We’re right in the middle of simultaneous Apple and Star Wars product orgies, and it’s suddenly become clear to me why Apple and Star Wars are pretty much the same brand, only in different industries.
Before the days of Star Wars mania and Apple obsessives, entrepreneurs aimed to attract armies of consumer droids. But George Lucas and Steve Jobs didn’t want a bland mass of consumers; they wanted fans. Apple’s first users came out of homebrew computer clubs, full of passionate nerds who could smack you down with a UNIX command. And Star Wars: A New Hope was one of the first movies to court attendees at Comic-Con and other fan conventions. From the beginning, Apple and Star Wars were marketed as cult brands, aimed at creating fanatics who will cut you for misunderstanding how INSANELY GREAT their toys are.
Apple is the quintessential child of the 70s, full of high-tech hope and imbued with groovy design sensibilities. Like Apple, Star Wars grew up in an era when people were excited about the future, and believed that scrappy rebels could save the world. Both brands were, in fact, the brain children of hippie upstarts who came out of left field to start revolutions in their industries. They embody the dreams of their childhood era.
Lucas pioneered the idea that a filmmaker could become a special effects tech wizard in his spare time. He founded special effects studio Industrial Light and Magic, and now this idea has become the norm, with Peter Jackson founding Weta Digital and James Cameron innovating motion capture and 3D film tech. Apple went the other direction, with Jobs turning his tech company into a shiny but slightly evil entertainment empire with the introduction of the iPod and iTunes. Star Wars and Apple were the first successful tech/entertainment mashup brands.
If you are a nerd, as I am, you have been exposed at least once to somebody who darkly intoned that Star Wars is not science fiction, it’s fantasy, because of stuff like the Force and psychic powers and the overall fairy tale feeling of the series. Similar arguments break out among Apple fans. Is the new MacBook based on solid science or just fantasy? Same goes for the Apple Watch, which is currently the midichlorian of the Apple product line.
After being the kickass fairy tale that wasn’t a Disney thing for three decades, Star Wars is now owned by Disney. Well, Lucasfilm is owned by Disney, which means basically all Star Wars things are Disney things (though really, it’s not like Disney could mess Star Wars up any more than George Lucas already did). The upstart, countercultural Star Wars is now a fully corporate product.
Apple’s relationship with Disney is a little more indirect. Apple shared a progenitor, Steve Jobs, with Pixar. Pixar was the cool animation studio that wasn’t Disney, until Disney bought it from Jobs and made all the animators cry by forcing them to do Cars 12: Racing the Alberta Tar Sands. Basically, Apple is like the kid who didn’t get sold by his dad to some creepy, princess-obsessed dude down in LA. So that’s awkward.
But even though Apple has never been bought out by an ultra-mainstream conglomerate like Disney, it has still gone corporate in ways that none of those homebrew club nerds could have imagined back in 1975. One of the wealthiest companies in the world, Apple pimps luxury items enrobed in gold and machines you can’t tinker with (unless you’re an authorized “genius”) — plus, the company jealously guards its treasure trove of IP in the iTunes store. Apple has also created a giant wall around its app store, blocking products from the very kinds of garage tinkerers who were the company’s original fans.
Star Wars and Apple grew up and went corporate, and yet somehow their fan cults have remained loyal. Which is why ...
What is this new gold MacBook? Blasphemy! When I was a kid, we had an Apple II and if we wanted to do something with it we just cracked open the damn case and jammed it full of peripheral cards and we were happy! And these incremental updates on beautiful devices like the iPod that once enchanted my teenage self? Now they’re just shiny nuggets of soon-to-be-ewaste. And don’t even get me started on how George Lucas destroyed those wonderful early Star Wars movies with his horrible CGI-ified editions (Han shot first!) — and then wrecked things even further with crap like Jar Jar and awkward bullshit scenes between Anakin and Padme. ONCE I WAS AN INNOCENT CHILD WITH MY HACKED APPLE II AND MY EMPIRE STRIKES BACK TOYS AND NOW YOU’VE DESTROYED ALL THAT FUCK YOU APPLE AND STAR WARS.
So if Apple is Star Wars, does that mean Microsoft is Star Trek and Google is Doctor Who? That’s a really good question, and worth pondering.
For years, nerd news site Slashdot used an image of Borg Gates for its Microsoft-related stories. Which suggests that the Star Trek/Microsoft connection has merit.
And Google is exactly the sort of company that would try to invent a sonic screwdriver, most likely powered by the wisdom of crowds. So there’s that too.
But then again, we need to consider Facebook. Where do they fit in? Plus, what company is the Babylon 5 of Silicon Valley? Is Skype the Battlestar Galactica of tech, starting out great, getting bad, and then going full-on inexplicable? There are so many questions, young Padawan. I leave it to you to resolve them.