Today we're kicking off a post series leading up to the release of The Phantom Menace 3-D in which members of our TFN/Rebelscum staff reflect on the film's original release and what it meant to them. What can we say? We love us some Episode I! While we're all now in very different stages of our lives, it wasn't too difficult getting back in that 1999 TPM-excitement mindset. We hope you can relate to how the film affected us all in varying, yet quite positive, ways.
And with that, let's begin with the youngest member of the team, Eric Geller, who was all of eight years old during TPM's initial theatrical run.
Having been born in 1991, you would have thought I'd be at a prime viewing age for The Phantom Menace when it came out. Nope. Until around 2003, I never saw a single Star Wars movie. It bothers me to this day that no one thought eight-year-old me would enjoy seeing this highly-anticipated prequel to a popular space fantasy saga. Because nobody told me how awesome this movie looked, I don't have midnight premiere memories, and because I wasn't part of the first generation of fans, I can't talk about the conversations I had with my friends about how we hoped it would live up to the originals. I came into Star Wars fandom at an odd time, toward the end of the film release cycle. After I saw the Original Trilogy in 2003, I went back and watched The Phantom Menace and then Attack of the Clones. Needless to say, I couldn't wait for the conclusion.
What was it about The Phantom Menace that clicked for me back then? Simply put, I was fascinated by the suggestion that this cherubic little boy would someday become the menacing Dark Lord who had given me many a nightmare after my first viewing of A New Hope. There was something compelling about the prospect of watching that process unfold that hooked me right from the opening crawl. I wanted to see how this glittering Republic and its democratic process would turn into the totalitarian regime of Moffs and Death Stars that I remembered from the older movies. The political nuances of a government spiraling out of control were not entirely lost on me. I understood that there was a message in here about the importance of a concerned citizenry and effective government accountability. Ian McDiarmid's absolutely show-stealing performance as the benign Senator-turned-Chancellor Palpatine was particularly haunting given the fact that his scarred, blighted Emperor face was burned into my brain from a recent viewing of Return of the Jedi.
For me, The Phantom Menace was like those TV show episodes where they start in the middle or near the end of a story and then take you back in time to explain how we got to where we are. The first of the Prequels showed us galactic society on the cusp of transforming into something darker. Unable to forget that this transformation was inevitable, we watched in horror as things began to line up, as this or that piece of the Original Trilogy puzzle fell into place. From "you fought in the Clone Wars" to "begun, the Clone War has," and from "He was the best star-pilot in the galaxy" to "I'm the only human who can do it," the Prequels presented rich narrative parallels and filled in story gaps that had been bothering older fans for decades. In praising the newer trilogy for how effectively it tied things together, it's important to remember how much of this exposition took place in The Phantom Menace. I doubt any Star Wars fan, no matter how old, will forget the line from Episode I that launched a relationship with galactic implications: "Anakin Skywalker, meet Obi-Wan Kenobi."
I mentioned earlier that I consider Episode I to be the "let's start at the beginning" moment in the history of the Star Wars phenomenon. Having seen the entire Original Trilogy already, the Prequels gave me the same moments of realization ("Aha, so that's what Yoda meant in Empire!") that they gave older fans. I may not have grown up with Star Wars to the extent that many of my friends did, but I got hooked just in time to immerse myself in two-thirds of the Prequel universe and get excited for the midnight premiere of the final chapter. I can't imagine being a Star Wars with an appreciation for only half of what constitutes the Star Wars film experience. The Prequels are an incredibly valuable component of my fandom, and because it ensured that I, a burgeoning fan, would never leave this franchise behind, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace holds a special place in my heart.
Thanks to Eric for taking the time to share his TPM thoughts with us and for his contributions to the sites.
Next up will be Rebelscum/TFN content manager Dustin Roberts. Keep your eyes peeled for that post within the next couple days.