When The Shit Hits The Fan

The Black Dog Podcast’s Lee Medcalf has one major bugbear when it comes to fandom; all of it. From his chair on GeekPlanetOnline’s front porch he likes to shake his walking stick and yell at the kids to get off his damned lawn; we’ve tried asking him to stop, but he has a nasty bite when riled…

Okay at the time of writing I am currently sticking my head in the sand and weeping bitter tears as geeks everywhere online set their credibility back by about 30 years and every five seconds mention the date in an oh so humorous way... May the Fourth Be With You... A gag that worked once back in 1978.

But I'm not one for tired unfunny memes; just mention "Losing The Game" (Google it) and watch me instinctively reach for a chair to batter you with. Similar reactions can be gained by mentioning that "the cake is a lie" or posting Rebecca Black videos up on Facebook in an ironic way.

But I digress. Yes, it's May 4th at the time of writing, and here we are once again, hanging on edge as the Star Wars website suddenly updates and promises some big news. Speculation explodes, is it a new series? the oft rumoured live action show? A new set of films? Oh so many questions.

Except from me.

Now a little bit of back history here before I go on. I am a child of the 70s. My first live action cinema experience was going with my mum to see Star Wars in January 1978 (in the UK Star Wars was released just after Boxing Day 77). As a film experience, no other film has ever had such a profound effect on me and my nascent sci-fi tendencies. It inspired me, given my eventual career in visual FX and later TV production, probably more than I'll ever truly appreciate.

As a child I had every toy, watched the films, especially the sublime The Empire Strikes Back about a million times on Betamax video, then VHS, then widescreen VHS, then special edition widescreen VHS, then laserdisc, then eventually DVD.

When I started work at Elstree Film Studios, the first thing I did was visit the stage which housed the only fully constructed Millennium Falcon during the filming of Empire Strikes Back and during my lunch breaks I would sit and watch the construction of the George Lucas stage taking place, wondering if it would ever house Episode 1 if it was ever made.

I am an apologist for the prequel trilogy (OK so sue me!): I see and appreciate the faults but I also enjoy them for what they are, rather than looking at them cynically (which is a unique perspective for me to take). And one of the proudest moments of my career was working with Rob Gianino, lead animator and the rest of Lucasfilm Animation team on Star Wars: The Clone Wars and at the end of my stint, getting a superb email about my work on the job from Rob that will forever inhabit my CV under references. Hell, I printed the damn thing up on a A0 sized poster with the mail formatted into the all too familiar Star Wars opening crawl format and then pasted it to a post stuck on my desk.

Clearly Star Wars runs thick through my veins.

So why is it that this year, when clearly there was some hoopla surrounding the galaxy far, far away did I reject it? Looking back, the last 12 months have seen me distance myself or at the very least not indulge my Star Wars love and I think I know why now. Especially given the recent brainless May 4th meme honking that has plagued my online social networking experience today.

Star Wars isn't about the films any more. It's about the product and the fans it is sold to.

Okay not a ground breaking revelation by any means. After all I'm sure a few of you reading this have quite rightly drawn a line in the sand years ago where George Lucas and his money hoover are concerned.

However, the reason it was a revelation to me was because, thanks to my aforementioned work with Lucasfilm themselves, I've peeked behind the curtain and seen the business that powers the series. And just to be clear, I cast no aspersions on the people I've met, they are all fine, friendly, lovely people. But for a long time fan, seeing the business side so clearly, rubbed the remaining magic off. In much the same way as a young child will have that moment of realisation that a Teletubby is just a guy in a suit, because that's a zip up the back of Tinky Winky's head, or spotting Santa stepping out the grotto at the shopping mall, whipping off the beard and having a fag.

Anyway, once the final flakes of Dagobah pixie dust were rubbed from my eyes, I found myself on the outside looking in at the fandom I had, until recently, been a part of. And I realised that despite our love/hate relationship with the "Holy Trilogy", as Kevin Smith once referred to it, it is we, the fans, that are as much to blame for the state of the franchise as George Lucas himself.

Because, as I mentioned earlier, it is about the product. We, the fans, just seem to lap up any old rubbish with the show logo on it. From dog costumes to plastic lightsabers and Haynes manuals for Star Destroyers, we just devour that stuff like a pack of hungry wolves, with barely a consideration for quality. Then shortly afterwards we get a backlash of buyer's remorse and it's back on the Star Wars slamming wagon.

And the result of all this is a vicious circle and self-fulfilling prophecy. Because, despite what we might say online about Star Wars, the baseline profit figures on Lucasfilm's bank balance suggest that the complainers are either a small, yet vocal, minority or lying about their objection to the series and its cynical merchandising strategy.

In any case, the net result is that the continual purchasing of Star Wars merchandise sends a single, clear message to the powers that be. Essentially, that what they are doing is right and loved by the fans. So why change the strategy?

So we as fans are, with our wallets, endorsing Star Wars in its current and future form. We might complain that we want the bloody original Han shot first edition of A New Hope yet, the Blu Ray release won't have them and despite this we will, en masse, race out on day of release and buy these hated special editions, instantly catapulting them to the top of the Blu Ray sales chart for the rest of the year. Again, sending the very clear message to Lucasfilm, that actually, the issue with the Special Editions is something of a non issue really. Similarly, when the much maligned Episode I: The Phantom Menace arrives in 3D IMAX format next year, it is guaranteed that it will make a bazillion dollars, despite the fact that according to any internet talkback worth its salt, The Phantom Menace represents a cinematic war crime on a scale, equivalent to the nuking of Hiroshima whilst shooting baby seals in the face with a shotgun.

And so it is this realisation that finally caused me to take a (reluctant) step away from Star Wars because, as with anything, complaining about something will only get you so far and complaining on the internet is like moaning loudly about erosion, into the grand canyon. As any consumer advice show will tell you, you need to vote and send a message with your wallet.

You don't like the special editions? Then don't buy them on Blu Ray when they're released. Hate the prequels? Then don't buy them on Blu Ray either and certainly don't go to see the bloody things "out of curiosity" when they reappear in 3D IMAX etc. Lucasfilm, like any business, responds to market forces. You buy their stuff, they'll keep making it to the accepted standard. You stop, then they'll respond in kind. Lucas himself may be rolling in cash but the company needs cash-flow like any company and they can't afford to make something that no one wants or likes.

And if we genuinely don't like Star Wars in its current state, as the internet newsgroups, forums and general social media tittle tattle would suggest, then we have to stop being the enabler in this relationship with our favourite franchise. Because, in the end, in this situation we are our own worst enemy, lamenting the state of the series as a whole online and firing out that laziest of internet memes about George Lucas raping our childhood; yet the click from the post button has barely left the mouse before we're buying a Sideshow Collectibles statuette of Darth Maul.

It may be 30 years too late, but I am finally making a stand and saying enough is enough. Who's with me?



Lee is currently rocking back and forth hugging himself as he has just noticed a rather nice collection of Sideshow Collectibles animated-style Star Wars statues.