How "The Phantom Menace" Made A Significant Impact On My Life
When I hear the word prequel, the first thing that pops into my mind is my disappointment from 1999. Returning from a 10-year hiatus with little knowledge other than rumors fans were anxiously curious if George Lucas would return to that galaxy from far far away that he had initially created to tell the story of Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader. The highly anticipated announcement finally arrived on October 4, 1993. Lucasfilm said they planned on producing three new Star Wars prequels although it was stated George Lucas might not be directing them. Later on, of course, we learned Lucas would indeed be writing and directing all three films. Everyone had an idea in their heads what such a story would be. How could you not? I kept envisioning that climactic battle between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi that forever strained their relationship. I imagined what the world of "Star Wars" looked like thirty years ago. How were things different before the creation of the Empire? What was Anakin like? How did things go so wrong?
No one had any idea what to expect until the first trailer dropped. As a young boy during the infancy of the Internet I remember waiting up to 2 hours for the entire "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace" trailer to download on my 56k modem computer. Every time I got a few more frames deep, I was enthralled to see what the next frame would bring. It was like watching pieces of a puzzle being put together. When the trailer fully downloaded, it was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen. This wasn't just another "Star Wars" movie. This was an entirely different world. Whatever universe everyone had in their minds either came to life or defied their expectations in the most profoundly satisfying way. The Lucasfilm title comes on the screen "Every Generation Has A Legend" goosebumps. "Every Saga Has A Beginning" and… BOOM! John William's score blares, two low flying vehicles in the desert racing one another blaze through a dangerous desert landscape. New creatures and worlds appear that are unlike anything anyone has ever seen before and are being fired at the screen in rapid succession. Computer Generated Imagery like this was used sparingly in its day. But this trailer was an orgy of CGI that looked phenomenal for its time. Yoda utters the words of Anakin as a dangerous prophecy and hints of his journey to the dark side. We end on an image of thousands of droids going to battle on a grassy field, then a space battle with a gigantic sphere being blowing up towards the lens of the camera. The title "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace" hits us in the face, to us fans it felt like Christ has risen.
When "The Phantom Menace" was on the cusp of its debut I watched a local report from Fox 12. The reporter covered the merchandising, had a one on one interview with George Lucas, then lastly, had a precarious analysis of his thoughts on the film. I can't recall the exact quote yet from memory but it went along the lines of "it was just okay… but the special effects were amazing!" This introduced a sense of alarm to my young mind. "What the hell does he mean just okay?" I thought. The next moment I brushed his comment aside, assuming he was misquoting himself. As I neared the day of the official release, I saw another report on my local Channel 5 echo the same sentiment. I continued to ignore all the red flags, blocked it out of my head. Told myself they were either not true fans or were stupid.
At my local community center, I received a call on my black and white screened flip phone, my father informed me that he found tickets to see "The Phantom Menace." My enthusiasm was infectious. "How? I thought I wouldn't be able to catch a screening until the next week!" I came to terms with not being able to see the movie on opening night, but now everything had changed. I felt like I had won tickets to the Super Bowl. To my shock, the theatre was not at full capacity. It was as if the Beetles were in town, but nobody cared. After seeing the film, I was elated, but something felt off. Like the early negative news reviews, I chose to ignore it. I must have seen "The Phantom Menace" seven times that year. Nobody saw it only once. I remember getting incredibly defensive if someone didn't like the film. I would ask everyone what they thought of it because I kept trying to convince myself that it was amazing on an objective basis. I needed the confirmation of others to handle my insecurity. My final screening of the film was a dark experience. During the opening scene, when Qui Gon and Obi-Wan are in the trade federation ship, I turned to a classmate of mine asking him, "What do you think of the movie?" Puzzled, he turned to me aggressively, answering "The movie just started!" When the film ended, I asked him once more what he thought of it. He told me he didn't like it. The rest of this story, I wish I could make up but it is embarrassingly accurate. Not knowing what came over me, I pushed him. He pushed back, I swung at him, and my other classmates had to break us up. There was a crowd of dozens exiting the film around us, the judgemental eyes of twenty strangers gazed at me wondering what the hell was going on. My mate I assaulted along with our classmates were scolding me. All I could do was put my head down. I didn't know what came over me. If I wrote this scene into a screenplay, nobody would believe this happened in real life. I wish to God it didn't.
Upon the release of each prequel, I would repeat the same phase of denial until ultimately reaching acceptance. Less so with the third film as I had been appropriately gutted twice before. "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace" taught me that anything in life could be disappointing. Nothing is guaranteed to please you. I was introduced to the emotion of doubt all because of some stupid space movie. When fans are bitter, I can understand why they would be adverse as they are today with anything "Star Wars" related. I think many (despite trying to knock their friend out for not liking a film) grew up with that same feeling of doubt from an event just as insignificant as Hollywood blockbuster. Years after the prequels "Star Wars" fans were begging for anyone other than George Lucas to take ownership of the material. After about eight years someone finally came along to snag "Star Wars" away from Lucas' greedy stubby fat fingers.
It is said that time heals everything. For George Lucas, it seems that his plan on selling "Star Wars" to Disney would allow fans the time to forgive him while simultaneously perhaps transferring their resentment elsewhere. In 2013 it was announced that George Lucas was selling "Star Wars" to Disney in exchange of four billion dollars. The sequel trilogy that everyone speculated about since 1983 had become much like the prequels, a reality. Once more fans were building a movie in their heads and once more fans were induced with one of the best trailers ever to have been witnessed by man. Say what you want about the new "Star Wars" films, but Disney knows how to market on our nostalgia producing the most embarrassing tears to come from our adult eyes. If the initial teaser for "The Force Awakens" didn't get everyone emotional, it was the masterful second trailer that brought upon the most instinctual feelings amongst our old hearts. Disney along with J.J. Abrams made the anti-prequel sequel nuanced with a plethora of metaphorical middle fingers to George Lucas' prequels with a behind the scenes video starting with Mark Hamill off camera saying "real sets, practical effects" a subtle jab at George Lucas' over-reliance on a bland blue/green screen environment. In an article from Vanity Fair detailing the making of Episode VII Director J.J. Abrams pointed at the screen of a landscape shot of the desert exclaiming "I have a thought about putting Jar Jar Binks's bones in the desert there." After a brief pause possibly from Editor Bruce Handy, J.J. adamantly states, "I'm serious!"
When "The Force Awakens" finally released on December 15, 2018, Disney received a taste of what Mr. Lucas had to encounter for all those years after the prequels. The first reaction was a welcome home. It was a nostalgia film marketed as a soft reboot to remind everyone why they fell in love with "Star Wars" in the first place. To Lucas' dismay, he rejected it as "a retro film" referring to Disney as the "white slavers" he sold his baby to. Many fans agreed with Mr. Lucas arguing their disdain with the picture criticizing it for its glaring similarities to the very first "Star Wars" film. For a moment I felt like Lucas when I received a stampede of dislikes on YouTube for giving "The Force Awakens" a highly positive review which I still standby. The reason being is because although admittedly Disney rushed the script through the door they created the soft reboot that "Star Wars" deserved. It just needed something competent to be made. More of my thoughts on "The Force Awakens" can be found on the embedded video below.
With "The Force Awakens" having a mixed reception from fans "Episode VIII" had to do something different. It did but in a way that even pissed me off. "The Last Jedi" felt like a noble but condescending attempt at mixing things up. You can hear my naturally angry reaction to "The Last Jedi" here where I almost had a physical response (which only caused harm to myself) by how let down I was in the video embedded here.
I'm perfectly fine with humor in my movies but not at the expense of undermining its characters or setting. I also fail to see how "The Last Jedi" was different when, in fact, it was the same film as every other "Star Wars" movie. It was the same old tale of Rebels vs. Empire with the exception of gimmicky subversions placed upon every scene. How's Luke going to react when he receives his father's lightsaber after so many years? We're going to comedically stop the music as he tosses it over his head like a prop gag. Who's Snoke? Just another dead body. Who're Rey's parents? No-one. Are you excited about Luke's significant return? Well, he just kind of dies on a rock right when he was starting to rediscover himself as a character that would have given him a fascinating arc that could have been further developed in future films. Wondering how the First Order or Resistance came into existence as we now know how the Empire was created thanks to the prequels? You'll never know! Any emotional stakes that were set up in the first film were thrown in the garbage with "The Last Jedi." J.J. Abrams produced the mystery box so Rian Johnson could piss all over it while laughing in his high nasal voice.
I ponder on the thought if we the fans have turned towards the dark side. Is there a film despite my sentiments that could please "Star Wars" fans? If there was one thing I liked about the prequels, it was its world building. Lucas aimed to make something staggeringly different. Unfortunately, every other element of the film did not work in the slightest from its acting down to its sluggish pacing. Being let down profoundly the way “The Phantom Menace” did in 1999 can create a monster. Why do we take it so damn seriously though? It's just a movie. Childhoods were not ruined, and the original films still exist. Oh, wait, THAT I can't forgive Lucas for. The special editions are an entirely different can of worms that I must explore sometime. Some people liked to say, "George Lucas raped my childhood. Now they're saying "Rian Johnson raped my childhood." If you claim that a filmmaker raped your childhood and your name isn't Woody Allen or Roman Polanski, then you need to learn how to grow the fuck up. I share the same resentment as many fans out there do, but I would never claim to have had my childhood torn away from me. As a kid I had other things in my life to look forward to that turned out to be great. Sure I came to terms that anything can be disappointing after "Episode 1," but it didn't mean everything WILL be disappointing. Some things in life can surprise us, take us on a journey we've never been through before. I think Disney is rushing through these "Star Wars" sequels far too quickly while putting out fires of their own making to keep their buyers satisfied. Whether "Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker" is a disappointment or not will be determined soon but there will always be time during Disney's "Star Wars" hiatus to give us something that will eventually satisfy our inner child. If the "Game of Thrones" guys don't fuck it up, that is. In the meantime, it's time for us not succumb to morbid cynicism. We have the power to enjoy the things in our lives if we please. They're just movies after all, and after some time I appreciate the originality that "The Phantom Menace" brought to the table despite its final result. For now I’m going to still enjoy what the future may bring to my life instead of obsessing over the past.