Wing Commander at 25 (March 12, 2024)

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!

The somewhat amorphous length of a generation is, give or take, about twenty-five years. This means that as of today, the Wing Commander movie is a generation old… and, it follows, so are those of us that once eagerly anticipated its coming. I've written extensively about whether or not it was good (it was not) and what it means to me (I love it dearly) and I don't need to relitigate any of that today. In fact, the war movie cliches about old soldiers are more accurate than ever: the guns have stopped, we're the old men, all quiet on the western front and alike. The bickerings and debates and once-so-important battles of our youth have passed us by as gracefully as such things ever do. No one in 2024 could conceive, for instance, of caring about the Tiger Claw's missing possessive or what the Ralari /really/ looks like or even particularly to complain about Freddie Prinze Jr.'s casting.

If anything, the Wing Commander movie has settled into an interesting little niche we didn't see coming: people kind of like it. It's not the second coming of George Lucas (sorry, Chris Roberts)... but it's also not really trash anymore, either. Every time it's mentioned on social media you get an inevitable host of people who view it as a guilty pleasure or a fun escape or a movie they thought deserved more attention. And that's kind of neat! Much of that is the sheer uncaring numbers of it: many, many more people can (fondly?) remember seeing Wing Commander the movie on DVD or cable TV than ever considered playing Wing Commander the game. Some frustrating old fictions remain–like the idea that including the Star Wars trailer printed money for the project (Wing Commander was a giant box office flop!) or the endless incorrect claim that the movie thinks the characters need to be quiet in space to escape the Kilrathi (thank you, Mr. Ebert)--but they're occasional bits of interest to politely point out instead of life-or-death challenges to nerd battle. The Wing Commander movie has improbably, probably done better for itself than anyone could ever have anticipated.

Instead, today I'd like to answer a question I'm asked regularly: why study Wing Commander today? On the surface there's not necessarily anything there. We aren't going to cure any diseases or change any minds or break open the universe in some shocking way. If we're lucky we might play a new game someday and that's about it. Even in the realm of liberal arts, there clearly aren't deep meanings or ideas to uncover. So why spend my time, say, charting out all the battles from the movie to make an accurate kill score, or tracking down all the background characters, or contacting costume makers to help identify illegible name tags? Why do these things that don't seem to add up to any satisfying whole?

It's because loving something this way is where the journey starts and not where it goes. We aren't celebrating Wing Commander because Wing Commander is the greatest movie or the best game or the most perfect story… we're celebrating it because it's ours and from the understanding we have of it we form connections to each other and to new ideas. We learn new things in every conceivable field because we take a harder look at some piece of Wing Commander. It's a compass or a Rosetta Stone: from considering the movie we come to new things we never could've considered otherwise. Whether that's diving into some piece of source material the movie references or learning how the game worked its magic under the hood, we start from loving Wing Commander and we come to know and think about other things. I've experienced art and music and political thought and ideas and an understanding of how other people create because I started from trying to understand Wing Commander. And that's even more important because the biggest lesson I've taken in three decades of fandom is that it is deeply important to surround yourself with people who love things regardless of what those things are.

The connections we've made over Wing Commander have made us better, more whole people and they've given us such important relationships. I did not feel like writing this update today. I've been having a bad time lately and I frankly would have rather hid in a hole somewhere. I was content to let the anniversary pass with the lazy man's option (some tweets). But my dear friend Chris Reid, who I have enjoyed Wing Commander with for all these years (including the movie on this day way back then!), messaged me and asked me if I could write a few words. He said he thought I would do a good job of capturing the anniversary. And immediately I was excited to contribute: to help my friend and to say something that someone seemed to want to hear. And when I can't manage to make anything else work right in this universe, I can still fall back on Wing Commander. And I know Chris BECAUSE of Wing Commander and we've come to have lives and families and dreams and hopes and all that bullshit together BECAUSE Wing Commander has been our lingua franca. And I remain so excited to find new ways to speak it and to see all the new places that will take me.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm needed at the edge of the universe. You see, all hell is about to break loose.

Original update published on March 12, 2024
Well said, Bandit! I remember a conversation we had many years ago, that at least with the movie we get to enjoy some more things. I think the late 1990s was the zenith of Wing Commander fandom, considering that no official game came out (aside Arena, which alienate a huge fanbase). Now being in my 40s, it saddens me that many young gamers nowadays are unfamiliar the gem Wing Commander is. Most scifi veterans see the movie as a so-so film, but to me it always hold a special place in my heart. Reading Peter Telep's novelization gives me a deeper immersion into this franchise, and I'm really glad that the film was produced.

It's better to see Wing Commander in the big screen, tthan Garriot-forbids Ultima or System Shock be adapted that way. But then again, a Strike Commander live action film might just work.
The connections we've made over Wing Commander have made us better, more whole people and they've given us such important relationships. I did not feel like writing this update today. I've been having a bad time lately and I frankly would have rather hid in a hole somewhere. I was content to let the anniversary pass with the lazy man's option (some tweets).
There's a lot in your post that I could comment on, but time is precious, and I'm almost two hours behind already this morning, so...

I may be a more of a lurker now, coming back rarely, posting a few times, and then purposely ignoring the CIC for a few months as I try to keep up with work and life. But yeah, after a quarter of a century, there's a lot of small and petty things that fade into irrelevance, while other things, such as relationships, remain. So it is that even though the two of us have never met, and I've never been that close to you or any of the CIC staff, this fragment of your update is the only thing I really care to comment on. I'm sorry to hear you're having a bad time, and I hope that whatever difficulties you are experiencing are transitory. I did notice in one of your other posts that you referred to your work with Star Citizen in the past tense, and I'm not sure if that's a recent development or something that already happened a while ago - one way or the other, I actually kind of hope that this is the thing that you're referring to with your current troubles, because things like that, as difficult as they seem at the time, are relatively easy compared to the many other difficulties that life can throw at us.
That's kind of you to say! It's nothing like that, just the same things I think we're probably all going through to some extent (sick parents, fears for the future, trying to figure out the unknowable nature of the universe, all the usual stuff!)

(I left Star Citizen back in 2022! It was a pretty cool adventure but it also certainly went on for a lot longer than I would've wanted.)
Hello LOAF, i'm mostly a lurker nowadays, though i come to this site, i think weekly. I sincerely hope things get better for you, and i believe, you're a very important part of this place. I always feel good at the CIC. I dont know any of you, but somehow, i do know all of you.
LLAP and happy anniversary!
Bravo, Ben! It is your love of Wing Commander that keeps us fans together. And it is your passion and eloquence that has helped make us better fans and better people. I am deeply appreciative of you and this site.
Firstly, I wanted to thank Ben for the heartfelt post - your dedication, passion, perseverance and love for Wing Commander has kept the spark alive in many fans, and I'm sure you had(and have) an influence on the industry. For most of us, WC would have been a fondly remembered fad from our youth, but here we are, almost daily discovering new aspects, trivia and history. Great job.

Secondly, I stumbled over another WC movie 25th anniversary article yesterday, in one of Germany's biggest tech journalism platforms. They even link back to wcnews. Someone's a fan.
I'm not a fan of the movie at all, but I celebrate people who enjoy whatever they love. Wing Commander 3 is my least favorite in the game series, but if it's somebody else's favorite, that's fine too and it can spark interesting discussions.
I don't like the movie as a movie (and I like the novels even less, my last playthrough of the series they were a real low point), but I do appreciate having something non interactive with short running length that I can stick on when I want to go back to Wing Commander but don't have the time. There's so many elements (the soundtrack especially) that do feel like they belong.