This thing is also deeply covered in my own opinions. If you see "I" or "me" then it is Brian’s opinion you’re reading. If you see an actual name, or "he" or "they", you know it’s John and / or Jeff.
Brian Finds His Purpose
Sometime on a damp February weekend in 2002,your Boldly Unemployed Web Programmer was drinking his coffee and reading up on the latest news from that fine site Fark. I came across an article discussing two Star Wars fans. Seems they’re waiting to see the next George Lucas movie "Attack of the Clones", which was due to be released on May 16. In case you’re bad at math like me, that was about four months away. My first impression was that these were two of the sorriest individuals I had heard about since Junior High.
Then I thought about it a little more. The article was centered around a "gift" sent to the fans by a radio station in New York. What was the gift? A stripper. So while I was sitting here in my sweatpants, drinking coffee and making fun of them, these guys were setting a record and getting visited by strippers. It didn’t take long for me to realize which of us was the most pathetic.
Me. I meant me. Will you at least try to keep up?
I read a little closer, and realized that these guys were sitting next to the Cinerama theater, in downtown Seattle! That’s about a 20 minute bus ride from where I live, and — well, it’s not like I was doing anything. Why not go downtown and interview them? I could bring my camera, get a tape recorder, and ask a few pointed questions, such as "Is 'Attack of the Clones' a stupid name?" or "Was the stripper really cute?".
Yes! Today, I had a purpose. No longer would my activity be limited to surfing the Web and scratching myself. Now I could go out and do something for the good of the online community! I knew that triumph would be mine.
So, with my mind made up and my coffeepot empty, I got dressed. Out into the world! First, I had to buy that tape recorder, since I am very very bad at taking notes. As long as I was at the store, I picked up a DVD copy of "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace". Then was a brief stop back at home for this thing they call "research". Who are these guys? What is their purpose? Is another stripper due today? Who is that really cute girl talking on her cell phone?
Hmm … what? Interview? Oh yeah, that’s right. I got distracted.
I spent the next half-hour drinking 16 ounces of courage — with a little cream and sugar — working on the questions I would be asking these guys. I am normally a very quiet and reserved person, and I don’t usually do things like this unless I’m drunk. Even then, it’s too hard for me to think while drunk, so these things are still easy to avoid. There you have it folks: boredom is more dangerous than alcohol. Consider yourself warned.
As a last-ditch stalling effort, I tested my new tape recorder. It sucked. Unless the recorder was placed in their mouth during the interview, I could never decipher what’s being played on it. Crap. That meant I would have to take notes. I nearly backed down at this point, until I remembered that there was nothing else for me to do on this particular Saturday afternoon.
Muttering "courage" under my breath every step of the way, I walked the last few blocks to the Cinerama theater. There they were, sitting all snug and wrapped up in a Star Wars blanket. Lame? Maybe, but it was cold and starting to rain. At that point, I was thinking about stealing their Star Wars blanket for warmth — plus it’d make a nice trophy. My Purpose took over at that point. I stumbled up to them and stuttered out something clever, like "Would you guys mind helping get some cheap publicity for my site with an interview?"
They seemed a little put off at first. That makes sense. Some stranger walks up out of nowhere and wants to interview you? At this point, they could have said "No". I would have gone back home, and written a much shorter article. No complaints. Well, not many.
Lucky for me, they rejected their good judgement and agreed to the "interview". As I said, my tape recorder was a lemon, so we won’t have the classic "Question:Answer" style normally used in interviews. I’ll just go over my notes and try to make sense of them.
To be certain of the best answers, I made them swear on my DVD copy of "The Phantom Menace":
Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, unless a lie would be more entertaining, so help you Lucas?
They both swore, and the interview had begun.
Waiting For Star Wars
The two fans in question are Jeff Tweiten and John Guth. According to my copious notes — humor me — Jeff is "the hat", and John is "orange."
They are both members of the Seattle Star Wars Society. What is their motivation? Well, I didn’t think to ask, so here’s a quote from the Seattle Star Wars Society front page.
Waiting for Star Wars is an art project designed to capture the evolution and journey of waiting for a single event (Star Wars Episode II). It will be captured by time-indexed photographs taken every hour as well as pictures and video of the people we interact with.
This project also explores the issue of the pursuit of happiness. It asks how much will a person sacrifice for a temporary acquisition, and questions whether a person can be happy with just food and shelter in pursuit of that acquisition. It also asks, will society as a whole fear or accept people for not desiring the things they desire, or for desiring things they consider frivolous or ridiculous. Finally, as we move into the next millennium, I wonder if our fast-paced society has become unwilling to slow down and wait for the things that bring us the greatest joy. This wait will test our mettle as we attempt to do just that.
First order of business: the Jar-Jar Binks controversy. Was his existence a stain on the Star Wars Universe?
Jeff took this one, while John typed away on his laptop. "It was Bill Clinton who said 'Don’t pass judgement on Jar-Jar' …" – and then my notes are all smudged by the Seattle rain. He said he was quoting The Onion, but I haven’t been able to find any references at that site. … sigh … Ah well. If you folks wanted hard hitting journalism, you should have gone to CNN, or maybe Fark. Hell, you’d probably have better luck reading Garfield_!
To my surprise, they were both employed. In fact, the reason for John’s quiet behavior was the fact that he was working from his laptop while they were sitting there on the sidewalk talking to strangers. They have jobs and they can sit on their butts for 4 1/2 months? Lucky bastards! On the other hand, my unemployment means that I can follow a random whim and interview strange people in the middle of the afternoon.
I know that I get bothered after being in line for 15 minutes and somebody sees fit to try and get ahead of me. How would it feel if you’ve been sitting there for, say, 3 months, and some guy sits next to you for the next month and a half and steals your spot? John looked up from his work long enough to mumble something that sounded painful and involved genital mutilation. So don’t cut in front of John. Ever. Jeff’s reply was a little less direct, but still ominous: "We do have our own brute squad, trained in Jedi ways." I’m not sure if the brute squad would break your kneecaps or just try to convince you that this is not the movie you’re looking for. I leave it up to your own judgment whether the risk is worth the reward.
The other rule stands, though. Don’t cut in front of John. Ever.
Their efforts have resulted in some pretty intense name-calling on the Internet. I admit that I took some small part in it before thinking about the whole "they meet a stripper while I pick my nose" issue. The few tame comments tossed out by me truly pale in comparison to the slings and arrows to be found on the Seattle Star Wars discussion board. What about the "real world"? Do they get strange people coming up off the street and harassing them? Besides me, of course.
They have gotten a little bit of flak every once in a while, but Jeff has been called worse while jaywalking. You could tell by the looks on both of their faces that it was not an issue, and had not affected their mission at all.
A few people online even had harsh words for the stripper that visited them, calling her "butterface" — "She’s cute, but her face!". I know how deceptive the camera can be. For example, I’m 6 foot tall, packed with 240 pounds of muscle, bearing chiseled good looks and a winning smile. Yet somehow the camera always shows me as around 5 foot 6 inches, kinda pasty, and a little goofy-looking. So what about it? Did the stripper have butterface?
Both John and Jeff seemed a little startled by the question, like it was something that hadn’t even occurred to them. Jeff started a line of argument that began "I’ve seen uglier strippers", but thought better of it and changed tactics. They both agreed that the stripper was quite attractive — "very cute" — and theorized that the people who were making these comments were the same folks who would paste Natalie Portman’s face on the stripper’s body. I wish I’d thought to ask the lady’s name, but we shall have to call her Nice Stripper Lady. Nice Stripper Lady, I salute you and your efforts to bring sunshine to the lives of these dedicated fans!
When Fanboys Collide
Enough about them and Nice Stripper Lady. Let’s discuss the Star Wars movies. Before we go further, I have to confess to you, Dear Reader, that I was one of "those guys". I saw Star Wars as a kid 13 or 14 times in the theater, and countless times on cable or video. There was the mountain of action figures, my discovery and interpretation of Taoism in terms of The Force, and I learned my grammar from Yoda, I did. Even though I’m not as dedicated as I once was — I eventually decided girls were cuter than ewoks — there’s still a bit of the fanboy in me. I will see each of the new Star Wars movies in the theater, whether they suck or not, simply because I am going to Hell if I don’t. So while I don’t have the fanaticism of John and Jeff, I felt like we could talk shop about Star Wars.
Despite being a fanboy, or maybe because of it, I was disappointed by "The Phantom Menace". The kids around me were getting a thrill very similar to what I had upon first seeing Star Wars, but it just left me empty. I wanted to know if I was the only one, or if others felt this way. Are the movies getting better, worse, or maintaining some cosmic consistency?
This was obviously a dilemma, and I could tell that they had chewed over it themselves. Finally, Jeff declared that "The Phantom Menace" suffered from the fact that it had been 14 years since the last Star Wars movie, and Lucas could have trimmed quite a bit of the "fat" and ended up with a better film. Still, they’d heard some good things about the "Attack of the Clones" movie, so the final decision was that the saga was maintaining consistency. I hope so, but time will be the final judge of that.
There was another issue for me: the movie titles. "The Phantom Menace"? "Attack of the Clones"? It seemed to me that Lucas was getting his ideas from rejected titles of 1950’s B-grade sci-fi. What did these guys think of the names?
John shared that he had been initially unhappy with the title "The Phantom Menace", but it had grown on him over the years. That seemed unlikely with "Attack of the Clones" — which I keep mispronouncing as "Attack of the Clowns." He felt that "Clone Wars" would have been a much more effective title. Personally, I think it was rejected by the marketing department because "Star Wars: Clone Wars" might have confused stupid people.
At this point, I realized that there had been too much of a focus on the negative aspects of the movies. It was time for some positive feedback. What about Ewan MacGregor’s Obi-Wan accent — did it kick ass or what? Personally, I think that the quality of his performance reflected quite nicely on his acting abilities. Of course he’s done better in other movies, but this is Star Wars. It’s not high art or anything like that. Plus it’s cool that Ewan’s uncle played the longest-lived bit part in the original trilogy, Wedge Antilles. Wedge was one of my favorite characters, simply by virtue of surviving through the whole thing without being laden with The Force, rakish charm, or Muppet Invulnerability that saved all the main characters.
Jeff had "no problem" with it. He obviously did not share my unhealthy fascination for Mr. MacGregor. John was a little more forthcoming, and stated that it worked very well and he could believe that he was looking at a young Alec Guiness on the screen.
Cover your eyes, kids, this question is about the darker side of a fan’s love for a movie.
Princess Leia or Queen Amidahla?
It was a split decision, with Jeff choosing Queen Amidahla and John choosing Princess Leia. John was confused at first, thinking that I was asking which he would prefer to have as a sister. I felt really dirty when explaining to him that I meant in a sick-geek-fantasy sort of way. I was also suddenly aware of all the 10 year olds standing in line waiting to see "Fellowship of the Ring". Hopefully I won’t go to Hell for that one.
A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall
They were obviously determined to stay firmly planted where they were, no matter the cost. Personally, I was almost ready to leave because of steadily increasing rainfall. I had to find out what might get them out of the line. What would it be? Offers of sex? Another big Seattle earthquake? Perhaps an alien invasion?
Of the options given, they both agreed that an alien invasion would probably get them to re-evaluate their mission. However, they also felt the need to add one: a $10,000 donation to the Seattle Star Wars Junior Jedi Program, which is a charity for needy children. So there you go, folks. If you get tired of hearing about John and Jeff, and have $10,000 handy — or can find 10,000 people with $1.00 perhaps — you can get them off the streets.
Until Episode 3, anyways.
They had mentioned setting a record. I was wondering if they were expecting any money from the Guinness people for their hard work. Not only were they not expecting that sort of reward, but if they got it, it would go to charity. Ah, how the employed can afford to be generous.
No idea what would happen if the other Guinness people showed up.
If you hadn’t guessed by this point, I am an odd person. I felt bad that these nice guys were getting such harsh words from people who thought they were stupid geeks doing a pointless thing. So, to protect them from those who would say that they were the saddest humans on the planet, I asked for their autograph.
Yes. I asked for the autographs of two guys whose only claim to fame is sitting for 4 1/2 months waiting to see a Star Wars movie with a horrible name. And I got it! They signed my specially-purchased "Phantom Menace" DVD, and it will sit in my movie collection to show to the neighbors' grandchildren. I’d show it to my grandchildren, but what do you think the odds are at this point that I’m ever going to get that lucky?
I was out of questions and it was starting to really rain — as opposed to the ordinary rain we get the rest of the time in Seattle. A nice yet somewhat bemused lady took our picture. She had witnessed most of the interview, and was apparently having trouble trying to decide which of us was in more desperate need of a life: the guys waiting for the movie, or the guy who comes down for their autograph. Still, I think we made her day.
Closer examination of the photo reveals that some other people were pretty amused by the whole exchange.
To thank them for their time, I ran across the street to Ralph’s Grocery, and fetched some Gatorade and American Spirit cigarettes. We shook hands, I wished them luck, and starting trudging back to the bus stop.
I was cold. I was wet. My butt was cold and wet. I just wanted to be home where there was a roof, coffee, and a computer. After a period of time that amounted to "too long", the bus showed up, and I dragged my drenched self to my apartment. My Purpose had been fulfilled. All that remained was to type it up and post it on the site.
I’d like to take this moment to thank John Guth and Jeff Tweiten for humoring someone who could easily have been a dangerous psychopath.
What do I say now? "May The Force Be With You?" Sure, that’ll work. Now where did I put my coffee?