At Large: A galaxy far, far away

At Large: A galaxy far, far away

PHOENIX - If ever any of you hear me complaining about the 45-minute train trip I make to work each morning, I want you to say one word to me - Phoenix.

In Phoenix, 45 minutes is the time you allot to driving over to the mall for some groceries or a rental video.

In Phoenix, if you can't get into the restaurant you want for dinner, the next one's many many miles away. And forget about a quick train trip - you either need a car or you learn to subsist on whatever you can grow in your garden (cactus, anyone?).

No wonder, then, that Arizonans (their word, not mine) share almost exactly the same car-worship culture of Californians. Arizona is locked both physically and metaphorically between California and New Mexico - Phoenix is both a desert town blown out of all proportion by untold wealth and opulence, and a modern city struggling with rural redneckery (OK, that's my word). This point was beautifully, even poignantly, stated for me a couple of nights ago, when I saw a stretched HumVee limousine leaving a movie theatre.

It's as if the townsfolk didn't want to give up their wide open spaces, even when tech money (Motorola is the city's largest employer) forced them to build their little town upwards and outwards.

So Arizonans have learned an unworldly patience about reaching point B once they've left point A.

Inescapable irony

What better place, then, to wait for Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace? If any town is set up to wait 16 years for a movie to come out, it has to be Phoenix. Within 48 hours of my writing this, and by the time you read it, I'll have seen Episode I. The irony is inescapable: I've extended my trip because I couldn't wait two and a half weeks to see this movie, but I know it's only the first in a series of three - I have to wait, like everyone else, until 2005 to see Episode III. What's more, I know how Episode III comes out: the kid is Vader (hope that doesn't spoil it for any of you).

The story of the classic Star Wars trilogy is often used as a tired allegory for the tech industry, with poor old Bill Gates almost inevitably cast in the role of Darth Vader. It's a bit unfair and in fact inaccurate to do that, so I won't. I mean, sure, Bill isn't exactly a warm fuzzy guy, and he didn't have much of a sense of humour about that pie-throwing thing last year. But I suspect that whoever it was that failed to anticipate the sudden popularity of the Web escaped with his or her windpipe intact. Vader is just not Gates' style.

Star Gates

I could also add that Vader isn't the number one baddie in Star Wars, Palpatine is. And if Vader were half as motivated as Gates, Palpatine would have been thrown down a thermal shaft much sooner than the end of Episode VI. What's more, Gates would have worked out a way to survive.

No, Gates isn't Vader. Not really.

The way I see it, the Sith lords (Sidious in Episode I, Palpatine in Episodes IV to VI) represent the dark forces of monopoly, of anti-competition, of standardisation on proprietary technologies. The dark side, as we are told so many times, is easier, quicker, more seductive. Sweet, innocent Anakin Skywalker is led into this world of easy gain, even as he, like Bill Gates, really wants a just outcome for all concerned.

And in the words of Yoda: "always two there are - a master and an apprentice". If Gates hadn't walked the path he has, someone else would have been the apprentice. Someone else would have bought a quick and dirty operating system on the cheap and then licensed it to IBM for megabucks.

Someone else would have partnered with Intel to create a spiral of CPU capabilities and software upgrades that not even IBM could control or keep up with. Someone else would have done all these things, and it might have been someone not nearly as pleasant as Gates. Someone who would crush windpipes and blow up Alderaan just to prove a point.

Star Wars starts here, in the desert. Whether it's the story of a child believed to be a messiah who turns out to be the epitome of evil, or whether it's the story of a teenager dismissed as a hick who turns out to be the messiah, it starts here. It's the obvious place for me to be while I wait.

Perhaps I'll look into the possibility of bulls-eyeing some womp rats.

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