MY TRIVIAL PURSUITS

A long time ago in an internet very similar to the one you're enjoying now, I wrote a somewhat regular blog called "I Am Your Father" on the starwars.com boards.  The following entry discussed the best and nerdiest summer job ever.  It was originally published on July 9, 2009.

 

Q: What is Obi-Wan Kenobi's first line in the Phantom Menace?

A: "I have a bad feeling about this."

 

My son recently exclaimed, "Daddy, you know everything about Star Wars!"  As a lifelong fan of the galaxy far, far away it's hard not to feel a bit warm and fuzzy when your four-year-old makes a pronouncement like that with amazement and pride in his voice.  But there was a two month span when I knew SO much about Star Wars, it was almost overwhelming.  This was the summer of 1999 when I co-wrote Star Wars Episode I Trivial Pursuit.

 

Q: Who describes R2-D2 as "an extremely well put together little droid"?

A: Captain Panaka

 

In early May 1999, I was writing script coverage for an independent film company.  My days were often filled with evaluating the marketability of very low budget, sometimes very badly written scripts which, if lucky, would be produced as direct to video horror movies.  I'd literally write things like, "it's not clear why the glowing meteorite in the catacombs under the Girl's Dormitory would affect the motivations of the troll creatures."  So needless to say, my heart skipped a beat when my friend Randi called me from her then job at Hasbro asking if I might be available to work on a Star Wars project.  

 

With just weeks to go before the release of Episode I, the initial tidal wave of merchandise connected to the film had already hit shelves and licensees were hard at work on the next round of Darth Maul branded consumables.  Among these, Randi explained, would be a new edition of Star Wars Trivial Pursuit that would cover ONLY the new movie, but be designed to work in tandem with the existing classic trilogy edition.  Apparently all of the usual Trivial Pursuit writers were hard at work on a Major League Baseball edition leaving the door open to outside writers.  Rob, the Project Leader at Hasbro, had put out the internal call that "if anyone knows anyone who can write, has a sense of humor, and likes Star Wars, have them contact me."  I couldn't assemble a sample packet of my work and write up some sample questions fast enough.  

 

Q: What sticky feature of the Opee sea killer helps it capture prey?

A: Its tongue

 

I was lucky enough to be selected as part of the surprisingly small writing team.  Rob, myself, and one other writer would each be responsible for 100 questions per week.  At the end of the week, we'd see what the others had created so as not to overlap content moving forward.  We'd do this for six weeks, which means that we'd each write 600 questions over the course of the job and create 1,800 questions all together.  This collection would be whittled down to a final tally of about 1,050 questions which would make it to the final game cards.  All covering 133 minutes of film.  You do the math.

 

Q: Pods from what classic sci-fi film make a cameo in Watto's junkyard?

A: "2001: A Space Odyssey"

 

Since we were going to start writing before Episode I was released, there was the question of … how?  Would we see the movie early?  Would we get to go to Skywalker Ranch?!  For a few glorious days it appeared that we might at least get access to a screener in a secure guarded location until some wet blanket realized that the screenplay had already been published and was readily available at our local bookstore.  I had kept myself relatively spoiler free leading up until the movie's release (no thanks to the soundtrack's "Qui-Gon's Noble End" track title), so hunkering down with the screenplay before seeing the magic on the big screen really wasn't my optimal plan for diving back into the Skywalker saga after a 16 year break.  Nonetheless, I cracked the spine and started to dig in.

 

Now despite all that time writing script coverage, my script assessments were certainly subjective and potentially fallible.  There were one or two scripts that I recommended a "pass" on which were later produced by other companies to a fair degree of success.  Hey, I'm just a guy with an opinion.  But I certainly got a bit nervous reading the Phantom Menace script.  The pacing seemed odd at the beginning, and some of the dialogue felt unnatural, and … wait, did a droid just say "Roger Roger"?  And is Jar Jar really going to talk like that?!  But I had a job to do and questions to write.  No time for opinions.

 

Q: Who does Obi-Wan Kenobi refer to as “another pathetic life form"?

A: Anakin Skywalker

 

And soon, any opinions that I may have had melted away in the pursuit of obscure trivia.  Was Jar Jar worth all the scorn heaped upon him in the media?  Who cares.  Was Darth Maul the coolest thing ever?  Irrelevant.  How many podracers compete in Episode I?  NOW we're talking!  The writing assignment was no less enjoyable, but as the weeks passed, it sure was getting trickier.  I'd see the movie once a week and scan the edges of the frame for some detail that hadn't yet been discovered.  I'd study the script, the novelization, the DK Visual Dictionary and Cross Sections books, the comic book adaptation, and articles from Star Wars Insider as well as the mainstream media.  I'd listen to my own bootlegged audio tapes I'd made of the film while sitting in front of my Blueberry iMac at 2:00 AM trying to squeeze out just three more new questions before my weekly deadline.

 

Near the end of the gig some questions became admittedly ridiculous.  "Where is Padme's facial mole?" deservedly did not make the final cut.  "Who kicks Jar Jar in the groin?" amazingly did.  "How many Gungans does it take to change a catapult?" was my sneaky spin on a million "change a lightbulb" jokes.  By the time even my wife was pitching questions such as "What kind of clouds does Anakin fly a Naboo Starfighter through?" (Answer: Cumulus), I knew that when the time came I'd be able to walk away from the dream job with no regrets.

 

Q: What color beads hang from Sebulba's whiskers on the day of the Podrace?

A: Orange

 

For anyone struggling to remember seeing this magnificent enterprise, you've got every right to be confused.  The game was timed to hit store shelves in tandem with the Phantom Menace home video release.  But at that point the oversaturation of Episode I merchandise had burned retailers who were already glaring at unsold mounds of Jar Jar cup toppers and school supplies decorated with Anakin's face.  As a result Star Wars Episode I Trivial Pursuit made it only to FAO Schwarz and a few other outlets.  But it sure looks good sitting up on MY shelf.

 

It took about five years for me to really see Episode I as something other than a specimen to be picked apart for its tiny quizzable parts.  In the summer of 1999 when I was paid to live, eat, and breathe any and all minutiae associated with the Phantom Menace, my feelings about it transcended "did you like it?"  The movie became like a family member.  A sibling that sometimes made you laugh and sometimes made you roll your eyes.  A cousin that sometimes you wanted to spend every minute with and sometimes you couldn't stand to be in the same room with.  But to paraphrase Padme's Episode I declaration to Anakin, "my caring for you will remain".

 

I wrote a question for the game about that line too.

WELCOME TO 1.21 GEEKAWATTS

Hi there and welcome to 1.21 Geekawatts: the Web Page!  I’m your host (both on the website AND on the podcast) Brad Barton.  The podcast, website, and associated social media channels are all meant to shine a spotlight on the aspects of geek pop culture that I think are cool and noteworthy and should be celebrated.  I’m referring to movies, TV, comics, games, theme parks, and more.  If all that sounds good to you, you’re in the right place!  And I intend to do that not only by bringing you interviews with the creators of said nerdly awesomeness, but also with a series of rotating segments and features on the podcast that take a deep dive into a specific geeky topic.

As I write this, my partner-in-production David Sisko and I are close to wrapping up year one of the podcast, and I'm very proud of everything we've accomplished so far!  I've had the pleasure of interviewing some fantastic guests, creating some fun segment content with friends and family members, all while being the beneficiary of Sisko's tremendous audio work.  He's not just great at what he does behind a mixing board, but he's also a good friend and an amazing cheerleader.  I also want to give a shout-out to Paul Lyren who allowed Sisko and I to badger him into creating the super-cool 1.21 Geekawatts logo.  (Can YOU name all the nerdy logos represented?  Perhaps a future blog entry will contain the answer key!)  Paul's design helped inspire the look of this website which was designed by Heather Kern at Popshop Studio.  (Need any design work?  Contact her.  Now.)  Let's also give it up for nerd rock band H2Awesome who composed the show's theme song!  I love those guys to death and can't wait to share the interview we did together.  It's coming up on an episode of the podcast soon!  Last but not least I'm a lucky guy to be married to Lulu French, a women who encourages/allows me to spend the time to create all of this content in the first place.  She's the best!

I'm arguably most grateful to you dear listener/reader for taking the time to check out 1.21 Geekawatts!  I love wallowing around in this geeky stuff and doing so with others.  There's so much remarkable nerdy stuff out there to consume, there's no way for me to keep up with it all.  So if you'd like to see something specific covered on the podcast or website, let me know!  The feedback is welcomed and encouraged!

May the Force be with you,

-- Brad