The real effects of toxic fan culture

Twenty years ago there was a new Star Wars film; the first for 15 years. The Phantom Menace was eagerly anticipated, as you may well imagine and indeed, news programmes at the time focused on how much people were looking forward to it.

In the film was a character completely animated by computer based off the performance of Ahmed Best. Jar Jar Binks was going to be the character to bring in a generation of younger fans, as well as being the main provider of the film’s comic relief. It was at the time an amazing break.

Then the internet kicked in.

In 1999 the internet wasn’t as it was now. It was still in the Wild West phase as it was growing but still somewhat regulated as social media was years away so most people were either blogging, or posting on forums to give the world their opinions. There was also Angelfire sites, but we’ll move on swiftly from those.

The backlash against Jar Jar wasn’t instant from  what I remember. It was a slow burn as fans realised that actually, the film was pretty poor and a mess. It was more of a slow rumble as fans turned on Jar Jar, with some turning on Best himself as if it was his responsibility that George Lucas cocked it up. By the end of 99 as we entered a new millennium, Jar Jar, and Best, were figures of fun and mockery of a scale and ferocity all too asimilar to the fan outrages that happen almost daily today. Thing is there’s a real world consequence of this as Best makes clear in the following video.

That’s right, a man nearly killed himself because he acted in a film and fans (A section of them at least) tore him down bit by bit for shits and giggles. There’s a section of fans who could not give a fuck about the human consequences because the backlash became more than just a laugh as it turned into institutionalised bullying.

Fast forward to 2019. This sort of this is happening daily. on a scale that we couldn’t imagine in 1999 and we’re seeing it get worse as Comics/Gamergate types target people in order to destroy their careers, even lives. Words have real world consequences and perhaps in order to create a better, kinder world we should learn the lesson of Ahmed Best and try to make things better than worse?

A word of appreciation for Red Letter Media and their Star Wars reviews…

I was first introduced to the joys of Red Letter Media via their Mr. Plinkett review of the first Star Wars prequel some years ago, and it’s the truth that their critique of The Phantom Menace is the best review of the film I’ve seen.

Mike Stoklasa and Jay Bauman are the pair of genius’s behind the entire thing. Sometimes their humour will offend people, but that’s good because sometimes people need to be offended. I’m sure most people will find something offensive in the reviews of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith but again, good, that’s a healthy thing. If you’re George Lucas I’m sure you’ll be especially offended….

There’s a lot of crap comedy or criticism on the internet,but this is a level above 99% of what’s out there. So settle in, grab a pizza roll and enjoy….

The strange case of George Lucas

George Lucas is the creator of Star Wars, and is a very,very, very,very, very wealthy man even before he sold the rights to Star Wars to Disney for billions of dollars so he could sit around spending the rest of his life counting his money. Sadly, Lucas decided to become a grumpy old man upon seeing The Force Awakens and decided that Disney and J.J Abrams had pissed all over his children.

This is a case of seller’s remorse. He’s seen something that he didn’t think of  be more popular than his own work and he’s thrown a strop, but here’s the thing about selling something: once it’s gone it’s not yours. Sure, you can comment upon it, but don’t act like a dick when people call you out and ask you if why you sold it for billions of dollars if you think you can do better?

But this is because for a long, long time nobody has ever called Lucas out or challenged him. He’s been surrounded by Yes Men/Women for far too long and when realising that he’s no longer at the centre of his own creation has kicked back in the media to try to make a case that he’s somehow been wronged, yet, unlike say, the case of Jack Kirby, or Alan Moore, or endless Disney cartoonists over the decades this isn’t a case of a Massive Corporation shafting a lowly creator. This is the case of a very powerful creator making a boat full of cash and getting pissy.

It’s bullshit basically, as are those people crying out for Lucas to be reinstated back at the head of the Star Wars sage. Tough, he sold out. Disney went off to do their own thing and that really is the end of it.

However this is an excuse to post the documentary of the making of The Phantom Menace. Apart from showing the fact that Lucas had turned into a terrible director by this point, it also shows the entire forelock tugging that went on around him in scenes that play like something written by Ricky Gervais in The Office. My favourite scenes are the one where Lucas tries to explain to his mate Steven Spielberg that the droid army is going to look cool with Spielberg doing that thing mates do of being nice, but at the same time thinking ‘fucking hell, really??’.

The second is after the first viewing of the film where everyone realises they’ve got a stinker on their hands. People’s faces are pale as they try to sort out a mess that never got sorted out because nobody had the bollocks to say, ‘actually George, that’s shite, let’s try something else”.

Anyhow, here’s the film, get ready to cringe….

Looking back at the Star Wars saga: Part One: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith

The new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, opens on the 17th of December and like most sad auld bastards that saw the first Star Wars film on a cold December night in 1977 I’m positively excited for a new film that looks like it might, just might, be decent at least.The reason for this severe trepidation is the rightfully maligned prequels that started with the complete mess that is The Phantom Menace.

I decided to go back and rewatch all the Star Wars films, and to be fair, the prize for utter ineptitude does go to Attack of the Clones (more of that in a bit) but The Phantom Menace isn’t as bad as I remember it, which to be fair, isn’t saying much as it’s still a terrible film. But I get what Lucas is trying to do by making it an accessible kids film (which is what Star Wars should be) but a film that opens talking about taxation and trade sanctions becuase there’s nothing I loved more as a kid than to talk about taxation and trade sanctions.

Now for a brilliant criticism of the prequels I suggest going to Red Letter Media and looking at their excellent (and funny) reviews because they’re the best reviews of the prequels I’ll ever see. For myself the problem I had with The Phantom Menace was that after seeing it with a load of mates when it first came out, I (like probably millions of others) didn’t say ‘it’s shite’ but lied and said I enjoyed it. That’s not to say there’s good in it. The pod race is fine.The end lightsabre battle is fine. There’s the odd decent scene,I even don’t mind Jar Jar Binks and certainly don’t hate the character because it’s a kids film, but it’s painfully, tediously boring.

The Phantom Menace is dull. For an action-adventure film that’s death but it is. From the opening crawl there’s a lot to take in that’s tedious because here’s the thing; I go to a Star Wars film to escape things like taxation, not have it as a major plot point!

Yet the film could have been saved if somebody had the bollocks to tell George Lucas his script was rubbish. I mean, at what point did he really think that Padme (a girl supposedly in her late teens) would fall for Anakin (a child not even in his teens) in a relationship that is the core of the prequels? It’s all a mess and I recommend watching the making of documentary because you can see it all unfolding in front of you as if it was an episode of The Office, but instead of Ricky Gervais, it’s George Lucas as it’s star.

I once drunkenly came up with a better plot years ago. Naboo could be blockaded because it has some MacGuffin it refuses to share with the bad guys and the bad guys are cracking down on Naboo because they’re bad guys. We’re introduced to Padme from the off as a wise beyond her years leader, who is rushed off planet to protect her but her chief pilot is killed by whatever is more effective than those shite robots, so young Anakin steps up to fly them out of the blockade and to any safe backwater where they can meet with the Jedi sent to help protect them and bring them back to Coruscant.

From the off we see Anakin as a ‘great pilot’, a good guy and Padme is taken by his heroism, plus you could play up a Princess and the Pauper vibe here so you’re making it clear this is a fantasy film as opposed to a tax return. When they meet up with the Jedi, they see the force is strong with him but they need to get off planet so you still have your pod race and all that before Darth Maul turns up and chases them across the galaxy as he tries to kill Padme.

Then the film goes pretty much as it does except you’ve curbed all the bollocks about L’il Anakin, and you’ve got a more exciting first half of a film that doesn’t involve people standing around in rooms talking and talking and talking.

But if The Phantom Menace is rubbish, Attack of the Clones is just inept.

Like the previous film there’s some decent set pieces that are fun I suppose, but on the whole I just look at it and think that poor old Ewan MacGregor thought these films would be more fun than they were. The big problem with Attack of the Clones is Hayden Christianson.He’s not a particularly bad actor, nor is he a good one but he’s a young actor here speaking some complete pish for dialogue not to mention being badly directed.

Lucas does at least realise his faults. He introduces Christopher Lee as Count Dooku as the central baddie here, but if Lucas had planned ahead he’d have stuck Dooku in the previous film as a bit of bait and switch. Make audiences watching this in order (episodes one onwards) think that Dooku is the baddie that turns into the Emperor and make Palpatine the real phantom menace. Of course if you’ve seen the films in order you’d know who the baddie really is, but it’d have been fun to see a mystery unfurl for fresh viewers. Nah, Lucas didn’t think of that. He just threw in lightsabre fights (oh that Yoda fight, dear god, that Yoda fight) , big creature battles and lots of shite that looks like cut scenes from an average PS2 game.

Attack of the Clones sucks. It’s a bad, bad, bad film. By now though Lucas has at least realised he needs to have his characters in certain places by the end of the prequels but because he’s clearly not planned all three films out carefully, he throws virtually everything into the last prequel, Revenge of the Sith.

This is the least bad film of the prequel. Again there’s some decent set pieces, but it’s a bad film. MacGregor at least has a bit to do as an actor, but he’s chronically wasted in these films but at least here he’s allowed to act a bit rather than just say his lines and then fuck off to have a wee cry in his trailer.

Problem is that by now thanks to Lucas being unable to think ahead, everything gets crammed into it’s running time so Anakin being a great pilot and a hero? Cram that in quickly. Padme being pregnant? Cram that in quickly. The end of the Clone Wars? Cram that in quickly. Anakin turning to the Dark Side? Cram that in quickly. The death of the Republic? Cram that in quickly?

Yet Lucas has time for a lightsabre duel between Anakin and Obi Wan that should have been the emotional centre of the prequels. It should have been epic instead of tiresome. At no point did I give a single flying fuck about anyone in this duel and instead I remember sitting in the cinema wondering if this was a good sign that the film could nearly be over and I could nip for a piss. Nope. Once the duel is over, there’s more exposition crammed into the final minutes of the film including the extraordinarily offensive Padme death scene where she just dies because the story requires her to. Here’s where my drunken idea idea at the time can be repeated. Padme and Anakin have a psychic link because although Anakin is strong with the force, Padme is also sensitive so they link with each other utterly. They could have set that up in the previous film so you’d have all these romantic scenes played out without the need for terrible dialogue. Just allow actors to act.

Anyhow this bond would weaken if one was threatened with death and you you could establish at the end of the second one that as Anakin is having his arse handed to him by Count Dooku that Padme is also affected. So going into the last one when Anakin turns to the Dark Side, it acts as a cancer in Padme that starts to kill her faster as Anakin commits more and more atrocities in the name of Darth Vader until the moment he puts on the armour and then she dies as the Dark Side infects her system completely. Effectively Anakin kills his beloved Padme but by this point Anakin is gone, replaced by Darth Vader. Play up the fantasy/fairytale aspect. It’d have been grim, but still within the rules set up by the series and for people watching it in order that haven’t seen the original films it sets Darth Vader up as one evil bastard.

But no, Padme just dies a pointless empty death. Darth Vader does his McBain scene, the films end, the credits roll and those of us with full bladders empty them in an act symbolic of the prequels themselves as after all they were full of piss too.

The Star Wars prequels are examples of dreadful filmmaking not to mention how to take a talented cast, not to mention a much loved idea and waste it because nobody’s sat down and even done a basic plot of all three films. People aren’t excited by endless scenes of people sat down at desks talking unless you’re David Mamet writing something like Glengarry Glen Ross then it’s dynamic but Lucas should never have been let near scripting or directing these films. They’re the cinematic equivalent of being stuck between floors in a lift knowing you’ll move eventually but you’ve not worked out when you will, but you’ll get there.

Thankfully signs are that J.J Abrams has at least worked out in advance with his collaborators where the new trilogy will go so there might be a bit more going on, but one thing to come out of revisiting the prequel trilogy is that I have no urge ever to see these films ever again.  I don’t think I could manage to sit through them again without falling over like a dead Padme.

Next up, the original trilogy gets rewatched…….