major studios — where, incidentally, a few guys still sell comics.

In many respects, as Sansweet acknowledged, the “Star Wars” relationship has settled into the patterns of a long marriage. The two parties occasionally annoy each other — fans nitpicking details, George Lucas afflicting the world with Jar-Jar Binks and his “mesa yousah” dialogue — but there’s an underlying affection that carries them through the rough patches.

And in this case, the ragtag band of rebels being pushed around and dominated by the technologically advanced army, in their heart of hearts, wouldn’t have it any other way.

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