Star Wars fans have been the beneficiaries of a huge and ever-expanding universe of content including film (five in the last five years), novels, comics, and animated as well as live-action series for television. As the content has grown, so too have the ways in which fans consume, interact with, and comment upon it. Fan engagement, discussion, and debate within Star Wars fandoms, and the place of podcasting in it, was the focus of a conversation I had with Riley Blanton, host, co-creator, and editor in chief of The Star Wars Report, a blog, podcast network, and fansite “dedicated to covering all the latest Star Wars news.” Blanton is also a regular participant and moderator in the Star Wars Track at Dragon Con, which is how I first met him. We spoke in the “before time” (before the arrival of COVID-19) about Star Wars, podcasting, and Dragon Con.
Blanton’s introduction to Star Wars came at the age of 13 when he watched The Phantom Menace on a 19-inch tube TV. His family’s tradition was to watch the films together, and his dad insisted that Blanton not watch the films until he was old enough to appreciate them. That first viewing came in 2005, but it was a torturous experience as the family only made it through the first half of the film before it got too late, and young Blanton had to wait until the next evening to see how the film ended! His journey on the road to becoming a Star Wars fan and “nerd” began in front of that television.
Blanton considers his podcast to be a defining force in his growth as a fan. He started The Star Wars Report fresh out of high school in 2010. He was captivated with media production and saw Star Wars as perfect subject matter for his venture into it. For Blanton, now in his tenth year with the network, podcasting allows the space and time for people to have conversations that are simply not available within the confines of 280 characters. The ability to have these conversations with people who share the same interest and love for the franchise is fundamental. The friendships he has been able to forge through these discussions have, he points out, enriched his life.
Blanton also believes that because of the space and time created in a podcast, the format can help work through the toxicity that often develops as fandoms fracture and split into factions. Key to this, he emphasized, is the willingness to have “meaningful and civil” conversations in which participants can agree to disagree. Beyond that, Blanton sees his podcast as an opportunity to delve deeper into the mythological dimension of the stories. He is clearly keen to the mythic and transformative power of these stories.
Blanton’s first trip to Dragon Con as a podcaster occurred in 2011. In those early days, he did “Rodeo” style interviews and had to learn by doing. Through his Dragon Con experience, he grew as an interviewer, creator, and blogger/podcaster. When reflecting on Dragon Con and his involvement with the Star Wars track, Blanton is particularly effusive in his praise for track Director Brandy Roatsey. He gives her credit for the direction the track has taken, the depth, diversity, and thoughtfulness of panels, as well as her willingness to allow bloggers and podcasters to play an active role, both developing and moderating panels.
As for the future, Blanton feels there’s real interest in and room for stories beyond and outside of the (Skywalker) saga. Star Wars has, in Blanton’s view, barely “scratched the surface,” and fans are “hungry” for stories from outside the saga. With new stories will come new opportunities to engage in the kind of thoughtful and reflective conversations with fans and friends that is the hallmark of The Star Wars Report and Blanton. As always, it’s sure to be interesting. You can learn more about the network by visiting its website: www.starwarsreport.com and the Star Wars Track at Dragon Con Goes Virtual 2020 by visiting their Facebook Group page https://www.facebook.com/groups/SWatDC.