So, I’ve talked about one franchise that was designed from the ground-up for seemingly unlimited expansion and also talked about one franchise that was stemmed with the death of its author and then stretched by a Hollywood studio. Now I’m going to talk about another franchise that was designed for expansion from the start that is continuing to grow and successfully provide more content to its fans on a regular basis – after the main storyline was completed.
Almost everyone in the world has heard of a young boy wizard named Harry Potter.
Harry Potter is one of those fandoms that I continue to come back to, the same as Star Wars. I’ll add a brief history of my experience with the series, as books and movies and other related material, but for a detailed history of the entire phenomenon, I highly recommend the book Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli, available on Amazon.
I was first given Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when I was in sixth grade. It was a battered, used paperback edition, and my mother had no idea that this fun fantasy story would continue to be a part of my life all the way into my late twenties – and longer, looking at the way things are shaping up. I read the book a little bit each night and quickly borrowed the second book as a hardcover from the school’s library the following year. It wasn’t until the fourth book came out that news articles started appearing in the local newspapers about the phenomenon of children and parents lining up outside bookstores at midnight for the release of each volume. I wanted to be one of those people, but I had to wait to read the fourth book until later in the summer after begging my mother to get it for me. I managed to stretch the book out for the entire summer by reading a chapter each night. I already loved reading long before Potter, but never before had a book so engaged me, making me feel like I was really there. I wanted more.
But, the books were now on hiatus as JK Rowling took a break. It looked like for three long years there would be nothing new about my favorite boy wizard in front of my eyes. However, to my delight, and the delight of millions of other fans worldwide, a film version of the first Harry Potter novel was released in 2001. I was one of those kids who watched each and every trailer more times than I can count. I purchased the toys, received the Lego sets for Christmas that year, and also the following year when the second film came out. If it had Harry Potter on it, I wanted it. I was that obsessed.
My mother was concerned when I tried to fashion my own wand from a funny looking stick from our yard and made a snow castle of Hogwarts with my siblings on our hill where we waited for the school bus.
It doesn’t take much more than those details listed above to see the similarities between Star Wars and Harry Potter. The main difference is that where Star Wars began as a film and then branched off into books, Potter began as a book and then branched out into all the other forms of media and products. The greatest similarity between these two universes is that the creators, George Lucas and JK Rowling, envisioned them as being infinitely broad in scope. There is a great amount of space to expand as demand requires. Even before her second book was released, Rowling herself penned a fictional edition of her wizard newspaper The Daily Prophet for members of her fan club.
One can argue that a galaxy is a lot larger than the hidden parts of England, Scotland, and even Romania, but in terms of the history of the Potter universe, there is a lot of room to be had. Rowling created boxes and boxes of backstory for her hidden universe. Most notable of these is the backstory of Harry’s parents, Lilly and James Potter. But, her “fake history” goes beyond even a single generation. Rowling just released a biography of an ancillary character mentioned only by name in the books, Celestina Warbeck, on her interactive website Pottermore to much fan delight and debate.
Whereas Star Wars has gone the route of expanding backwards as a film series, finishing the first three episodes after the latter three were already released and now headed forward into the future once more, Potter is moving backwards in the same way that Star Wars did by continuing the film series with three original films penned by Rowling herself. Similar to the way that Lucas added onto his film franchise? Indeed. Both franchises were added onto by their original creators and both had a high demand for further adventures. It still remains to be seen if these three new films will hold a candle to the original Potter narrative that spanned seven books and eight motion pictures, but I am awaiting them eagerly.
We’ve looked at toys, games, and books as elements of an expanded universe, but what about other ways that these fandoms have engaged fans to keep them coming back for more?
Well, for one thing, both Star Wars and Harry Potter have allowed fans to create their own media relating to the universes they inhabit. George Lucas was one of the first filmmakers in history to encourage fans to create their own fan-films and upload them for other fans to enjoy. He even held a festival where he judged each of the films that were submitted and crowned a winner. In the case of Rowling, she allowed and encouraged fanfiction to be penned by ravenous fans, and this allowance granted her some time off to work on her fifth book in the series while also feeding her fans with more stories of the characters they grew to love through reading. Now they were growing to love the characters through writing about them.
There are also many fan-films relating to the Potter-verse. One in particular was worked on by a past co-worker of mine – The Tale of the Three Brothers. I still haven’t seen the full film yet – but the trailer has sated by hunger for more at the moment.
There is also another way for fans to immerse themselves into the world of Harry Potter, and that’s to visit the magical world at Universal Orlando where a replica of the Hogwarts Grounds has been created, along with a newly opened replica of Diagon Alley. I haven’t been able to go and experience these things myself, but trust me – I have plans to go someday, preferably soon.
Star Wars also has a theme park ride, albeit a small one, at Walt Disney World in Florida. However, that single ride will soon be expanded into a larger area of the park to capitalize on the new films coming out in the next few years. I expect that Disney World will be a busy place once that opens.
So, in conclusion to my examination of these many fandoms, it is imperative that any expanded universe be large enough to organically expand to allow for more stories and media consumption for fans that wish for more. The demand must be there, of course, and if it is, you can please fans with a logical and engaging expansion of the universe. After all, fanboys love to collect everything relating to their favorite fandoms. I haven’t collected everything relating to these universes, but I try my best!
Thank-you for reading this trilogy of posts. Who knows? If I am inspired enough, I might write another one. Without Jar-Jar, of course.