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The Phantom Pandemic or The New Hope?

All our lives have been impacted immensely in the past year by the effects of the Covid19 pandemic. And its impact has meant that we’ve had to look at new ways of living our lives, doing the things that we had taken for granted, and leaving us – perhaps – more time for reflection than ever before.

One of the things that I most enjoy doing is gaming, because it helps so much to be able to switch off from working at home and the general depressing nature of the news, by being able to immerse yourself within a fantasy environment and focus on achieving a goal. And most recently one of the games I’ve been playing is a title called ‘Star Wars Racer’ on Nintendo Switch.

Now, this game has a rather more complex history, having been first developed due to a sequence present in ‘Star Wars Episode 1; The Phantom Menace’ released in 1999 and was developed by LucasArts – the studio responsible for most of the official Star Wars output. The title was originally released in 1999 on Nintendo 64 and Game Boy, later having several launches through systems including PC, Dreamcast, Mac and even later, the Nintendo Switch, XBox One and PS4.

Ironically, the games re-release on Switch was delayed in part due to the pandemic, but it shouldn’t be a surprise that LucasArts wanted to release the game on a new generation of systems at all, considering it still holds the Guinness records for the best-selling sci-fi racing game of all time, having worldwide sales of 3.12 million above arguably more well-known franchises such as Wipeout and F Zero.

Many consider ‘The Phantom Menace’ film itself to be a mixed bag, yet even its harshest critics will have a soft spot for pod racing, the sequences within the film which allowed it to be (albeit partially) saved in comparison to it’s later sequels. For those unfamiliar, pod racing is a sort of galactic Formula One event, where creatures from across the galaxy partake in an extremely dangerous race. In the film, our main ‘hero’ Anakin Skywalker pilots his own pod racing craft – something that humans are not meant to be able to do, due to the complexity of working such machines – and manages to succeed in winning his race and securing his freedom from slavery.

In the film, Anakin was played by Jake Lloyd, who reprised his role for the video game. Born in Fort Collins, Colorado in 1989 he was chosen for the role of Anakin on the back of his role in ‘Jingle All the Way’ alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1996. He’d previously made his acting debut in four episodes of ER which were released in the same year. At the time Lloyd was only 6/7 and given he was born in March of 1989 is only separated from my younger brothers age by just 2 weeks. When our family went to see The Phantom Menace in 1999 at our local cinema, there many comparisons made between Lloyd and my sibling.

Although Star Wars helped Lloyd achieve global fame, like many child actors before him, he struggled with the idea of such responsibility and was impacted negatively by the films overwhelmingly harsh criticism from such loyal Star Wars fans. He appeared in the film ‘Madison’ in 2005 but this film itself had been delayed in post-production and so Lloyd had filmed his own involvement before his retirement from acting in 2001. In 2012, he announced he was writing a documentary and later spoke about how bullying at school had also impacted on him deciding to retire from acting entirely.

In 2015 police responded to allegations of an assault, where Lloyd was accused of assaulting his mother, who refused to press charges on the grounds Lloyd was suffering from undiagnosed schizophrenia. Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse, and he was later incarcerated that same year when arrested for driving without a licence, giving the name Jake Broadbent to arresting officers. Police also engaged in a high speed chase after Lloyd initially refused arrest and was suspected of being under the influence of narcotics.

Failing to secure bail and held at a detention centre for over 10 months, Lloyd was eventually released and a statement in January 2020 released by his family says he has now been officially diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia and is doing much better, much closer to his family. Progress had been hampered by the death of his sister, Madison, and Lloyd’s diagnosis of further mental health issues which made the acceptance of his condition much more difficult.

Lloyd’s treatment from fans and the toxicity which exists within Star Wars culture towards what fans perceive as subpar performance is in no way unique but does severe as a powerful indicator to the price of fame. It reminds us that even when we feel someone may be untouchable and on the route to stardom and success, they are in fact as human and as fragile as everyone else.

During the pandemic I’ve been gaming, but also looking at stories like Lloyds, giving me time to research what happened to actors who had such impact on us – actors and performers who may no longer be in the public eye for one reason or another. It’s not always so negative, of course, but this story remains hopeful despite the depression. That we may all go through bad periods, and they may take time to heal, but ultimately, we will come out of this and we will be stronger for the experiences learned.

Stay Safe. Stay Strong.