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May the 4th be with you: Annual conference celebrates ‘Star Wars’

DePaul’s Pop Culture Conference brings together academics and fans to discuss the sci-fi franchise


An iStock image of a lego Luke Skywalker and Darthvader fighting with lego lightsabers.
"Star Wars" was first released in 1977 and has since become a phenomenon studied by pop culture scholars (iStock/LeventKonuk).
Nearly 50 years ago, audiences were first transported to a galaxy far, far away through the original "Star Wars" trilogy. After 10 more films, many television series, novels, comics and videogames, “Star Wars” has grown into a beloved pop culture staple. This makes it the perfect subject for the 2024 DePaul Pop Culture Conference.

This year’s conference will take place on May 4 or, as fans cleverly like to call it, May the 4th (be with you). The annual conference combines fandom and academia through panels, activities, keynote speakers and vendors. It will take place in the Richard M. and Maggie C. Daley Building on DePaul’s Loop Campus. ​​

“Academics tend to talk to academics, and fans tend to talk to fans, but we don't often talk to each other. This event works to put all these people in the same room,” says media and pop culture Professor Paul Booth, who has been organizing the conference since 2013. ​

DePaul’s first Pop Culture Conference in 2013 centered on the popular science fiction show “Doctor Who,” then celebrating its 50th anniversary. Since then, the gathering has celebrated “Star Trek” and “Sherlock Holmes,” along with broader pop culture categories like superheroes and slashers.

Paul Booth speaking into a microphone
Paul Booth is a professor of media and pop culture  (DePaul University/Thomas Vangel).

“My philosophy behind the Pop Culture Conference is that everybody can learn anything from anybody else. We need to do away with notions of academic or fan privilege in pop culture studies,” Booth says.

A fun-filled schedule
Participants can attend panels hosted by film and television professionals, academics, authors and fan creators. This year’s keynote speakers include Claudia Gray, a young adult fantasy author, and Carmelo Esterrich, a professor of humanities at Columbia College Chicago.

This is the first year the conference will be hybrid, allowing both panelists and attendees to participate in person or online. This year’s event will also feature a new photo op where attendees can take pictures with stormtroopers and immerse themselves in the world of “Star Wars.” ​

Every year, the Chicago-based conference hosts a fundraiser for charities around the world such as Vigilant Love, Inside Circle and Tŷ Hafan. Since its inception, the conference has raised nearly $5,000 for various charities. This year’s fundraiser will raise money for SPCA Louisiana.

Appreciating ‘Star Wars’ as a cultural and scholarly phenomenon
The story of “Star Wars” is a classic hero’s journey, a structure that lies at the center of human storytelling. The franchise combines this model with impressive worldbuilding that invites viewers to completely immerse themselves in the fictional world.​

“When we’re looking at something from ‘Star Wars,’ like the ‘Mandalorian’ or ‘Kenobi,’ we are seeing the tip of an iceberg. Our minds create the other 90% that’s underwater and it draws people in to imaginatively play in this world,” Booth explains.

This vast and impactful web of stories is what has allowed the property to remain popular for decades. Although the series naturally evolves over time, the original trilogy continues to get passed down through families as parents show their kids their favorite sci-fi movie.

According to Booth, the “Star Wars” franchise’s long-lasting impact on pop culture is undeniable.  ​

​“There are some media franchises that just stick around, and I think ‘Star Wars’ is one of them,” Booth says.

More information on the DePaul Pop Culture Conference is available here​.

Jade Walker is a student assistant of media relations and communications in University Communications.