Four Fans Who Became Part of the Story

Geeks are passionate about their favorite shows and movies; it’s part of the lifestyle. But a few transcended the typical fan experience and not only worked with their idols, they gained their respect and a legendary spot at the top of each world’s fandom.

If you have a Starfleet uniform in your closet and a stack of Trek DVDs by your bed, thank Bjo Trimble. When the original Star Trek show faced cancellation in 1968, Bjo took action and pushed a letter-writing campaign to success, back when studio execs could be swayed by actions that didn’t involve nuts, Subway sandwiches or other food/fan combinations. She and her husband also spearheaded the effort to name a space shuttle “Enterprise,” and a fan booklet  she wrote, “Star Trek Concordance,” was so spot on it was eventually blessed by The Powers That Be at Paramount and published by Ballantine Books. For her original efforts, she, along with many other active fans, she was an extra in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. She’s a legend in Trek lore to this day; if it weren’t for Trimble’s efforts, Star Trek might have just ended up a neat sci-fi footnote in 1960s television history.

Sometimes fan passion can be turned on its ear and given a wedgie. That’s the case with Chad Vader, the creation of Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda. Their interpretation of Darth Vader’s not-so-successful younger brother and grocery store manager took the Internet by storm in 2006, and the resulting webseries , Chad Vader, Day Shift Manager, has received more than 73 million views through the years.  It even gained the attention of George Lucas himself when he presented Sloan and Yonda with the “George Lucas Selects” award during the 2007 Star Wars Fan Movie Challenge. Sloan, who voiced Chad Vader while Yonda acted in the suit, was tapped by LucasFilm to take on the real deal as voice actor for Darth Vader in three Star Wars video games. In a twisted way, Chad makes good (or bad, depending on your view) as his brother’s successor.

Compared to the decades-long history of Star Trek and Star Wars, Firefly fans are recent additions to the fan scene, but no one can beat them for passion. The fans, known as Browncoats, are extremely active; when former Firefly star Nathan Fillion made an off-hand comment about winning the lottery and buying the franchise to re-start the series, thousands of fans pledged financial help within a week.

Standing out in this kind of fandom takes something big, and the folks at Big Damn Fan Films did just that. Michael Dougherty, Heather Fagan and Steven Fisher founded the organization so they could create a fan-made Firefly film and help some charities along the way.  Browncoats: Redemption received the blessing and support of Joss Whedon and the show’s former cast and raised $113,000 through DVD sales and donations for five charities. It also let the army of Browncoats know that no one can take the sky from them.

On rare occasions, fan films are more than brain candy for the fans to enjoy. Sometimes they give the original actors a final chance to close a chapter. The Star Trek: Phase II project, originally started by former Trek production members James Cawley and William Ware Theiss, has produced six episodes featuring the re-cast characters of the original series. Kirk, Spock and crew boldly went once again thanks to a lot of donations from dedicated fans, and the project hit warp speed with the second episode, featuring a script written by D.C. Fontana and a guest appearance by Walter Koenig, reprising his role as Pavel Chekov. The episode enabled Koenig to give Chekov some closure and was a real tear-jerker for any TOS fan.

Other episodes have included Trek alumni like George Takei, Denise Crosby, Majel Roddenberry and Grace Lee Whitney.  Scripts by Fontana, David Gerrold and others have made Star Trek: Phase II the closest you can get to canon without an office at Paramount.