Taking time out of his busy schedule while creating a new Death St--...I mean one of the best Star Wars groups on Facebook, Lord Vad--...I mean Gerard Baer sat down long enough to answer a few questions and shoot the breeze with us at Honor The Force. Grab a glass of cold blue milk and sit down to read up on this incredible Sith Lor--...I mean Star Wars fan.
*EDITOR'S NOTE: The crew at HonorTheForce.com was not coerced, violated, force choked, threatened with dismemberment, banhammered, or otherwise physically harmed in any way during the production of this article. Seriously.
HTF: So…tell us the love story. How did your relationship with Star Wars begin?
Gerard: Well, Steve and Thomas…let me begin by thanking you guys for reaching out to ask me some questions about my love/obsession of the Star Wars Universe. You guys at Honor the Force are my kind of folks. Good fans and good people. With all the chaos and nonsense that permeates the fandom at times, its refreshing to engage with reasonable fans who just want to discuss and promote what they love.
So…where did it begin? I really have to say that seeing Star Wars is one of my earliest memories. I was born in 1973, so I had the privilege of seeing the first film in the saga in the movie theater. I loved the entire film, but what was burned into my memory was the image of Vader boarding the Tantive IV. I became immediately fascinated with Vader. Han Solo was also AWESOME…but he took second place to Vader in my world. My childhood was changed and enhanced from that moment on.
HTF: What was that special thing that drew you to the franchise?
Gerard: Being a kid in the 70’s was much different from being a kid today. I had Star Wars, Lincoln Logs and Erector Sets. We didn't have 1000’s of options for entertainment and we didn't stay inside. We also didn't have these movies on our Tablets and Smart Phones. If we wanted to see a movie, we went to the movies, and then had to rely on our memory and imagination to recreate the movie at home with our figures. We went outside and played with our Star Wars figures. I don't have many left from that time, because I played with them HARD. I attached fireworks to Stormtroopers and lit some Boba Fett’s on fire. I don't regret any of it. I had a blast with my toys. In fact, playing with them and using my parents 8mm camera (no audio!) to make stop motion movies got me started down the path the led to audio and video production and other forms of artistic expression. Don't get me wrong…I think it’s amazing today how technology allows us to enjoy the franchises we love and interact with others in the fandom, but there are a lot of fans from my generation, the “Original Generation Fan”, who seem to have a “different” appreciation of the Saga. Not better…just different. It was a huge percentage of recreation for kids who lived at that time. I know this continues to this day with kids, but the unending entertainment options seem to dilute the waters water a bit. I actually have a great amount of respect and admiration for younger fans who have been introduced to the Saga over the last few decades, and it speaks volumes about the draw that the entire franchise has for people both young and old. With all the options available today, if something is trash, it just doesn't last. Star Wars has been killing it for almost 40 years. That is quite an accomplishment. And those that become fans today, REALLY love the franchise.
HTF: What, above all else, has made you stay loyal to Star Wars after all the supposed up and downs within the franchise?
Gerard: It seems strange that we even have to use the expression “staying loyal” to a franchise, but there really is a vocal MINORITY of fans that just can’t seem to be happy with it, no matter what is presented to them. The franchise has allowed me to use it to escape from dark and difficult times in my youth, and never let me down. I will say that there has never been a time when I took offense to any content that any Franchise has presented. Some I love. Some not so much. When it comes to those who actively “protest” and “bash” different aspects of the Saga, it can be illustrated this way:
When you attend the opening of an art exhibit at a museum, is it reasonable to “bash” the art work, “protest” the fact that is being put on display, and demand that the artist destroy his work and redo it all in such a way that appeases your personal sense of what is considered appealing? No…that is not reasonable. It borders on insanity. If someone creates something you don't like, don't view/watch/listen to/read it. It’s pretty simple. The hate displayed by some who have unrealistic expectations drives me nuts sometimes.
I love Star Wars and stand by whatever the story group delivers to us. I’m not saying everything is going to be a home run, but consider this: It isn’t reality…its fantasy to be used to entertain and enhance our lives. For those who have such anger towards it I say this…stop torturing yourselves and find something that makes you happy. Be loyal to yourself and enjoy life…it is too short to be so full of anger.
HTF: You have been involved with supporting the Star Wars franchise & fan community on social media through The Alliance of Star Wars Fanatics (TAOSWF). Can you tell us a bit about this?
Gerard: The TAOSWF group has become a great part of my life. It actually seems odd as I look at these words I am typing that an online fan group has become so impactful in my actual life, but it really has. The admin team, and many members have become pretty good friends. We Admins all talk EVERY day, about the group, but 80% of our conversations are about our day to life and just shooting the crap. We have virtually every type of background and beliefs represented amongst our admin team, who reside in the US, Canada and England, and some of us have VERY different opinions on some very important real life matters. But it works. We all RESPECT each other and in turn are respected by each other. Respect is the foundation of the group and that starts with the Admin team. Without these guys working and contributing alongside Danny Smith and myself, this group would not be what it is. Period. On the other side of that coin are the member’s. Our members are AMAZING. We have a solid number of members (200 away from 10k as I type this), but we are not about the numbers. TAOSWF is about quality, not quantity, and our members are QUALITY. People who join the group and disrespect other member’s or trash the franchise are usually warned first (unless its so bad it gets the “instaban”). If they don't want to play ball…BANHAMMER. If we didn't have such a low tolerance for nonsense, we would likely have over 20k by now. Our banned list is looooooooooooong, but this is why this group is different from many others. It's a place where ANYONE can feel safe to discuss Star Wars without being crapped on. This is a great time to be a fan, and we just want to enjoy it with other great fans!
HTF: What inspired you to take on a challenge such as this?
Gerard: After the purchase of Lucasfilm by Disney (more on that later), I was PUMPED. More Star Wars? SIGN ME UP! I joined some Facebook groups to discuss this exciting news, and you know what I found? I found groups that were a COMPLETE dumpster fire. People were trashing the franchise, the prequels, Disney, EU, Legends, and anything and everything else. People were threatening other members of these groups and talking to each other in such a way that I was shocked. I’m an Irish-German kid who grew up just outside of Boston, and worked as a Union Sheet Metal Worker. It takes a special type of conversation to shock me, but there were some ignorant stooges in some groups that did just that. As I was on the verge of just unfollowing the groups I was in, my good friend Steve McMahan texted me. He said a guy we had talked with in other groups, Danny Smith, had enough and decided that day to start a group where the trash gets taken out ASAP. I joined immediately. I think I was member 9 or 11 or something. Danny, Steve and myself hit it off immediately. Discussions about improving and becoming more than just a Facebook group led to Danny and I meeting last year over Boneless buffalo wings (Danny really likes wings) on Long Island and forming a Partnership to see where we can take this thing. We have had disagreements along the way, with each other and other admins, but fortunately we have exercised that founding quality of mutual respect to come to resolutions that are best for the group as a whole. It really has been a great experience. I think the engagement and comments by our members in the group is a testament to the fact that we are on the right path.
HTF: What’s your mission statement…What exactly is TAOSWF all about?
Gerard: TAOSWF has a very basic mission statement. I am just going to copy and paste the intro of the groups pinned post that lists the groups purpose and rules:
“The Alliance of Star Wars Fanatics (TAOSWF) is a group of Star Wars fans who like to celebrate and discuss the ENTIRE Star Wars franchise - ALL the movies, new canon, all animated series, Legends (EU) - ALL OF IT. There is no bashing of the franchise and no "Canon vs EU". This group is for the celebration of ALL Star Wars!!! Our goal is to keep this an elegant group, for a more civilized age...
The reason for the following rules is simple - we want this to be a safe, positive, welcoming environment for people to discuss Star Wars. We strive to be the best Star Wars group out there!”
Is the group perfect? No. Are the Admins perfect? No. But we strive to live up to the same behaviors that we require of all members who join us here in the group. It's a simple formula that be explained simply: Be respectful. Celebrate what you love. Leave the bashing and the negativity at the door.
I need to recognize our “International” (USA, Canada and England) Admin team: My bro and Partner Danny Smith, Steve McMahan, Jeremy Williamson, Don Alam, Jimmy Edwards, Joanna Wallace, Dan Turpin, George Humphries, Daniel Leahy, Kevin Sutherland, Rain Fagan, Rui Amaral, and Scott Deacon. You guys rock. Thanks for everything you all do. This ALL VOLUNTEER TEAM operates like a finely tuned race car engine. #taoswfstrong
HTF: As a leader in the TAOSWF movement, what are some of the highs and lows of your everyday efforts? Headaches you have to deal with…moments of sheer exhilaration at something great…it must be a whirlwind.
Gerard: The most frustrating thing has to be the belligerent people who join just to cause problems. I can’t tell you how many nasty messages I receive from people who have been banned. I won’t get into describing the content of these messages, but it’s just more of the same trash from sad bitter people who have nothing better to do than lash out and spew hate towards people they have never met. I actually find it to be amusing at times, but usually it’s just sad.
Creating new content for the group can be frustrating at times, but that is mostly due to the fact that I am a perfectionist (which can really never be attained) with a slight case of OCD and can be a bit of a control freak. While creating the newest version of the website, I felt I was on the verge of having a stroke. Thankfully, I have a super talented and even more creative friend, Jeremy Williamson (Creator of Star Wars Exposé) who rescued me from the tall grass both creatively and technically speaking and collaborated with me to complete the site. We are both working hard together on a few more “projects” that are ALMOST ready to launch! I couldn’t have done it without him…that's for sure.
One amazing part of this group has to be the friendships that have developed between some members and creators of other groups (Like the handsome devils at Honor the Force!) and we have a section on our site with some links to some of the other great groups we encourage everyone to check out. I hope that list keeps growing, and am sure that it will. The absolute best part, from my point of view, is the STRONG friendships that have developed between the TAOSWF Admin team. We have all shared some pretty intimate details of our lives with each other, and though some of us have never met in person, I feel as if we have been lifelong friends. I could go on and on about these guys, but I don't want to bore the reader of this article. Most of them plan to attend Star Wars Celebration in Orlando next year, and we look forward to having some great Star Wars and Disney fun together along with our fellow members and other Star Wars friends!
HTF: TAOSWF is experiencing steady growth within the Star Wars community. What are your plans for the future? Are there any juicy details you can give our readers?
Gerard: We have our awesome group, and a website which will soon have some new features to allow our members a place to showcase their talents as relating to the Star Wars Universe. We are getting close to launching a TAOSWF podcast and “Entertainment Network” to allow us to engage with fellow fans using various types of media. We are aiming to be different from what is out there now. There are A LOT of podcasts, and many are great. For example, I love listening to “Blue Harvest”. Hawes and Will are filthy animals but make me laugh every episode. Admin Joanna Wallace has been a guest on “Rogue Won” with Johnny, Hawes and Mike to discuss her well researched “Snoke Theory” and video. These are just a couple of the great options out there for Star Wars podcasts. We just want to join the party and hope that we can present a product that both educates and entertains. Soon…Very soon!
HTF: How do you see the growth of the Star Wars franchise with the release of Episode VII last year and now Rogue One coming up this year?
Gerard: It was just a few short years ago when there was really not much happening in the Star Wars fandom. Was ROTS the last film we would get to see? George Lucas wasn't a kid by any stretch, and it seemed to me at least, that the book had basically closed on feature films. Then Disney happened. AWESOME. New Star Wars content and movies? AMAZING. What could possibly go wrong? And then it happened…The “EU” became “Legends” and then began the “Dark Times”…a period of time in which many would look back on the days when the only bashing was directed towards the “Prequel’s” as the good old days. I will get into this in a bit more detail later. All that aside, I view this as an amazing time to be a Star Wars fan. We are getting NEW content. A NEW trilogy of films. A trio of NEW stand-alone films. Rogue One looks to be amazing. It is going to tell the story that leads up to the moment in Episode IV when Vader walks through that cloud of blaster smoke that started my obsession with all things Star Wars almost 40 years ago. Oh, did I mention that Darth Vader makes an appearance? WOW. I do expect that it will be tough to capture the same type of lightning that was associated with the release of The Force Awakens, but that isn’t a shock. It was the first in what will be many new films, and was basically the “kickoff party” for a resurrection of the Star Wars Universe as many know it. That being said, I have no doubt that these following movies will be a tremendous success.
HTF: Do you feel like the Lucasfilm/Disney power structure is moving in the right direction in order to keep the franchise going?
Gerard: To answer that simply and to the point, yes. I can’t think of another franchise that has a team of people directing its future, who have such a deep love and appreciation of what they have been entrusted with. These guys and girls were all fans BEFORE they became stewards of George Lucas’ cherished stories. There are other great franchises that have fantastic people working on new content, like the Marvel Universe. But Marvel is not Star Wars. In my opinion, there is nothing out there that has the same level of dedication and passion so deeply embedded in the fan base as the Star Wars Universe has.
***Insert angry comment from Star Trek/Marvel/DC fans here***
REMEMBER: I said “In my opinion”. Obviously, to each his own, but I base my comments on first-hand experience. It’s not a dig at anyone or anything, just an observation by my “Star Wars Biased” mind. I like all those other franchises too…just not as much as Star Wars.
HTF: What are your thoughts on the current state of the Expanded Universe versus Star Wars Legends debate? This seems to be a hot topic at every corner.
Gerard: To be blunt, it simply had to be done. And the perpetual debating that takes place is such an exercise in futility. There is no “debate”. There is “Legends” and there are actual canon Star Wars stories. Period.
Prior to the purchase of Lucasfilm by Disney I had read very few Star Wars EU books. For me, I just felt that if it didn't come directly from George Lucas, its wasn't my cup of tea. I will say that I have since revised my personal position on this, but at the time it is just how I felt. The introduction of “Luuke” and various timelines with some key characters having kids, not having kids, some dying, etc. didn't help me to overcome my personal feelings about the EU and draw me into the stories. In reality it was a mess. Don't get me wrong, there were some great things about it and some great stories. The problem was, in order for Lucasfilm to go forward with new content, they had to do something. I think that they did the only thing they could do. It gave them a blank slate and allowed them to begin bringing in some of the greatest creative minds of our time to start moving forward. The good news is, they are already taking some of the best parts of the EU and making them part of the new stories going forward. I hope “Luuke” stays gone, but if he comes back, I’m not going to lose my mind and stand in protest. I will accept it and focus on what I DO love. See how easy that is?
I would like to add that in the last year I have finished what I began years ago and completed the “Thrawn Trilogy”. It had already been delegated to “Legends” status, and guess what? I loved it. Over the course of the last 2 decades I had softened my opinion on GL being the only acceptable source of Star Wars stories, and allowed myself to enjoy this and several other books. I thoroughly enjoyed each one of them. They weren’t perfect in my opinion, but who cares? If I want something that is perfect for me, I better learn to write a book. It’s too bad some are so bitter about the reclassification of the Expanded Universe, and it’s sad that some are even boycotting all new material. They are only hurting themselves by missing out on all the awesome new Star Wars content. Some think that their protest “efforts” are what motivated the introduction of Thrawn into Rebels (Which many won’t even watch…smh), but this is simply not the case. These multi-billion dollar corporations don't cater to a few disgruntled fans. They make good business decisions. Providing top notch content is a good business decision. The story group introduced Thrawn because he is an AWESOME character, and awesome characters make good content. And good content is good for business.
So I invite all angry fans to put down the pitchforks and torches, and join the rest of us. The water is fine. Don’t miss out on this awesome time to be a fan.
HTF: Are there any words of advice that you can give others who are interested in organizing a collective group of Star Wars fans such as TAOSWF?
Gerard: I will start by saying, running a group and keeping order within the group is not easy. It’s funny to see what happens when people who have been banned from TAOSWF, or another good group run off to start their own group out of hate. They hover around a few hundred members if they are lucky and turn into yet another dumpster fire of a group, where the participants in the group sling hate and vitriol. My advice to someone looking to form a group for anything, would be this:
-Find your passion and create a mission statement that will direct your development of the group
-Your first Admins should be people you trust and have the same principles as you, but must be people you enjoy dealing with.
-Create a list of group rules and STICK to them.
-Carefully add Admins as you grow and only add those who are a good fit…the Admin team will be the driving force behind the group and set the tone for members to follow.
HTF: Great advice! Now for some fun questions…You’re having a personal conversation with one fictional character from Star Wars. WHO would it be and WHAT do you want to know about them?
Gerard: Obi Wan Kenobi. What the HECK did you do on Tatooine all those years?! I need to know!!!
HTF: You can have use of the Force for 48 hours…Lightside or Darkside powers. Which would you choose and what would you do with those powers?
Gerard: I know this isn’t the nicest thing to choose, but I gotta roll with the Dark Side. I have wanted to Force Choke and fire off Dark Side Lightning on sooooooo many people! Not like to death or anything…I just want to freak them out a bit! Lol!
HTF: You have the chance to sit in the cockpit & fly alongside one pilot in the entire Star Wars galaxy. WHO do you choose and WHY?
Gerard: Anakin Skywalker during The Clone Wars. Because he is ANAKIN SKYWALKER! And the greatest fighter pilot in the galaxy!
HTF: Respectable answers all around…Thanks for your time, Gerard!
If you’d like more info on The Alliance of Star Wars Fanatics you can connect with them online at several locations. Be sure to tell them that the crew at Honor The Force sent ya!
TAOSWF Facebook Group
TAOSWF Facebook Page
TAOSWF on Instagram
TAOSWF on Twitter