Own It, Nerd

I don’t know why I am about to show you this.

I should be somewhere in the Mojave desert right now, digging a hole so deep that even the rattlesnakes couldn’t find what you are about to see. We are well past the point where I should be debasing myself for your attention. Still, it seems like there’s a lesson here somewhere, and if I have to live with the memory of this someone might as well get some benefit from it. Even if you don’t, it’s got something for everyone, from those who enjoy ironically watching local news to those who unironically enjoy the thought of my suffering.

It was May 3, 1999. (In hindsight, I cannot believe they didn’t wait until May the Fourth, but it was a simpler time. “Grampa, what was it like before memes?” “Well, Timmy, back then only four years of your life were like high school.”) At 12:01 that morning, the Powers That Be had released the first wave of toys for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

I did not help mob a toy store at midnight on a Monday for Star Wars toys. I wasn’t some kind of junkie. I went in the middle of the workday the following morning. It’s okay. I was only in management.

If you hear something strange at the beginning of the clip when the reporter says, “The movie doesn’t come out for two more weeks,” that is not audio interference; you’re just hearing the sound of me screaming from all the way here in my house. I bought maybe ten guys that day, but I could only go by what looked interesting since, you know, I had never seen the movie I was buying merchandise for. Sure, I have a Jar Jar and a Boss Nass. I’ve got Captain Exposition who sits in the front of the queen’s ship in his Wonder Man jacket and tells you that that little droid did it. Oh, the playtime adventures!

Before this week, I had not seen that clip in almost fifteen years, but I thought about it all the time. Any time I felt like I was at my most colossally stupid, I would stop and think, “Well, I did say that thing on the news that time. After eating a barrel of baker’s yeast, from the looks of it.”

Here’s the thing, though: that guy up there in that clip is having a ball. A brand new Star Wars movie is coming out for the first time since he was eight years old, and that poor, dumb bastard is psyched out of his mind. He is spoiler free, has never heard of a “comment thread,” and if there is any link between the Force and microorganisms it is news to him.

It is not a geek’s world yet in that clip. That’s part of what makes the whole sordid affair local-newsworthy in the first place. In the world of that clip, we aren’t pulling that shit left and right yet. America hasn’t even given much thought to Harry Potter up in that window: “that book my kid ordered from Scholastic?”

The makerThat guy up there has not read comics for something like eight years. Last time he gave them a second thought was when he heard about Marvels. There hasn’t been an X-Men movie, and he has no earthly idea that one is coming. Such things were still possible back then. As much as I want to reach through time until my hands are on his shoulders and shake him, shouting, “Do not do this! This has all been a monumental waste of time! All those Star Wars figures you’ve been chasing down since junior year, and you won’t even care about any of this by winter. YOUSA PEOPLE GONNA DIE!” I also kind of want to tell him, “Your world hasn’t even started yet. You can’t even conceive of the kind of time you are going to waste. You are about to feel very silly about handing things over to your eight-year-old self for so long, right about the time your eleven-year-old self completely takes control of the planet. Wolverine is going to make someone famous. You are not even going to recognize the place.”

The Phantom Menace would come out, and that guy up there would see it many times in the theater before admitting to himself that he was getting up for popcorn at the exact same points every time because he couldn’t bear those scenes, and maybe he didn’t like the movie quite as much as he needed to believe he did. In a year, there would be an X-Men movie, and he would go that weekend to his mom’s house to rescue his long boxes. He would get to the last issue he bought in 1991 and wonder if there was some kind of Napster for stealing books. (There was!) He would make more and more tentative peeks into the local comic book shops, just as Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas and J. Michael Straczynski and Kevin Smith and Brian Bendis and Joss Whedon were all starting to happen all over the medium. He couldn’t have timed it better if they had been throwing him a welcome party.

When I reflect on “Phantom Menace FRENZY” now, I think: is there another one of these coming? I wonder if I will find myself looking upon my fine body of work here one day and think, “Oy. My comic book period. Don’t remind me.” Anything is possible– lord knows I’ve spent most of my life looking back at the immediately previous era and saying, “get a load of that dope”– but this time I doubt it. I’m more self-aware fifteen years later. (God help anyone who’s not.) Plus, the very act captured in the clip above (and the movie that came out two weeks later) changed enthusiasm for me ever after; that experience took such a chunk out of me I don’t think I’ll ever be excited in that way again, for good or ill. Mostly, though, I think we live in a different world now, a world where having your silly little obsession is more expected and less newsworthy.

I hope so, anyway. I don’t want to end up on camera again.

Jim Mroczkowski is ready for his closeup.


  1. Seeing this takes me back to the weeks before Episode I’s release, and the incredible, overwhelming sense of glee and anticipation I felt. And now I feel sad. 🙁

  2. “I have this nightmare where I’m looking at myself 3 weeks from now…coming out of the worst movie I’ve ever seen, knowing that I’ve just blown a fortune on all of this stuff!”

    And that’s where we learned that Jim’s powers for precognition was more of a curse than a blessing.

  3. Yeah, I admit I totally did that. I even have a Episode I certificate they were giving out at Toys R Us for the midnight shoppers. My kids are going to be really confused some upcoming Christmas when they see Santa has left them a bunch of mint-on-card Episode I figures. Especially since we will never be watching that film in our house.

  4. Jim, you take the air out of any potential ridicule by making your prediction in that clip. If instead you had said, ” This movie is going to be 10x better than the original, so buying all this is well worth it! ” Then we’d be having a hoedown all over you.
    Good article.

  5. Damn, Jim. You’re like a real life comic book hero with those powers of precognition.

    I’ll never forget “I’m not a slave! I’m a person, and my name is Anakin!” My buddy and I about fell out of our seats laughing. We were pretty astounded at how bad that movie was.

  6. How many of them were scalpers? Makes me sad.

    I bought a few Episode 1 figures. I love my Watto.

  7. Just curious, wasn’t the Napster for stealing books just Napster? Files are files, now matter how you share them.

    • Kids these days. What do they teach in those schools of yours?

      Once upon a time, the original Napster was designed only to find MP3 files. Only later would your Gntuellas and your Limewires see how it worked and think, “There is so much pirate booty being left on the table, here…!”

  8. I think we do this kind of stuff because of how it makes us fell. Like kids again. That’s how I feel every time my new comic book come. Or when I read an article about an issue or title that I can’t wait for. I think it is good for us. It keeps us young. Some people tell me to get a life. I tell them I have a great time in my life and enjoy my life and that they should try it sometime. Just because I don’t like what they like doesn’t mean I don’t have a life. Long live the nerds!!


  9. Yeah, I remember the days before Nerd culture took over. It was a dark time for me…

    But I don’t think we’ll see that level of excitement anytime soon. Cept, like (every) Christmas, Black Friday, Game Console release, New Star Wars movie. My point here is that our excitiment is seen so much, it’s not special, it’s almost expected now.

    Thanks for sharing Jim, that took guts.

  10. Jimski’s brain is the movie prediction equivalent to the Back to the Future sports almanac.

  11. I was only 2 when Episode 1 came out, so by the time I was cognitive enough to appreciate film, it was already universally accepted as an awful film. Wish I could have been there to see it happen, though…

    I did predict that Rises would be the weakest of its trilogy, if that gives me points…!

  12. Jeff Reid Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

    How do we know this video is real? I suspect Jim just edited in footage of himself being prophetic using computers. #ReleaseTheTapes

  13. Takes some balls to show that video.