Originalism is more influential than ever in the federal judiciary and legal academia in 2023, yet it presents as many puzzles as ever, too. What significance should we attribute to Justice Kentanji Brown Jackson’s relatively favorable remarks about originalism? Should the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs be viewed as originalist? Why would some scholars desiring to defend progressive and inclusive case law seek to recharacterize evolving contemporary norms as a product of historically grounded originalism? How should we conceive of originalism when self-described originalist scholars maintain that their version of theoretical originalism should be dissociated from the methods or analyses put forward in practice by self-identified originalist judges? From an interdisciplinary perspective provided by scholarly work in the academic field of fan studies, dynamics like these are not so puzzling after all.

For at least the past half-century, originalism has played a prominent role in U.S. constitutional theory. For a quite similar length of time, Star Wars has been a popular culture phenomenon in the United States. Both involve highly contestable issues of interpretation of an iconic text, including the scope and solidity of its initial meanings and the evolution of the text itself over time. Both involve publicly prominent historical narratives that place disproportionate emphasis on certain individuals and influences, nostalgia for an inauthentic past in service of present objectives, and an undercurrent of backlash against changes that bring more inclusion and pluralism. Both demonstrate, in their own ways, the inevitability of interpretive disagreement and the impossibility of divining a singular objectively provable meaning when the text at issue not only contains numerous generalities and indeterminacies, but also carries a profound emotional, cultural, and personal significance to its interpreters and the broader community in which their interpretive analysis occurs. Consequently, while it may be more intuitive to associate a global media franchise like Star Wars with analysis of fandom, the dynamics present in originalism have many significant parallels. When viewed through the lens of this comparison, we can ask the question: is originalism a fandom?