NELSONS COLUMN May The Hype Be Not With You

Back in 1999 I did something that seems amazing to me now: I avoided every ounce of hype for Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace . All of it. Everything. Completely.

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If you were around in 1999, which I’m sure most of you were, you may have some understanding of just how difficult that was to do. The hype was everywhere. It was relentless, unending, as plentiful as the very oxygen in the air. It wasn’t easy to keep my eyes away from it, I can tell you – the temptation to find out what George Lucas had in store for us was strong. Yet I held fast. I even roped in friends and colleagues to help. My workmates at the time, for example, understandingly turned off the radio in our office every time the Radio 1 DJs mentioned the movie. Which they did a lot, judging by the long silences as we worked; hell, the station even flew reporters out to the USA to chat to fans camping outside cinemas in anticipation, interviewing them as though they were celebrities.

When the magic day finally came and I queued myself outside Torquay’s ODEON cinema to see The Phantom Menace , I kept up my spoiler-free mission: I stood with my back deliberately turned to the posters. Yup, I didn’t even see the bloody poster before I went in. I walked into that film as virginal as a nun. Consequently, the resultant experience blew me away. To this day, 14 years later, I remember walking out of that cinema and having absolutely no words to explain what I’d just seen.

(Later, upon reflection, I found a few: “What the hell was with that bloody CGI Jamaican thing?” and “Hmm, I really fancy Ewan McGregor now. Let’s go and see it another five times so I can ogle him some more…”)

Anyway, that was then. This is now. We have more Star Wars films on the way, and as hard as it was to ignore the hype all those years ago, it’s 100% impossible today. While I’m not going to take the “no spoilers” approach this time – God help anybody who does – I’m actually already starting to suffer from something I would never have expected to happen: Star Wars cynicism. And it’s not mine, either.

This isn’t like when The Phantom Menace hit cinemas in 1999, when expectation was so high that people slept night after night on sidewalks so that they could see it first, and reporters from foreign countries flew out to interview them live on air because it was newsworthy. Back then, before so many of us felt let down by Lucasfilm, we were genuinely excited. Hell, I was so excited I shaped my entire life around it. No, this isn’t like that at all. When Star Wars: Episode VII and its brethren start hitting screens, many people will expect these new films to be crap.

Some so-called Star Wars fans will actually want them to be crap, just so that they can go around telling everybody, “I told you so!” when the first reviews come in. These are the people currently spreading doom and gloom all over the internet, complaining endlessly about who’s going to star (“It’ll be rubbish to see an old Han Solo, it’s a terrible idea!”), why the choice of screenwriter is wrong (“Sure, Toy Story 3 was good, but Michael Arndt won’t be able to handle these characters properly!”) and why Disney was evil to even consider making new films (“They don’t care about the franchise, they just want to make money from the merchandise!” – as though the original Star Wars didn’t invent movie merchandising all by itself, of course).

You’ve seen these people around, I’m sure. And hey, some of these opinions are valid gripes. But the thought of years of this – endless, wearying years filled with complaints and nitpicking and whining… Well, I don’t think I can cope.

I adore the original Star Wars trilogy; like many of us, it was a huge part of my childhood. I was like a kid on Christmas morning when I queued up for The Phantom Menace . (Sure, it wasn’t quite what I expected Santa to leave in my stocking, but I’m over that now.) I still remember the excitement, the expectation. It was delicious. I want to feel it again. Hell, I want everybody to feel it again, or even to feel it for the first time! But this incessant over-analysis and cynicism for a project that won’t be here for years makes me want to weep. Where’s the wonder? Where’s the joy? Can’t we just sit quietly on our hands and bottle it all up for a while, then let it all out when the first trailers and previews arrive? Nobody will go into these films as a virgin, unspoiled, innocent and unaffected by the hype – that’s a given. But can anybody at all sit down in a cinema with something even rarer: an open mind ?

Time to Derren Brown yourself

There’s only one thing to do: forget Star Wars completely. Scrub it out of your life. Pretend these films aren’t happening, box them up, store them in your mind-closet, and only open the door again when that first proper trailer arrives. As far as I’m concerned, this is the only way to survive this long wait without going batshit insane. It’s either that or you’ll pick up all the cynicism by osmosis, whether you want to or not. Ignore the people telling you “The films will be crap!” Ignore the (significantly fewer) people telling you “The films will rock!” Just clear your mind, take a deep breath and pretend they’re not the films you’re looking for. Yet, anyway. One day, hopefully, they will be.

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