Back on December 19, 2000, the independent radio program The Best Show On WFMU appeared to have scored a major scoop. An anonymous caller claiming to have worked extensively on both Star Wars — Episode I: The Phantom Menace and the upcoming Episode II before he was “unceremoniously let go” by “control freak” George Lucas midway through the production over creative differences spoke to host Tom Scharpling for over an hour, discussing the scope of the project and answering listeners’ questions.
Among the bombshells the disgruntled ex-Lucasfilm employee revealed: Episode II’s official title would be Veil of the Sith, the Clone Wars would begin, an entire clan of Fett mercenaries would play a major role in the story, Jar Jar would return in a grittier, darker capacity as the Chief of Naboo Security, and there would be intense scenes of violence and intimate sexuality previously unseen in a Star Wars movie. At one point the leaker adds that the movie in its present cut would almost certainly get an R rating. Apparently Lucas’ old friend Francis Ford Coppola had convinced him to emulate the maverick style of younger filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson, in order to reconnect with the youth culture he’d abandoned with the kid-friendly Phantom Menace.
Needless to say, the caller was a troll. But not just any troll — it was Scharpling’s friend Peyton Reed, the director of the just-released Bring It On, and many, many years later, a little heist comedy called Ant-Man. (Scharpling had a cameo in the latter, but it was cut for time.) Reed copped to the fact on a recent appearance on the new Internet-based incarnation of the Best Show in July, thus resolving a lingering mystery among longtime listeners of the program. (The episode itself was pulled from the WFMU online archive after too many users tried to listen to it and crashed the station’s site; it’s still missing today.)
Throughout the interview, Reed is utterly convincing and never drops out of character. Veil of the Sith sounds like a much better movie than Attack of the Clones, full of Empire Strikes Back-style darkness and mystery. Reed does a great job of subtly interweaving plot developments that had already been revealed to the public, along with popular rumors and outright bullshit. It all comes off as fairly credible. Some fansites actually fell for the interview; at one point a rather pissed-off sounding caller from Marin claiming to be the director of an official Episode II documentary asks Reed where he gets off ruining the movie for everybody. (“What does ‘Orange Ballast’ mean to you?” he says at one point, ominously.) Whether or not he was actually working for Lucasfilm, Reed handles him remarkably well. In fact, the whole thing is totally free of condescension or disdain. (Though it should be noted that Scharpling’s comedy partner Jon Wurster does call in a couple of times as an overzealous but very confused Star Wars fan.)
And what’s really interesting about the segment, and what raises it above the level of a goofy prank, is the way it provides an x-ray into the mindset of fans at the end of the Clinton Era. Anxious but hopeful, torn between unconditional love for the franchise and the fear that its creator had utterly lost his soul and his talent in the wake of a zillion merchandising deals, these folks really love Star Wars and hope that Phantom Menace was just a fluke. And one could argue that Reed and Scharpling are only feeding into their frustration, but it’s pretty clear that they really like the franchise too, or at least they used to. It’s especially relevant in light of the anticipation surrounding the release of The Force Awakens; as in 2000, fans are hoping that the “real” Star Wars will return, even though Lucas has nothing to do with the new movie, and it’s being produced and released by the largest purveyor of kids’ entertainment in the known universe. It’s hard to imagine that there won’t be some hardcore fans who come out of it feeling let down.
Anyway, with Force Friday coming up in a couple of days (and yes, I pre-ordered my copy of Aftermath), listening to stuff like this does a great job of defusing the hype. And if you’re in San Francisco or Los Angeles this week, or just live there, consider checking out Scharpling and Wurster’s live show in S.F. tomorrow, or L.A. on Saturday. If I were there, I’d go, and I’d bring all of you along. They’re really about the funniest guys around (and there may be puppets involved). In fact, if Peyton Reed ever gets around to making a gritty Jar Jar-centered political thriller, I hope he hires them as extras in the Coruscant underworld or something. And that they both... HAVE TWO HORNS.