The Stormtrooper Scandal, BBC Two, review: much schadenfreude to enjoy about the madness of NFTs

Curator Ben Moore created the Star Wars-themed NFTs
Curator Ben Moore created the Star Wars-themed NFTs - Stuart Bernard

For anyone who watched the rise of NFTs and thought the whole idea unutterably stupid, The Stormtrooper Scandal (BBC Two) is deeply satisfying. An NFT is a non-fungible token – described here as a kind of digital watermark that can be attached to an online work of art.

So you buy this artwork, but you can’t hold it or put it on your wall, because it exists only in the digital world. And the people dealing these things are laughing all the way to the bank.

Well, they were. According to an estimate at the end of this film, over 90 per cent of NFTs ever issued are worthless. You don’t say! But at the height of the boom, in 2021, an art curator called Ben Moore had a whizzy idea. A few years earlier, he had held a charity auction in which artists of note – Damien Hirst and Jake Chapman – decorated Star Wars Stormtrooper helmets.

His new scheme was to sell these as NFTs: the winning bidders would receive a digital image of them. Initially, it went well. The lots sold in a matter of seconds, and subsequent trading drove up the price. For every trade, Moore received a cut. “It was just like winning the jackpot, all the money in the casino,” he said. But the whole enterprise fell apart within a week of the sale, and Moore was contending with desperate collectors turning up on his doorstep. “I’m 10 grand out of pocket,” one man pleaded. “I’m nearly losing the wife here.”

Bran Symondson
Bran Symondson - Stuart Bernard

The problem was that Moore had failed to tell the artists, all contributing in good faith, that he would exploit their work. Nor had it occurred to him that Lucasfilm, the company behind the franchise, might have something to say about it. Many collectors were 10s of thousands out of pocket after the artists withdrew their work, and Moore was facing legal threats.

Many of those artists appeared here (at least two of them in Spider-Man-style full face masks, adding to the general absurdity). One said of Moore: “I’ve met his type before: a kind of posh boy chancer.” It seemed an accurate description.

While the story was generally well-told, watching it was frustrating because the film-makers failed to interrogate anything that Moore was saying. Instead, they indulged him, allowing him to prance about on camera in his pink Stormtrooper helmet and accompany him to webuyanycar.com to flog the Bentley he supposedly bought with the proceeds of the sale. There was a nagging sense that we were being had.