How Wookieepedia Conquered Star Wars Fandom

The world's biggest Star Wars fan community is 10 years old

Wookieepedia's global Star Wars hub page
Wookieepedia's global Star Wars hub page. Wikia / Lucasfilm, Ltd.

Star Wars fandom is reaching a fevered pitch in the days leading up to the international theatrical release of The Force Awakens. So one of the biggest Star Wars websites there is has unveiled a brand new home base, an all-in-one hub for fans.

I'm talking of course about Wookieepedia, the sprawling Internet encyclopedia containing over 122,000 pages of Star Wars history, facts, and minutia. Having just celebrated its 10th anniversary, Wookieepedia is Wikia's biggest fan community, with a staggering number of contributors (4,000) and contributions (240,000) in the last year alone.

Purely in the month of April 2015, Wookieepedia entertained over 3.6 million fans.

This incredible devotion inspired Wikia to create a global Star Wars hub, which serves as a gateway to both The Force Awakens and the vast treasures contained in Wookieepedia itself.

Wikia's Eric Moro, Vice President of Programming, and Brandon Rhea, Senior Community Manager, were kind enough to provide the inside scoop on the new hub, Wookieepedia's incredible history, and just how much Lucasfilm uses this fan-made resource.

Origin Story

"Wookieepedia was co-founded by Chad Barbry, Steven Greenwood, and a group of Wikipedians in 2005," explained Rhea. The idea came from Star Wars fans who contributed to Wikipedia, who found themselves dissatisfied with the limited scope of its Star Wars details. They wanted more.

"Wikipedia didn't want that," said Rhea, "since they only cover topics that they consider notable -- as opposed to, say, minor characters in the Star Wars universe."

After Wikipedia offered a polite but firm "no thanks," Barbry, Greenwood, and their friends decided to do it themselves.

"The group turned their attention to Wikia, which at the time was called Wikicities," Rhea explained. Their request to create a Star Wars community -- permission to start new wikis had to be granted in those days -- was approved, and Wookieepedia was born on March 4, 2005.

With some 122,000+ pages in the database at present, I asked how many were there when Wookieepedia launched, and who created the initial content.

"Zero, since that's how wikis are created in their default state," replied Rhea. "[The Wookieepedia group] started by adding pages from Wikipedia and then rewriting them. They were writing brand new pages at the same time, too."

Growth came fast. Just three months later, almost 5,000 pages -- each one representing a different topic, character, location, event, etc. -- had been added. At the six month mark, that doubled. Rhea said that after a full year in operation, there were 45,000 pages.

To put that in perspective, I'd estimate that in my career I've probably written somewhere around 15,000 articles, or pages of content -- but it took me 20+ years to reach that number. For one website to explode into three times that in a single year is mind-boggling.

The Hub Awakens

Having learned how Wookieepedia came together, I asked how Wikia's new Star Wars hub was birthed.

"The launch of Wikia's global Star Wars hub has been in the works since late September/early October," Moro spoke up to explain. "The foundation for the project was laid by Star Wars super-fans across the globe, but it would never have happened without the amazing Wikia teams in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Latin America, and Japan."

But who did what?

"All of the heavy lifting was done by Wookieepedia contributors," said Moro. "For the past ten years, they've been coming together to chronicle everything there is to know about Star Wars -- the mythology as well as the real-life multimedia franchise. What the Wikia global team did was create an attractive, centralized destination that points to the various sub-communities that house all of this amazing, fan-generated content."

The purpose of the hub, he said, is to be the homepage for the biggest Star Wars fan community in the world. Nothing more, nothing less.

One thing that'd been nagging me since the conversation started was how Wookieepedia intends to handle content based on The Force Awakens. Given the great lengths Lucasfilm and Disney have gone to, to protect the movie's secrets, wouldn't it be a shame for all of that information to become readily available before most fans have a chance to get to their local theater?

"The hub," replied Moro, "serves as a primer to The Force Awakens. It offers everything you need to know going into the film to have a truly satisfying experience."

What about after the movie's release? Will contributors be asked to wait a bit before contributing Force Awakens spoilers?

"Our content offering will quickly be updated to include The Force Awakens post-release. Wookieepedia is a living, breathing entity that evolves every day. As more people discover The Force Awakens and come to the community to contribute, the greater a content offering it will feature. [I expect it to happen] after our super-fans have had an opportunity to see the film, digest it, analyze it, and begin their content creation."

So if you want to go into The Force Awakens unspoiled -- and of course you do -- avoid Wookieepedia's Force Awakens content until after you've seen the movie. (For that matter, I'd suggest staying off Wikipedia, too.)

"That said," Moro was quick to add, "the forward-facing Instant Expert page will always remain spoiler free. A visitor can come at any point in time and get just what they need to experience the film as an educated fan. Should they choose to go deeper down the rabbit hole and venture into spoiler territory... That's up to them."

Fair enough.

That Time Lucasfilm Changed Everything

Rumor has it that Lucasfilm employees frequently use Wookieepedia, as some of its exacting details may be more comprehensive than whatever Lucasfilm uses internally. It's not hard to imagine the Lucasfilm Story Group, which tracks every piece of Star Wars content that's released and insures its place in continuity and canon, referring to Wookieepedia when details are needed that no one can recall off the top of their heads.

"We have a great relationship with the folks over at Lucasfilm," said Moro. "They've graciously hosted tours of their campus for visiting Wikia super-fans, participated with us in Star Wars-related Wikia-hosted panels at various conventions, and much more. They're big, vocal supporters of Wookieepedia."

In case you didn't catch it, that's at least the third time Moro used the term "super-fan" when talking about the Wookieepedia community. The way he dropped it casually throughout our conversation suggests that Wikia sees its contributors as its greatest asset.

I couldn't help wondering how Wikia responded when its good friend Lucasfilm threw a planet-sized monkey-wrench at those super-fans back in 2012. That was when the Lucasfilm Story Group declared all of the Extended Universe non-canon. Everything -- from the "Old Republic" video games and stories set thousands of years before the Skywalker saga, to Timothy Zahn's celebrated Heir to the Empire book trilogy and all other media that tell of the years after Return of the Jedi -- was shunted outside of official canon and placed under a new "Star Wars Legends" banner.

Until 2012, everything on Wookieepedia was considered more or less canonical, though a complicated scale of canonicity was used to designate how "official" something was. Once this change was made, everything went very black-and-white, and Wookieepedia was faced with tens of thousands of pages that had to be altered accordingly.

How did that go over?

"Individual users have their opinions about the Lucasfilm [Legends] announcement," said Rhea, "some of them very passionate. But for everyone at Wookieepedia, the project comes first. And the goal of the project is to document official Star Wars information."

But wasn't it hard to update Wookieepedia when the reality sunk in of what the Legends announcement meant?

According to Rhea, it was huge. The site's design didn't change, but the content required a massive overhaul.

"Brand new canon pages were created from scratch," said Rhea. "It was almost like starting over again. Entirely new pages had to be created for Luke, Leia, Han, Obi-Wan, Vader, and all the other major characters, as well as every other canon subject that exists."

All of the Expanded Universe material had to be re-branded, as well.

"Currently," said Rhea, "canon pages exist on a secondary page." So if you go to Luke Skywalker's page, you'll be on the Legends page for Luke that details his life long after Jedi. The canonical information is found under a tab labeled "Canon."

This won't be the case for long; in fact, by the time you read this, it could have already changed. The Wookieepedia community is fixing it so that a topic's main page will be the canonical one, while a "Legends" tab will take you to EU content.

But fear not, EU fans. Wookieepedia has no intention of dropping the Legends content. Rhea assured me that Wookieepedia would "continue to document canon and Legends side-by-side."

The new Star Wars hub looks very impressive, almost "official" in its capacity. I asked Moro if Lucasfilm had any involvement in its creation.

"Both Lucasfilm and Disney are very much aware of the content created by Wikia super-fans," he replied, using that term again. "Sometimes Lucasfilm has worked directly with them, as in the case of our 'Predict the Madness' bracket tournament. But they were not involved in the global hub initiative."

Okay. But what about Wookieepedia itself? Does anyone at Lucasfilm ever contribute to its articles? Like Lucasfilm Story Group's keeper of all Star Wars history and lore, Pablo Hidalgo, perhaps?

Moro seemed to formulate a very careful response. "I know for a fact that [Mr. Hidalgo] is intimately aware of the content offering on Wookieepedia. As for whether he's actually contributed or not... My lips are sealed."