Between 1999 and 2009 Lightsabre.co.uk brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Our seventy-fifth guest brought us our weekly dose of Turning to the Dork Side – Neil Baker.
Lightsabre – Neil, welcome to Lightsabre.
NB – Hello, Mark. Thanks for having me.
Lightsabre – It’s quite clear you are passionate about your fandom and devotion to Star Wars, but where did it all begin for you?
NB – I feel like I am part of the luckiest generation alive. I was ten years old in 1977, and this was the perfect age for Star Wars to work its magic. Up until I saw the first film my passions had been Dr. Who and Thunderbirds, now I had this whole new galaxy to explore in the playground with my friends and in my back garden with my Palitoy figures. To say it consumed my life is an understatement.
Lightsabre – Tell us something of your career. What got you started on the path to today?
NB – Again, as with many other folk, the original saga has shaped many of my life decisions. By the time I was ready to leave school aged sixteen, I knew I wanted to work in film in some capacity. Ben Burtt’s sound design fascinated me, but I had no idea how to get into sound design, and none of the local colleges offered anything resembling a sound design course. However, I was also heavily influenced by the work of Ralph McQuarrie, Joe Johnston and Harrison Ellenshaw, and art college was a more viable option.
Since then I’ve dabbled in many different careers, from being a mask maker for real life D&D roleplayers to being a dinosaur sculptor for museums worldwide, and from being a graphic designer, to a primary school teacher to, ultimately, a student filmmaker here in sunny California. My mum is very disappointed that I haven’t settled down yet.
Lightsabre – What is it like to be a part of the Star Wars phenomenon?
NB – Blimey, I wish I was really a part of the phenomenon. Right now I’m a ten year old in a forty year old’s body just trying to make his way in the universe. If any of the pies I have my fingers in turn out to be prize winners then I would be delighted, that’s why I continue to draw the strip and write my fan-fic.
Actually, the biggest thrill for me was getting one of my databank entries accepted – whenever I see the little rolo-droid skittering around the streets in The Phantom Menace I get a sense of pride, I wrote his back story! Now that’s cool!
Lightsabre – Turning to the Dork Side has proved to be a tremendous hit, with a number of websites carrying the strip. What gave you the idea to start the strip?
NB – It all began while I was designed loads of little characters for my fellow bloggers over on www.starwars.com. I drew these mini, bean-shaped versions of many of the Star Wars characters for folks to use in tee shirt designs to be worn at Celebration IV in LA. One time I used these characters, they were called ‘blogalots’, in a limerick, and they worked quite well together. Then I got an email from The Stooge, probably the most popular blogger on the site, and in it he mentioned in passing that the blogalots might work well in a comic strip. I pondered on this for a while, and then one day, the idea of Salacious and Max Rebo having a staring contest popped into my head. Once I drew the strip, I knew I had to draw more, I just loved drawing Salacious! Once I had decided to limit myself to the denizens of Jabba’s palace, I knew I had to start thinking of gags and absurdities that could work, so now I’ve dug my own grave, LOL.
Lightsabre – Studio Moraine is building into quite a project, including your site A Place in the Galaxy. What are your ultimate goals for SM?
NB – Studio Moraine is a banner that I produce all my student films under while I am studying in film school. Ultimately, once I am a permanent resident in the country, I would like SM to become a fully fledged working studio, with a goal to turning out independent features across the genre spectrum. We have several projects on the go, including a couple of horror films and a comedy that I am currently writing about my own wedding(s).
We also have a couple of documentaries on the go, one of which is A Place in the Galaxy, which investigates the nature of the Star Wars fan community. I’ve put this one on the back burner for a year though, as there are some spectacular documentaries coming out this year and the next, and I think I would rather get it ready for promotion at Celebration V!
Lightsabre – What were your feelings on the saga’s cinematic conclusion Revenge of the Sith? Did it satisfy your fan appetite?
NB – Totally. It was unbelievably exciting and moving all at once and, as it has been said by Rick and George on several occasions, it satisfied the craving of all fans from all generations. Actually, I’m a big fan of the PT as well as the OT. Ok, so Phantom has its problems, but there’s still more invention in five minutes of that film than any entire movie today – and I love Attack of the Clones. It’s all Star Wars dammit. Seriously, George could film a jawa mowing the lawn and I’d wet myself. It’s a strange obsession. I’m a deeply un-religious person, so I guess the saga fills that void for me, LOL.
Lightsabre – At Celebration Europe Rick McCallum promised us 400 Star Wars episodes, bringing us untold numbers of new adventures and stories. If given the chance to write an episode, what would you go for?
NB – Oh God. Somebody show Rick my fan-fic, I think I could write an episode! If that crazy pipe-dream ever came true, then my episode would be about a Jedi Knight stuck with a dozen Wookiee younglings on a remote training facility on the Outer Rim. They are in hiding, but the clones are closing in, and Trandoshans have been recruited to help the hunt, led by Bossk. It would be a cat and mouse (lizard and Wookiee?) chase through deep jungle, culminating in the death of the Jedi and the remaining younglings left to fend for themselves. Yes it would be dark, but damned exciting. Then, when I am called back to write another episode, I would write a 45 minute space battle – hell yeah!
Lightsabre – Which of the myriad Star Wars characters do you feel the most affinity for?
NB – Heck, I wanted to be Han Solo as a kid, but I guess I have a bit of the bemused Britishness of Threepio in me, and the aversion to exercise of Jabba. Ultimately though, I would liken myself to Luke – we’re both dreamers.
Lightsabre – Tell us something of your other interests outside of Star Wars?
NB – There’s other stuff? Obviously I love movies, however I am turning more and more to European or Asian fare as most of the stuff oozing out of Hollywood these days is crap. I’ll watch anything that has been directed by either Jean Pierre Jeunot, Chan-Wook Park or Tony Scott. I don’t watch much television, although anyone serious about writing should have both Firefly and BSG on their shelves.
I paint, watercolors mainly, and usually urban landscapes without any people in them (there’s one for the psychologists). I cook every meal. My wife, Kuldip, isn’t a cook, but I love it, it’s like another art-form for me, it’s my quality time. A perfect day for me would be hanging out with my Dutch friends, drinking chocolate milk and/or champagne, listening to Yello and reading Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud comic books.
Lightsabre – You were present at both Celebration IV and Celebration Europe, and have written extensively on both. What are your best memories of those 30th anniversary conventions?
NB – Oh wow – hands down the best part of Celebration IV was hanging out with my fellow bloggers! I have so many great memories of that event, meeting Carrie Fisher was a highlight, seeing the trailer for The Clone Wars for the first time (yep, I shed a tear), just totally geeking out, and not looking out of place.
At Celebration Europe, meeting Mark Hamill totally swung my pants. However, hanging out with my nephew, Sean, and my best friends Geoff and Sui and their little boy, Bruce, and being in an environment of overwhelming love and celebration – nah, you can’t beat it!
Lightsabre – Being a Brit living in the USA, what is the main difference in the level of fandom that you encounter? And what has the transition been like for you?
NB – I guess I never really encountered much in the way of overt fandom while in the UK. Conventions were few and far between, and my socialising was limited to having two or three friends over to watch the movies and eat bantha burgers. Of course, the fact that the internet community really took off, coinciding with my move to Canada, then the US, means that the fandom over here is truly widespread.
In the few years that I have been here, I have multiplied my Star Wars based social circle to the point where I am in communication with another fan every day (it could be every hour, but my wife has needs). Stuff is a lot more accessible over here, and I think fans are little more open about displaying their fandom. Back in blighty, we tended to relegate our costuming to the bedroom… The transition has been a breeze – this feels more like home now. And I can still exploit my accent to chat up old ladies in coffee shops.
Lightsabre – What lies ahead for you in the future?
NB – I wish I knew. Once my film schooling is finished, I have to figure out how to stay in the US. I’m looking into employment and sponsorship, and am confident that I can legally stay! Ultimately, I want to remain here, nestled in the Bay Area, nurturing a family, making fun movies, writing books, drawing strips, making people happy, giving something back to the Star Wars community. Life is good. I want it to stay that way.
Lightsabre – A quick question about our site. Any comments?
NB – Lightsabre is an awesome site – your dedication to it is admirable and it is updated regularly, which is more than can be said for many other sites! How you manage to scoop some of your interviews is beyond me, but I am honoured to be affiliated with you! Also, I love the fact that you are teaching the Americans the correct spelling of the word ‘sabre’. Ha – that’s going to get me into trouble.
Lightsabre – It’s been a great interview, and thanks for being our guest. Just one final question. Sy Snootles, Salacious Crumb and Gartogg the Gamorrean are ordered by Jabba the Hutt to make him laugh until snot runs out of his nose. Which of the three manages to do it, and how?
NB – All of them. Sy sings ‘My Heart Will Go On’ while Salacious is slowly lowered into the Rancor pit by Gartogg. Either that, or Gartogg tells Jabba he wants a raise.
This interview was originally posted on lightsabre.co.uk on 26th August 2007.