When it comes to fandom, first loves often last a lifetime. The first character you ever really related to, the first “ship” that melted your heart, the first book or movie or TV show that kept you up way past your bedtime just thinking about it—they stay with you forever. And like the best first loves, they change you in ways you probably don’t even realize until years later. They become so wrapped up in the fabric of who you are that you don’t know who you’d be if you hadn’t picked up that book or changed the channel at the right time or popped in that VHS tape—and you don’t ever want to know, either.
For me, it always comes back to Star Wars. I first discovered the original trilogy as a little girl of no more than five or six, thanks to my two older cousins. I have fond memories of pretending to be Princess Leia as I ran around with them on the playground, rushing from the “Death Star” (the jungle gym area) to the “Millennium Falcon” (the swings) as we made our escape from my dad, who was always Darth Vader.
While these early years of Star Wars love gave me my first fictional role model in Princess Leia as well as a certain fondness for scoundrels before I even knew what that word meant, it took until I was 12 for me to really consider myself a Star Wars nerd, complete with the deep sense of engagement, passion, and enthusiasm I attach to the idea of being a nerd. It was the during the spring of seventh grade that I re-discovered the series that had been such a big part of my early childhood, but I now was able to throw myself into it with the single-minded devotion only a preteen girl can possess.
The summer I turned 13 was a summer spent reading Expanded Universe novels, watching my old tape of The Empire Strikes Back probably close to 50 times, and writing diary entries about how much I related to Princess Leia. And then one afternoon, I typed “Han and Leia” into whatever search engine we were using at the time (Did I Ask Jeeves about Star Wars?), and I was introduced to the amazing world of fan zines. All of a sudden, I got to see pictures people drew of Han and Leia. I got to read lists of their favorite lines and moments. And I got to read stories (aka fan fiction) about what happened between Hoth and Bespin, and what happened after the end of Return of the Jedi (Spoiler alert: A lot of kissing. A LOT.)—stories that made me feel a little less alone for having a folder filled with my own scribbled tales of missing moments and character point-of-view pieces.
Thanks to Star Wars, I discovered the world of fan communities, and I knew I was never going to be the same. Because I knew it wasn’t just me who cared as much as I did. I knew there were other people out there who wanted to talk about, create things about, and connect with other people while discussing this fictional universe—and in particular, this fictional couple—who inspired me, too. I wasn’t alone. And that belief that fandom can help all people—but especially young people—feel less alone in the world has stayed with me for the last 14 years.
That’s not the only thing about Star Wars that’s stayed with me for over half my life. I wrote my senior thesis in college on the innocence of the American hero, and Luke Skywalker never left my mind as I tackled that project. I love getting lost in fictional universes with detailed world-building, and before there was Hogwarts or Westeros, there was a galaxy far, far away.
When you look at my list of favorite fictional characters, the vast majority are determined female leaders who fight for what they believe in with everything they have and are never afraid to speak their mind. Who does that sound like? There’s a little bit (or a lot) of Princess Leia in all of them—from Leslie Knope, Peggy Carter, and Kate Beckett to Elizabeth Jennngs, Hermione Granger, and Emma Swan.
And when you look at my favorite fictional relationships, nearly every one of them reflects some part of Leia and Han’s dynamic. Yes, a few of them directly conform to the “princess and pirate” trope, but there’s so much more to Leia and Han than those roles. Their relationship was one between a man who’d been drifting along without a real purpose and a woman who is defined by her devotion to the things she cares about. Along the way, she inspires him to fight alongside her, showing him what it means to be a part of something bigger than himself. And he believes in her and inspires her to believe she can be happy and loved. Their relationship is one of mutual support, partnership, and respect—even when they’re pushing each other’s buttons. Parts of that dynamic can be seen in so many relationships that are close to my heart: Rick Castle and Kate Beckett, Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt, Emma Swan and Killian Jones, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister…
Some fandoms come and go, but Star Wars is forever. It’s a force (no pun intended) that connects me with my family, my friends, and my fangirl roots. It’s a force that to this day has the power to move me to tears during a Star Wars Weekend at Walt Disney World or a video of a Comic Con panel. It’s a force that drives me to look for new pieces of fan fiction, new fan art, and new fans to connect with 14 years after I found that first zine. And it’s a force that has me waiting with bated breath for the next chapter of my journey with this saga to begin when The Force Awakens opens in December.
Now, let’s swap stories of our firsts, friends! What was your first fandom—the one that first taught you what it means to be a nerd? Who was the first fictional character you ever really loved? And what was the first fictional relationship that made you believe in an “OTP” (“One True Pairing”)?
I love this topic. I apparently love it so much that I have two other things I’ve written that mention it so I even have notes to refer to while writing this.
My first fandom was CSI. I discovered it shortly after I turned 14 and it is one of the two shows that stayed with me and defined my high school years. It was my first “grownup” show and I was amazed at everything the show was. For a show in which the character/plot balance was tipped very heavily toward plot and the case of the week, I fell hard for these characters. I fell equally hard for the science – Sam’s birthday present to me in 9th or 10th grade was a fingerprint lifting kit and crime scene tape.
My first love was Sara Sidle and she was exactly the character I needed in high school. She was a bit snarky, a little too blunt at times, had some very sturdy emotional walls, and cared deeply about her job and the victim’s families. She was brought in to investigate a fellow CSI, which immediately made her an outsider and she spent much of the first season not really belonging. Even in the CSI fandom as a whole, she was a polarizing character. You either loved her or hated her.
In that stage of my life, all I wanted was to fit into the “popular” crowd. The group of girls who always looked pretty and had all the cute guys interested in them. Sara gave me an alternative to that. She was herself and no one else. She gave me someone to look up to. I became more confident in who I was and what I wanted and decided everyone could take that or leave.
I’m not sure how or when I found it, but somewhere early on in my watching, I fell in love with the idea of Sara ending up with Grissom. Sara came to Las Vegas because Grissom asked her to. She was someone he trusted and respected. He was one of the few people she would open up to. They had an easy banter and dynamic that could also turn too honest or revealing in a hurry. So I watched and waited and sifted through episodes for subtext. I found fanfiction.net at some point and obsessively read fic. There was one ridiculously long series that I loved and spent hours reading and re-reading. Spoilers and BTS info confirmed for us early in season 6 that they were in a relationship (though it would take until the finale for that information to be revealed). It was a relationship that had been there since the start of the series and seeing it finally happen was a great moment to share with other people.
We had such a short amount of time to be happy with them before rumors that Jorja Fox wanted to leave the show started circling. We raised money to send to someone affiliated with the show to show that we wanted her to stay and we arranged an airplane flyover with a banner that said “we love Sara Sidle” and sent lots of fruit baskets to writers who had treated the character well in the past. It was such a weird idea looking back but the way it bonded everyone even beyond our ship-based bond was incredible. It showed me what fandom at it’s best could be. It was support and beautiful fics and videos during the long hiatus where Sara’s fate was unknown. It was finding the people who got you and why this character and ship were so important when others were so against it.
Now with the show ending and Grissom and Sara occupying the same physical space since their divorce (which I’m still mad about), I find myself being drawn back to the show after so many years away. All the old feelings of love for Sara and protectiveness over a ship that isn’t even canon anymore have returned. In a lovely example of first fandom loves never dying, one of the characters who is also returning was an occasional character who many in the fandom shipped with Grissom. If it were possible to go back and watch her episodes with non-biased eyes, I am 100% sure that she would be a character that I love. But I can’t because Grissom and Sara are so woven into the fabric of my life and experiences that she’ll always be the character used to toy with the shippers. They aren’t my most loved and don’t even fall into my most common type of ship, but they were my first and I will always love them.
I love this beyond words, but because words are all I’ve got, I’ll try to find some. 😉
I could listen to you talk about CSI and what it means to you all day. It’s this perfect combination of what Star Wars and Alias mean to me, and I just love knowing that someone gets what it’s like to have a show and a female character who reminded you to stay true to who you are at time when all you thought you wanted was to be liked. And I’m so glad you had Sara because you’re pretty fantastic exactly as you are, and I love that she helped you see that.
Alias! Oh, good grief, how could I not mention Alias?!? I seriously wanted to be Sydney Bristow. I had the English grad student thing going, so kick-ass spy wasn’t far behind, right??
I love that you wanted to be Syd, because I did, too! My friends in high school actually thought I wanted to be in the CIA after college because I loved her so much. However, I just stuck with the “English major” portion of her story, too. 😉
My Dad was such a Star Wars fan that I cannot remember the first time I saw the movie. It was just something I had always seen, was always familiar with. I’ve heard stories from people who saw it in the theaters when it was first released — they can still talk about how different it was from anything else . . . how they’d go back again and again to see it. (The opening shot always gets a mention.) As a classic movie fan, I love the connection to the old movie serials. Leia is such a great character: a strong woman who cares for those around her, who steps up when needed, and who somehow managed to pull off those crazy buns. (Leia gets stuff done. I cannot tell you how much I despise female characters — or rather the writers who write them — who claim to be strong and competent, but can NEVER deliver, who must always be rescued. It’s fine if characters take turns rescuing each other . . . )
However, the universe that sucked me and did not let go was Middle Earth. I read The Hobbit in 3rd grade. I moved on later to LOTR. In Jr High I tracked down The Silmarillion, Lost Tales, anything I could get my hands on. I always wanted MORE. I love this world. I come from a nerd family, so I had a built-in discussion group. A number of the fictional characters I truly love come from this world.
My first on-line fandom was of a little show called Invisible Man on Syfy (back when it was Sci-Fi). It was a fun group who would discuss, dissect, and generally enjoy the show. It was both serious and goofy. Trolls were at a minimum and easily reported and/or ignored. I miss those days. (NGN reminds me of that. Serious discussion and critique with random goofiness, soaked in positivity.)
This is fun. Can’t wait to see what others have to say.
I’m so glad you found this fun! I always love hearing people’s personal fandom histories. It gives such a nice bit of insight into who they are. And I’m happy to hear that NGN reminds you of a fandom community that you have such fond memories of.
I also have to say that I LOVE what you said about Leia. I’m always annoyed when seemingly competent female characters turn out to always need last-second rescuing because they can never figure out how to save the day on their own. Leia is special because she was written to be not just good but excellent as a leader and a fighter. Yes, Luke and Han had to come to her rescue sometimes, but she got to rescue Han, too, which has stayed with me since I first saw those movies as a little girl. Leia didn’t just talk the talk; she walked the walk when it came to being a successful female leader. And, just like Han, I loved her for that.
I like how you described what drew you to Han and Leia. It’s the same reason why I was drawn to them. But they weren’t my first “ship”. That honor goes to Wesley and Buttercup from The Princess Bride, one of my favorite movies. Wesley was a lot smarter and stronger than he initially seemed at the start of the movie. Buttercup was a princess who rarely took crap lying down, which reminds me a bit of Princess Leia. Though it wasn’t quite love at first sight between Wesley and Buttercup since Buttercup used to torment Wesley back when he was a farm boy, they became the center of each other’s world. Without that center, it was like a part of them was missing which nothing or no one could ever fully replace. They fought for their love against all odds.
There were moments involving this pair that I remember clearly today. Like when Buttercup told Wesley who was under the guide of the Dread Pirate Roberts that the day she thought Wesley died was the day she died. Or when Wesley used every ounce of willpower he had left in his body to stand up to the evil prince. Or when Wesley and Buttercup were in each other’s arms kissing on the side of the hill after one fell down after the other.
The Princess Bride always makes me smile, and I’m so happy to find others who love it! I love the kiss on the hill after they fell down it—it’s everything perfect about that movie and that couple. Thanks for sharing why you love them with us!
I just love this! Thank you! 🙂
My first fandom was Grey’s Anatomy. I found it 2010. I was just switching through the tv. I started really late with all the fandoms. Before that I never really watched that much tv. But Grey’s Anatomy means the world to me. It taught me so much! Izzie Stevens was my first character that I just loved and couldn’t get enough of. Her warmth when it comes to patients and the people she loves. And her love story with Alex just made my teenage years. I was so devastated when Izzie left and heart-broken. It was such a cruel way to write Katherine Heigl out of the show. And I know it was her fault too, not just Shonda Rhimes’. But it wasn’t fair to the character of Izzie Stevens.
Nonetheless do I watch those early years of the show with such happiness and it reminds me of the time I was thirteen.
But I do have to say that I still love the show more than anything today. I look forward to every new episode and despite all the hate that the show gets nowadays, it’s still my favorite show. I love Lost or Once upon a time or Castle and others, but Grey’s Anatomy always was and always will be my favorite show. Like you said, the first tv show will stay with us forever. And therefore I’m looking forward to season 12 with so much joy!
Oh my gosh—you’re an Alex/Izzie shipper?! They were my ultimate Grey’s Anatomy couple! (I literally ran around my house out of sheer joy when they got married, and the shot of him holding her after Denny died was my wallpaper on my computer the entire summer after that finale.)
I loved what you said about watching those early episodes and feeling like you’re 13 again. That’s what our first fandom loves do for us—they bring us back to the simple joys of falling in love with a show or book or movie for the first time. It’s a great feeling, and I’m so glad Grey’s gives you that.
Alex and Izzie were my ultimate couple too! I just love every second of them and especially in the first three seasons I was rooting for them all the time. And there wedding was the best thing that could have ever happened to me at the time. Even now it brings tears of joy to my eyes just thinking about it. When I think about them, I never think about how they broke up or got divorced, I always see their wedding and of course the scene after Denny’s death. All their happy times stay with me forever. And watching the early seasons is amazing. Every scene that I loved and that comes up again when I’m rewatching the seasons, I think about the time I first watched it and try to remember what I was thinking when I didn’t already knew what was coming next.
I will forever be grateful for this show and I will never stop rewatching it and remembering the happiness that it brought to me the first time watching it.
I love this post!! And you know fangirl thursday holds a special place in my heart!
I love everything you have to say about Leia and her relationship to Han. I will also never forget being a kid and my Dad taking me to see the re-releases in the theater. I feel like he was more proud and excited about that right of passage for me than anything else before or since (I know that not true, but it felt that way at the time, haha)
I had a few “fandoms of one” (Lois and Clark TNAOS and the whole Bill Pullman thing) before I actually found a fandom that was a community, which of course was ‘The X-Files’. I actually didnt watch the show until the tail end of season 5. A friend of mine at school was obsessed with the show, and she was sad that nobody wanted to go see the movie with her when it came out that summer. Never one to leave a fellow fangirl hanging, I promised I would go with her, never knowing the gateway drug it would turn out to be. I watched the last few eps of Season 5 to prepare me, and then we went to see the movie that summer, and I was hooked (I actually think ‘Fight the Future’ is a great movie on its own, even removed from the show, everyone should watch it). You know that strategy of watching the last episode of a TV show and then deciding if you want to see how the characters ended up where they did? Thats the movie, only its a great intro in the middle. The movie came out the summer before High School. The friend I went to see the movie with actually went to a different High School than I did, so after getting me thoroughly hooked, she left me hanging. I didnt really have anyone at school to talk to about the show, so that is when I found my online community. There were two guys that wrote a weekly X-Files article in our local paper that I loved reading, and one day I saw that at the bottom of the article there was a link to their message board where you could “join the discussion”. I went online, created the persona of “MrsX” and joined the conversation. I was the youngest person on that board, but they became my online family. When I got my drivers license at 16, I didnt call up my friends to tell them, I went online and told my board. My Monday ritual of sitting in the library after school posting about the episode the night before was one of my favorite things. That message board was for teenage Shauna what NGN has been for now Shauna the past few years, and its great having an online family again. I am sure there were other sites I went to and enjoyed, but the message board is the one that sticks with me, because it was about more than just the show, it was about each one of us as individuals, that just happened to have a common interest.
Oh, and the fanfiction. I read so much fanfiction. Finding NC-17 fanfic (oldschool rating system!) was like the teenage fangirl equivalent of boys finding their dad’s Playboy magazine, haha. [takes 15 minute break to try to track down old fanfiction archive I used to visit. Pretty sure I found it]
Anyway, I can drone on forever about this topic, but the point is, that first fandom meant a lot to me, and I think I love NGN as much as I do because NGN is so similar to that first positive experience I had in a fandom. X-Curisions was just two guys that got together and wrote an article about a show they loved, and they provided a safe space where others could discuss the show with them and throw ideas off each other. It wasn’t the biggest message board or the most commented on or the most well known, but it meant the world to those of us that were a part of it, and I can say all the same thing about NGN. Thanks for all you have done to create this space for us. I have no doubt that it will stick with me for the rest of my life, just as X-Cursions has.
First of all, being compared to such an important site in your fandom history means so much to me. I love the little fandom family we’ve created over here, and I feel so honored that people like you have chosen to be a part of it.
I LOVE reading your thoughts on The X-Files because you speak about it with the kind of love we only have for our first real fandom loves. (I also love your Bill Pullman love, but I digress…) It always makes me happy to know I wasn’t the only one reading NC-17 fan fiction and learning a lot of things from those fics. 😉
Add me to the list of young fangirls reading NC-17 fanfiction. My conservative high school would have been appalled 😉
I’m pretty sure my Catholic school wouldn’t have liked it either. 😉
Lol did we all go to catholic school?!
Close, but not quite. Evangelical Christian. If I were still in school, I guarantee I would know a lot of Huckabee and Ted Cruz fans to provide an indication of the level of conservative.
I went to Catholic schools from kindergarten through college!
I agree with everyone who liked your description of the Han and Leia relationship. That was my very first OTP before I even knew what that meant and like you, it has inspired my taste in OTPS ever since. The only difference for me was that Han was my favorite character, the one who dragged me in to Star Wars and has never let me go. I have found that ever since falling in love with Han, my favorite characters tend to be the snarky sidekicks, the heroic but morally gray companion, the hero who doesn’t know he’s a hero, the pirate. The Captain Hooks, the Rons, the Tony Dinozzos.
My first real dip into fandom though was Harry Potter. Shortly after getting into the books I discovered the essays on mugglenet, the Romione fanfiction on sugarquill, and the fanart on deviantart. I was immediately hooked and would stay up late into the night, disgesting fan theories, scouring through the epic romances of fanfiction (or so they seemed to a 13 year old girl), and lurking in the CoS forums. It would take me years to be confident enough to join the conversations on those forums but I’m so glad that I did. All those arguments (politely) over what ships were most likely, who would die, whether or not Snape was good, etc taught me to read with an incredible attention to detail. Without that level of fandom, I’m not sure I would have become a successful English major and teacher.
I love how much Han/Leia love is pouring into these comments!
Your Harry Potter fandom experience brought back so many good memories for me, so thanks for sharing your story! Mugglenet and Sugarquill (and all the great Ron/Hermione fics on Checkmated) were such huge parts of my high school years. I used to lurk the CoS forums too, and I wished I would have been braver back then and would have joined in the discussion. Mugglenet’s essays were some of the first real pieces of literary analysis I ever read. Like you, I really think Harry Potter played a major role in my decision to become an English major. It’s so fun to see others who had that experience too. 🙂
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OK, sorry this is going to be long…
My Dad took me to see Empire Strikes Back when it came out in theaters. What year was that? 1980. I was 5 or 6. Somewhere along the way I saw all of the movies, but I think I might have seen them out of order. I remember being excited about the movie, but it might have been because I was going out with my dad. I don’t think I really understood the films at that age.
When I was in high school my brother (who has obsessive-compulsive and autistic behaviors) started watching the original Star Wars movie EVERY SINGLE MORNING before school. For a year. At least. Oh, he didn’t watch the whole thing. By that time we had a VHS player and he would fast forward to watch his favorite bits (thank goodness he has DVDs now – he destroyed so many vhs tapes back in the day with that behavior). Anyway, he couldn’t read, so he would have me read “Episode IV a new hope…” and then he’d want me to watch all the good bits with him, fast forwarding just when I started to get into the story. We’d both memorized the movie before long. I wouldn’t say I was a fan at that point. lol He almost ruined some damn good movies for me with his obsessions.
I guess I discovered the joys of geeking out over films and tv shows with friends at uni. My friends were very devoted fans of certain scifi and fantasy books and films, but they were also pretty snobby about it. That was around when the Star Wars movies were re-released. My college boyfriend did not approve of the changes, if I remember correctly. If you disagreed with his opinions you had better be ready for an argument – I found it easier to keep my mouth shut.
I don’t remember when I discovered ‘shipping – I suspect the first couple I shipped was Joanie and Chachi…? but I don’t remember ever talking to friends about wanting people to be together, no squee-ing, no imagining of alternative storylines – the uni guy friends weren’t into that kind of thing.
Oh, and we didn’t have internet back in the old days, so no keymashing either. I was at uni from ’93-98 when there wasn’t much on the internet worth looking at, and we didn’t have internet outside of college until the end of that period. No message boards, no access to fanzines, or anything like that – I don’t know if that kind of thing reached our tiny population in NZ. Probably only for huge fandoms like Trekkies. (and maybe bands?). I was interested in behind the scenes stuff for my favorite movies like Jurassic Park and Titanic, but my only source was probably books.
And then I had no access to anything from ’98-’02 – I lived in Japan and I was lucky if I could find anything in English! Next to no internet access : ( Just when the internet was getting interesting, I guess. 2002-2010, I just didn’t spend much time on the computer until I finally got my laptop.
So long story not-so-short, you and New Girl was my first real discovery of what it meant to be a fangirl in any real way. I had heard about fanfiction a couple of years earlier in a vague way after someone on Facebook mentioned the things that Snape and Hermione got up to in the dungeons of some fans’ imaginations – I was stunned! (I was a bit too old to be part of the Harry Potter frenzy, and also, I read the first 4 or 5 books while I lived in Japan). I probably thought those people writing fanfic were crazy. I used to make fun of dedicated fangirls the way so many people reflexively do when they don’t understand. I’m glad I don’t have that narrow viewpoint any more.
So yeah. I feel like my age and background have had a big effect on my fangirl experience. Wait, what did you ask? I’ve been writing so long I’ve forgotten! I’m glad you like long comments! ; )
I LOVE long comments! 😉
Your fandom history is so interesting—and your personal history is so interesting with all the places you’ve lived and seen! It makes me feel kind of honored that NGN has played some part in your fangirl awakening. It’s my firm belief that it’s never too late and you’re never too old to fully embrace and become engaged with what makes you happy. Seeing you embrace your inner fangirl has always been something I’ve loved, and now it’s even more special since I know this entire world of fandom and fangirling is still relatively new to you!
I think my first fandom was probably Star Wars, which is why I still hold onto the old versions of this franchise and cannot even stomach to watch the new movie coming out today.
I remember watching the original trilogy on the then Sci-Fi channel, hosted by Carrie Fisher and Billy Dee Williams. My fanfics were Star Wars trilogy’s (which was easier for me to write at the time, then a full-length series).
Look even at my pen name I still use today: obisgirl (original obi’s girl), is an homage to Obi-Wan Kenobi. (Well, Ewan’s Obi-Wan because he was hot). I loved reading parts of the extended universe and then writing fanfics based on the EU. I loved those characters and it just breaks my heart they aren’t canon anymore.
You’re right Katie about one thing, I think there’s a spirit of Han and Leia in most every familiar couple dynamics we see today, especially in Emma Swan and Killian Jones.
But yeah, my Star Wars obsession has endeared for many years. I love the old, even parts of the prequels (Obidala ‘shipper right here), it’s really hard for me to let go of what came before and accept what it is now.
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