When the lights went back up and the curtains close over the silver screen in Londonderry Mall that fateful Sunday, May 29th, 1983, I knew in my heart that that was it. It was over. The story that dominated my young life had come to a close. The galaxy was saved. The Emperor was dead. The fallen hero was at long last redeemed. But it was bittersweet. There would be no more trips to a galaxy far, far away. At least that was what I thought until I came across an interview with George Lucas a week or so later.
To this day I canít recall where the interview was published, but it was mostly about the making of Return Of The Jedi, save for one question about the episode numbering of the three released films, and asked if he would go back to the first three next. Lucas replied by saying the current filmmaking technology hadnít caught up to his vision and heíd only consider going back to the first three when he could do so without having to compromise his vision of the Star Wars story in the way he had to with the three films he has already released.
It was only a small portion of a much larger interview, but to me it was the central point Lucas was conveying. If not to just the interviewer or the readership of the publication, it was, to my ten-year-old mind, Lucas saying ďDonít worry David, Iíll fill you in on the whole story someday. Just wait. Youíll love it.Ē
The next sixteen years were filled with many conversations with my tight nit group of friends, all of whom were equally obsessed with the origins of Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. We all wanted to know how these two friends became the bitter enemies we saw in A New Hope. We knew lava would be involved, but beyond what was written in the Return Of The Jedi novel and the Journal Of The Whills from the original Star Wars all we had was speculation, and boy did we have a lot of speculation! What we didnít have was the truth. We had all agreed that we had no idea what Lucasí origin was and I think we all were more than willing to file our speculations away the second he offered us the truth.
So when, on November 13, 1998, the first trailer for The Phantom Menace was released with Meet Joe Black we were ready for anything. What we got was exactly what we wantedÖ For the first time, George Lucasí uncompromised vision. We didnít know why he wanted Obi-Wan Kenobi to have a silly little ponytail and a long braided rattail behind one ear, and frankly we didnít care. He had one, and that was a fact. We soaked it in. We loved it.
Seeing the film for the first time at midnight on May 19, 1999, was equally amazing and awkward. Amazing because we had all waited sixteen years for this moment, and we all got to see it happen together. Amazing that we no longer had to speculate about how Anakin and Obi-Wan met, why Obi-Wan thought he could train him just as well as Yoda, and most importantly, amazing that we finally got to meet Luke and Leiaís mother. The future Mrs. Skywalker, Padmť Naberrie Amidala. Awkward in how we now had to adjust to having something new that we didnít know as intimately as the other chapters of the Star Wars saga.
I think that is why there was such a negative outcry when The Phantom Menace was released. Intimacy is such a personal thing. Thatís why its called Ďintimacyí. To the individual Star Wars fans, the three existing films were known inside and out in ways that only you can describe. The subtle nooks and crannies. The contours. The pacing.
We didnít know The Phantom Menace like we did the other three films. We couldnít speak every line of this film perfectly to ourselves, with every vocal inflection and beat perfectly timed. As such, many fans were unable to articulate precisely what they didnít like about The Phantom Menace. They didnít know it as intimately, and they just didnít like that.
I was never a part of that mob. Even though I knew I had a lot to learn yet from The Phantom Menace and the two films to follow, I accepted it (them) wholeheartedly. In fact, I may have actually been one of the first people to say ďleave poor Jar Jar alone already!Ē
Now that we are looking back at this film with 12 years worth of hindsight, the negative comments have all but disappeared. People arenít afraid to say they like The Phantom Menace, now that they know it as well as the first three films, and Iím glad that I donít have to be the odd one in the room saying ďno man, this movie isnít as bad as you say it is.Ē Matter of fact, with all the spare time I now have that I donít have to defend The Phantom Menace I can put more of a focus on defending Attack Of The Clones, which like the four films released before it is 100% Star Wars the way George Lucas told it. And I wonít apologize for liking it.
Big thanks to Dave for his continued hard work over at Rebelscum and, of course, for sharing his TPM thoughts.
Sunday will bring forth my reflections on Episode I. It's a tale of being an underdog, working hard no matter the obstacles, achieving dreams, and making friends with a wise school janitor. Wait! I think that's actually the film Rudy. Ok, so my reflection is nothing like the movie Rudy, but if you're a dude, I still contend that it's OK to cry at the end when Rudy sacks the quarterback.