Return of The Phantom Menace

I saw the first trailer for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 1998 at a friend’s apartment. It took forever for the trailer to load at what was then the fastest speed available to us. I came THIS close from going to see Meet Joe Black because the trailer was showing before it. I watched the choppy internet download at my house and became increasingly more aggravated. I scoured the internet for info as often as I could, but Star Wars.com at the time only had something called “The Anatomy of a Dewback” and production art for a Naboo N-1 Starfighter. I flipped my lid when something new was discovered, like the Emperor was IN FACT Darth Sidious, mentor to Darth Maul, apparently the name of the guy with the face tattoos. So they were going into Sith discipleship and lineage? “Darth” was a kind of surname? Awesome. What I didn’t realize was I had slipped into an addiction…I was now a spoiler junkie, an addiction that raged out of control for Episode II and even for Episode III. In fact it is an addiction I fight to this day.

Then the Episode I trailer appeared on Entertainment Tonight. Now I had it on VHS to watch 7,000 times. I had worsening Star Wars fever the closer the film came to coming out and for some time after. I still have the special Vanity Fair issue, the Illustrated Episode I screenplay, tiny “Who’s Who of Episode I” books, TV Guide issue sets. I literally went to all of the restaurant chains selling the action figure topper cups and collected every last one. Those fell victim to being sold on EBay some time ago, they are just so cumbersome there’s go good place to put them, but I still collect cups to this day. I have hundreds from around the world. And that addiction kicked off because of Episode I too.

A caravan of us went to see the flick at midnight on the 18th into the 19th of may 1999. There was a guy dressed at Darth Maul trying to look…uh…menacing to everyone in line as we waited. We thought he was hired by the cinema but as we started filing into the cinema he joined the back of the line. He hadn’t even seen the movie and he was cosplaying. Did that term even exist then?

Was I disappointed? Nope. I loved the hell out of that movie. I was impressed by Sebulba the podracer for some reason, he was my equivalent of Jeff Gordon and my wallpaper for months. I just dug (pun) his style. My kids went to subsequent showing, one during the day on the 19th even. They were tiny at the time but they had a blast and remember that movie above the other prequels with special fondness. I mean NOTHING compared to the way my mind was melted when I saw Episode IV: A New Hope in 1977, but then again that kind of experience only comes along every so often.

I mean, yeah, Episode I is crazy flawed and was not the film I expected to see for over 20 years. That’s the problem with intense expectations, sometimes the final thing can never measure up. I forgave that film as well as the following two Episodes their shortcomings (actually, I have ZERO problems with Revenge of the Sith) because as a kid playing with Star Wars figures in the dirt, sleeping in Star Wars sheets, eating cereal from Star Wars bowls, reading Star Wars comics, I always had a curiosity and fascination with the snippets of lore Obi Wan gave us in A New Hope as well as tidbits of information we got in Episodes V and VI. Luke’s father and Obi-Wan were Jedi Knights of a more civilized age fighting in The Clone Wars, a time before the Empire existed. Vader was in fact Luke and Leia’s father, a man named Anakin Skywalker, but had been seduced by the dark side and was “more machine now than man, twist-ed and e-vil”. Stop me if you’ve heard any of this.

But the big one, the biggest thing that made me want to see Episodes I, II and II in my lifetime, as soon as I possibly could, is when it is revealed that the man encased inside the lethal looking black armor, scourge of the universe, dark lord of the Sith, is just a frail old man. One of the most deeply saddening things I have ever seen and felt in my life. What had happened? How had Anakin gone from Obi-Wan’s friend, a cunning warrior in his youth, to this frail, scarred man in a bionic monster suit that had seemingly become no more than an evil overlord’s heavy? I needed to know. Little did I only had to wait sixteen years to find out.

So thirteen years from THEN, as the 3D re-release of Episode I approaches on May 10, I am gearing up to go see it ASAP. I contacted my brother in law because my nephew is a battle droid freak; has tons of them, draws them all the time, made a battle droid appreciation page on Facebook. My kids both responded with a yes that implied I’d gone senile early when I asked if they wanted to see it opening day. My wife, well my wife will enjoy the empty house. It might be my fifth favorite Star Wars film but I will enjoy it like its my first favorite on that day. Good times.

Hate emails can be sent to hartters2@aol.com

Sean Hartter

Hartter wishes he was the love child of R. Crumb and Jack Kirby.

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