Fan Wars: The Empire Claps Back is a romantic comedy about two massive Star Wars nerds bickering about The Last Jedi on Skype. Or, at least, it starts off this way, metamorphising into a frenemies-becoming-friends tale through snippets of conversation.
I don’t normally ship characters. I really like characters and it’d be cool if they end up dating, but few elevate me to that special level of commitment where any scrap of implication they’re falling for each other makes me want to craft a Twitter thread
Like many rom-coms the plot starts off with one of the two characters being absolutely insufferable. Steven (Eugene Young) slides into the Skype DMs of Jackie (Kristen Bennett) to continue what sounds like a long-running argument about The Last Jedi. Not gonna lie, Steven’s a dick at first. Young’s acting and Howard’s dialog masterfully represent that part of the Star Wars fandom. Lucky for us, Jackie can deal it right back.
Jackie: Oh my god, not the Luke Skywalker hero projecting. Luke Skywalker, God love him, has always been an emo kid.Fan Wars, Chapter 2: Emo Luke Skywalker
Steven: YOU TAKE THAT-
[Hilarious cross-talk argument ensues]
The common thread of a traditional romantic comedy usually revolves around someone needing to be “fixed” in some way. Thanks to rom-coms being written by 30-something white dudes, usually the person who needs fixing lies on a spectrum between “literal man-baby” and “irredeemable trash with washboard abs.”
In the case of Fan Wars things are far more realistic. There are reasons why Steven buys into paper-thin edgy Star Wars opinions mostly held by Russian bots, but they never come off as the same yikes-y excuses one finds in a given standard PG-13 romcom. People are complicated.
Jackie: You mean to tell me you’re a person of color?
Steven: Person of color? What is this, a think-piece on Jezebel? I am Chinese. What are you? I envision a Lena Dunham. Some rich feminist from New York who doesn’t have to worry about anything and wears a “future is female” t-shirts and eats a lot of kale.
Jackie: Only fuckboys on Tinder wear “future is female” t-shirts, it’s a trap. Not that I’d know from personal experience or anything. And no, I’m black. That’s weird to say out loud…Fan Wars, Chapter 1: No Real Star Wars Fan
Therein lies the thing I love most about Fan Wars on a technical level: at no point does either Jackie or Steven announce to a sexless best-pal character “I’m going to fix this person.” We are on a one-way train to Enemies-to-Friends station. They’re stubborn, they fight, there is no way things could get complicated and messy along the way, right?
The inciting incident that brings Jackie and Steven together – Jackie posting her Skype username on a Star Wars fan form to connect with fellow fans as a forum is shut down – hits particularly close to home for Star Wars fans of the early aughts.
The first thing I ever published publicly online (back when we still used the term ‘blog’ and e-mail still had its hyphen) went up on the StarWars.com fan blogs. For a time the comment sections of posts from popular community members was the place for Star Wars discourse. It’s a damn shame they’ve been wiped, there was a lot of discussion of what a sequel trilogy would look like a decade before Lucas even sold the rights.
That paragraph became a little bit more about myself than Fan Wars, but that’s kind of the point; Fan Wars captures one of the key things about being a fan of something: how much it means to you personally. Jackie and Steven trade blows packed with that touch of venom that comes with discussing something that feels like it’s a part of your DNA (which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s not difficult to see which side of the fandom Force J&S land on).
What starts off as flat-out arguing quickly blossoms into a comradeship, the two pseudo-friends ruminating on topics varying from Steven’s dog to drunken theories about Yoda’s sex life.
Episodes of Fan Wars range from 3 minutes to 10-ish, one can consume the first half of season one in one sitting. I did this while cleaning and now I’m full of emotions and the living room still isn’t clean. But hey, now you’ve got a review to read. In true Star Wars style a remaster of the first eight episodes is coming soon with the second half of the season coming shortly thereafter (though I’m sure it’s more of a “better mixing” remaster, unless Shenee Howard manages to figure out how to work a CGI dewback into a podcast).
Patreon supporters of the show can indulge the darker side of shipping characters – wanting more intimate details – through a series of in-canon videos showing text conversations between characters in the Fan Wars-iverse. Characters beyond Steven and Jackie are introduced, things are said, excellent use of dramatic pauses are employed. While these extra-canonical tidbits are not essential to enjoying the podcast, they acted as the perfect balm to sooth my desire for more Fan Wars content.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to rewatch The Last Jedi and decide whether Jeven or Stackie is a better ship name.