What We Talk About When We Talk About Big Box Office Icons

Daniel Radcliffe in "Order of the Phoenix."
Daniel Radcliffe in "Order of the Phoenix." (By Murray Close -- Warner Bros. Pictures Via Associated Press)
Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Star Wars": Unlimited, blunt-Force themes of good over evil, plus ample Jungian archetypes and Joseph Campbell-style myth analysis. Mountains of dissertation material, sacred beliefs, Internet chatter; worldwide museum exhibitions walk visitors through basic motifs and subtext.

What die-hard fans do: Purchase vacuum-formed resin Stormtrooper costumes and march around convention centers; eternal collecting of toys, ephemera.

What it all means: Dad wasn't all bad; believe in yourself; love your friends.

"Star Trek" (original series, films, spinoffs, novels) : The king of further discussion, about the enlightened and ultimately optimistic future in which humankind advances by forging relationships with other beings. Characters learn from adventures, and so do fans. The Internet was invented to give Trekkers a place to chat, right?

What die-hard fans do: Speak Klingon; wear excellent costumes; pen complicated fan fiction and film their own episodes.

What it all means: Life goes on -- and on, and on. (Also: Nerds can fix anything.)

Harry Potter (books, films) : Thriving outlet for gifted children and certain grown-ups; helps one discover the magical orphan and WASPy boarding school student within. Harry-related term papers and doctoral work piles up now that original fans are in college. Meticulous watchdogs make sure film adaptations meet exacting standards.

What die-hard fans do: Read, read, read, read, read; wear capes to independent bookstores.

What it all means: Children are special, even when they're 38.

"The Matrix" : Saved freshman philosophy courses from total boredom. Despite bland sequels, moral dilemmas derived from "The Matrix" continue to pop up in church sermons and business seminars. Scads of 29-year-olds are still all too willing to burn a bowl and have dorm-room-style deconstructions, provided "Lost" isn't on.

What die-hard fans do : Wear trench coats and expensive sunglasses, still; wait in line for new Mac products.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company