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Talking ‘Rogue One’ and Online Fandom With a ‘Star Wars’ Obsessive

How the internet’s biggest ‘Star Wars’ trivia enthusiasts are getting ready for ‘Rogue One’

(Marz Jr.)
(Marz Jr.)

Welcome to Rogue One Week! With the release of Rogue One, set in the years before A New Hope, we finally get our first stand-alone Star Wars movie. This week we’ll be analyzing Rogue One and the greater Star Wars universe from every conceivable angle — the storytelling, the merchandising, the mythology, and the fandom. May the Force be with you (while you read).

A new Star Wars movie, starring the beautiful Felicity Jones? Don’t mind if I do. I’m excited about Rogue One in the same way I get excited when I order pizza: I assume it’s going to be good and then I mindlessly consume. That’s why I’m not writing an Actually, Darth Maul Was Good think piece — you probably know more about Star Wars than I do. But the chances you know more about Star Wars than Brandon Rhea are low, which is why I talked to him. An expert!

Rhea is a longtime community manager at Wookieepedia, which is what it sounds like: Wikipedia for Star Wars devotees. It’s been around for an aeon in internet years (11 years in regular time), and is the cornerstone of Fandom (a company cofounded by Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales). I wanted to know how a community of die-hard detail-obsessives and continuity maniacs prepares for a new entry into the universe they love. And even though I only recently discovered there are two separate accepted timelines in the Star Wars universe due to licensing changes, Rhea humored my questions.

I recently found out that there are two Star Wars canons. Could you explain that for the non-super fan?

Brandon Rhea: Everything historically revolved around the movies, around George Lucas and what he wanted to do. His six movies and his TV show were going to be called the “unmovable” parts of the Star Wars canon. Since 1977 and up until 2014, there were all these different books and comics and games that were part of the expanded universe, and those were all considered canon at varying different levels.

But after Disney acquired the company and started making new stories with The Force Awakens and all the other new movies and shows that are coming out, they decided to do away with those books and comics. They now call that “Star Wars Legends …” […] Now the official canon is the original six movies, all the new TV shows, all the new movies, plus all the new books and comics and games, and they’re all given equal weight, storytelling-wise.

How did the community react when the canon splintered in that way?

They acted very quickly in terms of setting up the site to account for that. They had to split things into canon and legend pages to document them differently, but as fans themselves, a lot of them were disappointed because these books and comics were so in-depth when it comes to lore, a lot more so than the movies are, that this was kind of their entryway into the franchise. So they were disappointed originally, but most people now really enjoy all the new movies and all the new content that’s coming out. So the fact that there is a lot more to enjoy kind of helps [remove] the initial sting of that.

Is there anything that could happen in Rogue One that could change the canon?

It could add new things to the canon. It wouldn’t be able to change anything because the way that Lucasfilm is set up now, they have an internal story group that oversees the canon, and they make sure everything is consistent story-wise so they almost kind of … they think of it like a wiki editor would almost try to fit things together and make it work, so there’s a lot of interesting similarities there between Wookieepedia and the people who are actually in charge of overseeing the story. So there wouldn’t be any conflict but there would be new things that nobody had ever thought of before, new areas that Star Wars could go to.

What does Wookieepedia do to get ready for the launch of a new film?

So, there’s lots of initial pages that can be created. Jyn Erso, the new character, the lead of the movie, there’s a page about her. There’s not a lot there, but the community’s able to put in everything that they know about the character up until the day that the movie is released, so that way people who are going in and looking for information about the character ahead of time, maybe they want something to just color their impressions of the movie when they see it or they want to get the backstory that we already know, Wookieepedia already has all that information and will be highlighting it on their main page and throughout the community. On the Fandom side, we have a new rich feature article, it’s called “Exploring the War-Torn World of ‘Rogue One,’” which is all about the backstory and how it fits into the saga and who the characters are. It was written by one of the admins of Wookieepedia.

How do you deal with spoilers?

We assume that people are going to go there looking for a spoiler […] we’re assuming that if anyone lands on a page like Jyn Erso, they’re expecting spoilers. But there’s a spoiler template and we make sure everyone is warned to accommodate that as well. You can be as spoiler-averse or as spoiler-friendly as you want to on Wookieepedia.

How many people edit the site?

On a daily basis, it’s several dozen. Over time, it’s been thousands, like from people who’ve made one edit to people who have made 90,000 edits. There is somebody who I think is actually one of the top contributors on Fandom [who is also] on Wookieepedia, I think he’s made something like 90,000 edits over the last 10 years.

Are there some pages that are more contested or controversial than others?

No, not really. I think as long as everything is up to the standards that the community sets like in terms of editorial and encyclopedia-quality then everybody’s pretty much on the same page. There are subjects in Star Wars that certain people like more than others. Certain books, things like that. But in terms of the way editors approach it, they don’t really deal with the controversy there.

Do you guys have a way of quickly fact-checking new content? How would it work if I wanted to sort of prank Wookieepedia and put something on there that was false? How long do you think it would take me to get caught?

Probably within minutes. There’s a feed, a recent changes feed where all new edits are shown, and like the most dedicated users always watch that. They’re always looking at new edits just to kind of see what’s being put in, usually just out of interest because it’s like hey, it’s new information, I want to see what this is. But usually if something seems out of place or if something isn’t given an appropriate reference — like every piece of information needs to be sourced to something. So people are usually pretty good at spotting that.

Do people have to source it, is there a list of acceptable publications? How do they determine the quality of the source?

So for anything that’s story content, it’d be licensed releases from Lucasfilm and Disney. There would also be major publications, like Entertainment Weekly always gets a ton of information about new releases, so something like that would be an acceptable source as well.

What about photographs taken on set, posted for clues as to what they mean? I know that people posted set photos from Game of Thrones a lot. I don’t know if it’s happened with the Star Wars movies, but how do you deal with unofficial sources like that? Are they allowed or does that always have to be coming from Lucasfilm?

Unofficial things like that that are just taken by somebody wouldn’t be appropriate on Wookieepedia, but as long as it was done legally, and it wasn’t stolen information or anything — which does unfortunately happen — then that would be appropriate on our Fandom stories platform and somebody could write a behind-the-scenes article about what’s going on on set, things like that.

Did you read Wookieepedia before you started working for them?

Oh yeah, as a Star Wars fan, it’s basically required reading for anyone who’s really into the more in-depth lore.

Is it the most comprehensive Fandom wiki?

I would say so, yeah.

Are there any wikis for stuff that happens on the internet, like web series or websites?

Yep, there’s a YouTube wiki which is all about different YouTube videos, YouTube stars and personalities. Some of them have their own wiki dedicated to them because they have these massive fan bases. It’s funny, there’s this website, I can’t remember what it’s called, but it’s basically like the different rules of the internet, and one of them is like “Rule 44: If it exists, there’s a Fandom wiki for it.” You can basically find anything on the platform.

Is there a wiki wiki?

I don’t think so. Maybe you just stumbled on an amazing idea.

An earlier version of this piece incorrectly referred to Fandom as an offshoot of Wikipedia; it is a separate company that was cofounded by Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales.