Hi, Marc. Long time no talk.
Considering it’s been about twenty years since we last shared a classroom together, I can’t imagine you’ll remember me without a major jog to your memory. Picture this: the year is 1999, we are in seventh grade, and Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace had been released to theaters in May of that year. You and I were seated at the same table of four in Mr. Richardson’s science class, along with two other classmates who bear relevance only as witnesses to this particular story.
I imagine that about now you’re getting nervous, thinking I’m going to call you out for some terrible behavior in your youth. Rest assured that your behavior at the time—at least to me—was fine! I can’t think of an instance where you harassed me, or played pranks on me, or made rude comments about me and my interests. The only thing that could have had even a hint of impropriety was that you liked to sing the lyrics to the “The Bad Touch” by The Bloodhound Gang when you got bored in class, but everyone was singing those song lyrics in 1999, so I don’t really think it’s fair to hold that against you.
Nor was that your only musical talent! I can remember you trying to help me memorize the song that listed all 150 Pokémon (remember when there were merely 150 Pokémon and a hope of memorizing them all? What halcyon days!) because one of our group members kept trying to quiz me on them. Despite the fact I was absolutely terrible at learning the names of something so far outside my niche interests, you kept trying. Did you think it would offer my preteen nerd self some measure of relevancy when I was so woefully out of touch with what was “cool” at that age? It did seem like you were teaching me out of a sense of camaraderie rather than mockery, and I will admit that even now I remember a few lines of that original tune despite the years that have passed. Your persistence in so low stakes a venture has stuck with me all this time.
So, no, Marc, this isn’t a callout post about your past behavior. Rather, this a callout post about what I’m owed, and what I’m owed is $10.00.
Here again I may need to jog your memory, and I hope you’ll bear with me as I remind you of some context. Back when The Phantom Menace came out, Lucasfilm was still in charge of Star Wars. It was also the first Star Wars film released in sixteen years, so anticipation for it was high. Do you remember all the merchandise that came out that year, Marc? Do you remember the Halloween costumes, the toys, the nightmare-inducing Jar Jar Binks lollipops? Do you remember how so many of us, upon learning that we were seeing the story of a proto-Darth Vader unfold, speculated on what could drive an innocent boy into the arms of the dark side? The internet was in its infancy then, and not every spare detail of a plot and casting was spoiled before the filming of a movie ever began, but even then, there were still places someone could go to make guesses about what would happen in future installments.
We had both seen the movie, Marc, and I remember being excited that someone outside of an AOL chatroom wanted to talk to me about it. I can’t remember the exact plot points we discussed—probably several involving Darth Maul, given the public’s interest in him at the time—but I do remember that we had multiple enjoyable discussions over the course of a week. Maybe we talked about how Anakin Skywalker would turn to the dark side (because of power corruption, perhaps?), or whether Jar Jar was the worst character (a belief I wholeheartedly embraced at the time, but one that has softened in the years since), or whether Qui-Gon Jinn was the coolest Jedi ever (another wholehearted truth at the time that has been replaced by suspicion that he could have done a lot better). We must have talked plenty for each discussion to fill most of a class period. And it was fun, and low-stakes, and the world was full of possibility!
But then, Marc, I said the fateful words which have followed me even now into my adulthood: “I can’t wait to see how Chancellor Palpatine becomes the Emperor.”
And you replied, without missing a beat, “Uh, Palpatine isn’t the Emperor.”
The wheels of my brain shrieked to a halt, the air was sucked out of the room, and I was left speechless. How could you, who had been so engaged in the discussion of the film thus far, have missed something so obvious? I studied your face, looking for hints that you were joking, but I saw none. I was flabbergasted; how could you be so wrong and not even know it?
You must excuse me for another quick aside, Marc. I know now, though I didn’t then, that there were Expanded Universenovels in the school library that would have easily proven me correct, as they made Palpatine’s identity fairly clear in even the novelization of A New Hope. It turns out that the Emperor had a name, a backstory, and a whole storyline beyond what we saw on the screen. I don’t imagine you knew this either, as otherwise I’m sure you would have offered an alternative name and identity for the Emperor. No, as far as you and I were concerned, Star Wars was the original three movies plus Episode I, and if the information wasn’t stated in the films, it didn’t exist.
Yet even with this lack of knowledge, I was sure I was correct. “Um, Palpatine is definitely going to be the Emperor,” I said. “They made it pretty obvious in the movie. Plus, I’m pretty sure he’s being played by the same actor as in the original three.”
“But the original actor was old,” you replied. “The guy playing Palpatine is old now, but the Emperor was really old back then.”
For the record, Marc, Ian McDiarmid was 37 in the Original Trilogy and wore heavy makeup and contact lenses while playing the Emperor. He replaced an older actor that had to drop out due to illness. By the time McDiarmid returned to Star Wars to play Sheev Palpatine in The Phantom Menace, he was in his 50s and only required a hairpiece. I didn’t know any of this then, however, or else I would have used it to obliterate you in the argument. As it was, all we had at our disposal was the stubborn conviction that the other person was wrong.
We bickered back and forth about it, each of us trying to prove our point but never reaching a consensus. I’ll admit here I probably wasn’t gracious in the fight; as a girl who loved Star Wars and other traditionally geeky pursuits, I was used to having my nerd card requested fairly often, and I probably took it out on you in that conversation in particular. (You might be glad to know I’ve mellowed with age, if you even remember me—or the discussion—at all.)
Finally, at the end of class, you turned to me and said, “I will bet you ten dollars that Palpatine doesn’t end up becoming the Emperor.”
Marc, I did not have ten dollars. My mom packed a school lunch for me every day, and I wasn’t yet receiving the two dollars per week I would get from my parents in high school to spend on school lunches. But, just like Qui-Gon could not afford to lose Amidala’s ship in the bet with Watto, neither could I let the chance to prove you wrong pass.
“It’s a deal,” I said.
We shook on it, our group members serving as the witnesses to our bet.
Of course, back then we had to wait three years between new Star Wars film releases. By the time Attack of the Clones came out, there was still no answer to the Palpatine question. And when Revenge of the Sith came out in 2005, we hadn’t had a class together in years and didn’t run in the same social circles. At my moment of triumph, when Palpatine at last declared himself both a Sith Lord and the Emperor of a new Empire, you were nowhere to be found.
I have been patient, Marc. For twenty years I have kept this debt quiet, sure that at some school reunion we would cross paths, I would regale you with this memory, and you would at last honor our agreement from so long ago. But in all these years, despite the ample time I have granted you, not once have you ever sought me out. Did you forget making this bet, or have you spent twenty uneasy years praying that I would never remind you of it? When you lie in bed at night, humming the tune to “The Bad Touch”, are you suddenly seized with the memory that you once made a bet with a bespectacled and brace-faced seventh grader who burned with the powerful nerdy conviction that only a thwarted preteen nerd girl can?
Well, Marc, I don’t have glasses or braces anymore (the nerd conviction, alas, is a permanent fixture), but what I do have is considerable student loan debt from going to grad school—and every little bit of cash helps. I’m owed $10.00, and it is high time that you fulfil your promise. I’ll even be generous and won’t demand twenty years of interest on this uncollected debt. But the debt does need to be paid, Marc.
Do the right thing. If this open letter finds its way to you, send a tweet to @proj_stardust and tell my friends that you’re here to settle the debt. I’ll make sure you know where to Venmo the ten bucks.
May the Force be with you.
Editor’s Note: This is part of our April Fool’s satire & silly articles that are meant to explore other sides of fandom life and theories from a more humours viewpoint.