Has it really been that long since I wandered into a midnight showing for The Phantom Menace, wearing my old Millennium Falcon t-shirt in order to embarrass my girlfriend, who then eventually became my wife? I guess it has. The original release of Episode I helped mark a change in what was a challenging year for me personally while helping to usher in a new age of Star Wars fandom.
My parents split up on New Year’s Day 1999. Sure, I was technically an adult (19) by that point, but as an only child in what was historically a very close and fun family, it sent me into a tailspin. Let’s be honest and up front here. The late 90’s were not exactly the most productive for me as I fell into a number of the traps that most young partying college kids are smart enough to avoid. So, when the family fell apart, things just got worse.
Of course, this was not the end of the world as I knew it, but I sure lived like it was during the first four months of 1999. Then in April, I got a job in a career in which I still find myself. My girlfriend stuck by me through the dark times and by the beginning of May, things were looking up. Then there was The Phantom Menace and what a glorious beacon of light it was. While I was selfishly wallowing in my own self pity, the promise of new Star Wars could put a smile on my face at any point. Heck yeah, I made sure to watch the trailers when they were released on TV. Heck yeah, I snuck into Meet Joe Black to see the trailer on the big screen. Heck yeah, I read any magazine previewing the upcoming film. Heck yeah, I watched and re-watched the music video for Duel of Fates when it came on MTV. Yes, MTV used to have music videos besides horrific reality programming and I could not have been more excited.
The negative was that I wouldn’t be able to share The Phantom Menace with both of my parents together. It’s because of them that I became a huge Star Wars fan. I can’t tell you when I first saw the films for they were simply always a part of my life. Any time Star Wars was mentioned, my mother would refer to the time she and my father first saw it in the theater. It wasn’t a film. It was “magic”. So what can you do in such a situation? I could whine about it or I could look at it as an opportunity to see the film two more times after the initial midnight showing…and I did! It was awesome each time and it may seem silly, but TPM kind of marked the first time I realized that just because things would be different from now on, they didn’t have to be worse. This trend continued with the other prequels as well. My wife, a couple friends and I would go to the midnight screening and then I’d see the films again with each parent within the next week. The more I think about the original TPM release, it truly ended up being more to me than just a movie on a number of levels.
Besides the whole aforementioned parent thing, the midnight screening was probably my first experience with the Star Wars fan community. From costumers, to families, to patrons that obviously came to the theater after doing a little partying of their own, the atmosphere was incredible. There were smiles everywhere, lots of high fives going around and some fierce, yet fun, Star Wars trivia games going on. When we first walked into the theater (after our obligatory OT marathon) my future wife, my friend and his girlfriend (who fell asleep during the screening, so she is metaphorically dead to us) were a little shocked at the level of energy. I absolutely loved it and subsequently looked forward to the madness at each subsequent prequel release.
My 20th birthday fell right after the film’s release. Among other things, my girlfriend Michele got me the TPM figures of Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, Palpatine, Jar Jar, and R2. If there was any doubt before, I now new she was a keeper. I immediately threw away my Michele receipt knowing I wouldn’t have to return her. We’ve been married for 7 years now with two little boys who have names based off of Star Wars characters. Our basement has to be re-done due to a recent water leak issue. Michele suggested we shift to a full-on Star Wars theme. Like I said, she’s a keeper.
My Star Wars love was rekindled with the release of The Phantom Menace. It had never gone away since my childhood but was a bit more dormant during my teenage years. No longer! While the detractors started making their opinions known, I defended our favorite franchise and its creator. While people hated Jar Jar, I could see that the little kids dug him so I was cool with him. Yes he was corny. So what? Weren’t there plenty of corny moments in the OT? Of course! The difference was that we were now seeing it through cynical adult eyes instead of our unconditionally forgiving youngling eyes. Admittedly though, I had no idea how much I would ultimately come to love the character through The Clone Wars.
I loved The Phantom Menace when it was released and can’t wait for our family avoidance of the film to end when it’s re-released in 3-D. We’ve avoided watching the film for the past year so that it’s that much more fun to see it again with lots and lots of movie popcorn. This time, I’ll be taking my 5 year old son and my father. It will be a much different viewing experience than the last time, but as I learned previously, different doesn’t necessarily mean worse. Star Wars is forever and so is The Phantom Menace!
Chris Wyman, one half of the Jedi Journals podcast, is next up in the TPM reflections queue. Stay tuned, for he has a fun winning ticket/waiting-in-line story to tell.