This past weekend the Chicago White Sox held a special Star Wars day at U.S. Cellular Field. People were encouraged to come to the game dressed as their favorite character to participate in an on-field parade. The 501st Midwest Garrison, the costuming group that is most often seen dressed as Imperial Stormtroopers, was invited. And Darth Vader even threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Oh yeah, the Force was strong with Star Wars geeks that day.
Now, the White Sox weren’t the only MLB team to hold such a day, and several minor league teams have also followed suit. Which got me to thinking about the lengths that sports teams go to attract Star Wars fans and, quite frankly, why Star Wars is better than sports.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a sports fan. I have a dysfunctional relationship with the Cubs. I believe that the Michael Jordan Bulls are the greatest Chicago sports team ever. (Yes, even greater than the ’85 Bears.) And even though they’ve won a Stanley Cup, I still rue the day the Blackhawks fired Mike Keenan. But of course I am a geek - I grew up with my friends calling me a "Star Wars freak" - so I’ll admit to a bias. And there are many similarities between the geek/nerd “culture” that exists in Star Wars fandom and the culture that exists in sports fandom. So, when I decided to break down what it’s like to be a fan of Star Wars as opposed to a fan of sports in general, I came up with the “Top 5 Reasons Why Star Wars is Better Than Sports“:
5. Star Wars has no season: All the major sports have seasons, designated times of the year in which they are played. This means that fans of baseball suffer through the winter waiting for the arrival of Spring Training. Football fans, in turn, will say that once the Super Bowl is over, they endure baseball season to get them to Training Camp. And basketball fans straddle both worlds. (I’m not even going to mention hockey. At this point, with the impending lockout, that sport is as fictional as “quidditch” to me.)
Meanwhile, if you are a fan of Star Wars, every day brings something new from the popular sci-fantasy series. The movies are readily available on Blu-Ray and DVD; there are countless books and comics being published each month; and television shows like Clone Wars and Detours are being produced to help Star Wars fans get their daily fix. So, while sports fans can only enjoy their favorite sports during certain times of the year, Star Wars fans can visit that “galaxy, far, far away” each and every day.
4. Star Wars comes with cooler stuff: Along with the aforementioned books and television shows, you have toys, video games and countless collectibles. Go to any toy aisle and you’ll find an entire section dedicated to stocking action figures, vehicles and props. For the older fan you have board games, artwork and limited edition statues. Add to that all the cool clothing items and accessories that let you be both geeky and fashionable, and you’ve got a lot of swag to enjoy.
As for sports, of course there are the jerseys, hats, shoes and video games, but they still haven’t come close to equaling Star Wars in the toys and games department. And have you ever tried re-enacting the Giants’ Super Bowl winning touchdown drive with an Eli Manning figure? That thing is stiffer than an Al Gore acceptance speech.
Yeah, there are a few sports toys and collectibles, but to date, Star Wars dwarfs all major sports combined when it comes to sheer quantity and diversity of fun licensed merchandise.
3. Star Wars fans have a better community: See, unlike in sports where the tribal nature of humanity is exacerbated by dividing people up to root for teams with interests based solely on geography, Star Wars fans are one big world-wide community. Heck, go to any convention and you’ll see that the guys and gals who dress up like Stormtroopers get along rather well with the folks who dress up like Jedi Knights. And I have never heard about a guy in a Jar Jar Binks costume getting beat up in the parking lot of a sci-fi convention by a bunch of Wookiees. But if you asked me to wear a Green Bay Packers jersey at Soldier Field? Yeah, I’m not that brave.
The point is that within the Star Wars community, everyone is encouraged to accept one another through the common bond of loving the movies, books, games, etc. In sports, people are compelled to compete against each other, and worse yet, have their self-worth all-invested in whether their team wins or loses. Nobody loses in Star Wars. That is, unless you’re Jar Jar Binks.
2. Star Wars welcomes women: Now I know this one is going to be a hot topic but hear me out. While you’ll see your fair share of metal bikini-clad Leias at a convention, you’ll also meet women dressed as Stormtroopers, Rebels and Jedi. And while the movies had a paucity of female characters, that isn’t the case with the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Mara Jade, Ahsoka, Jaina Solo and Juno Eclipse are just a few of the women who populate the franchise. And while you’ll have those who say that Star Wars is “just for boys”, the Star Wars community has been outspoken in stating that women don’t need to be relegated to cheering for the men from the sidelines. I’m not saying that the ugly shadow of sexism has never been cast within the culture. Unfortunately it has, and it needs to be addressed with voices loud and strong. But when you consider how the Star Wars community considers women compared to sports, I think there’s no comparison. Star Wars not only has female characters, but also female creators. Artists and writers who have made their mark on the saga. And again, the idea of a female Jedi Knight, space pilot or smuggler, is as commonplace as a male one. Whereas in sports, if you call the local sports radio station and mention the WNBA, or women’s soccer, you’re more than likely going to get a dismissive snort.
Oh yeah, and if you still don’t believe that the male-dominated sports industry doesn’t take female athletes seriously, I’ve got three words for you: Lingerie Football League. (Apologies to my geek gal pal - and former LFL linebacker - Carie Small.)
1. Star Wars is more inspirational than sports: When I was a kid I wanted to be Luke Skywalker. I wanted to leave home and travel the galaxy. To that effect, I decided that I would become an astronaut and fly into outer space like Luke Skywalker did. Unfortunately, I learned that I lacked the math skills to be able to make it in the space program, so that dream was a bust. Still, I was inspired by the movies and books to tell stories of my own. I read the Star Wars comics and became a voracious reader. I learned about film making and writing scripts. I learned about the science and artistry that went into creating the strange worlds that we visited watching the movies. And that led me to becoming the writer that I am today.
And my story isn’t unique. Countless writers, artists, filmmakers and scientists point to Star Wars as the film that inspired them to pursue their careers. NASA scientists cite the “droids” from Star Wars as inspiration for the creation of helper robots.”
But what does sports inspire one to do if not to just play sports? And when was the last time you heard a kid say “I can’t make it as a major league pitcher, so I’m gonna try and find a cure for cancer instead?’ If anything, failure to succeed in sports leads to one becoming a frustrated semi-pro jock, weekend warrior or sports radio personality.
Now, I’m not saying that sports figures can’t be inspirational. Of course they are. Real-life heroes like Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens and Roberto Clemente have inspired generations to strive for equality and social justice. But when it comes to creating timeless heroes and stories that compel people to create art, social communities and scientific achievements that have benefited mankind, I submit that Star Wars has done more.
Oh yeah, and speaking of Jar Jar Binks, we may have the infamous Gungan, but baseball still has Bud Selig. Nuff’ said.
What do you think?