Remembering The Phantom Menace on its 20th Anniversary
The lead up to Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was energetic and exciting! It was Woodstock but with one single focus. Like that music festival it was a pivotal moment in this next phase of pop counterculture. Star Wars and any sci-fi/fantasy film or show always had a “nerdy audience” stigma, but now even the cool kids were starting to get into the act. The Special Editions brought Star Wars back to the mainstream, but this was the moment when we would know if it was going to stick around for the long-haul.
Waiting To Buy Tickets
Judging by the amount of people from all walks of life who spent nights or weeks in line, it was looking pretty positive. My friend, Matt Goudey, and I were among those hundreds which included members of Countingdown.com (later to become liningup.net), who slept on the Hollywood Blvd. sidewalk to get the coveted tickets for The Phantom Menace. We waited countless days and ate whatever the nearby convenience store had to offer. Three cheeseburgers for a buck? What a deal! We also played numerous rounds of Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. Hygiene was not a problem since I only lived up the street.
The moment tickets went on sale, fans pulled out their clunky flip phones and called Fandango. I don’t recall anyone actually getting through. I savored the moment when I asked the woman behind the box office window, “one for Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace!” I waited 16 years to say that!
Waiting To Watch The Phantom Menace
Time for more waiting – we survived one more week in another line before showtime. This new queue wrapped around several blocks and just kept going. Matt and I found our new camp spot on the sidewalk and hunkered down with our new-found friends. Fans met fans from across the globe and shared stories. Friendships and romances blossomed. I always found it fascinating when people ‘on the outside’ said that all this waiting in line is a waste of time. Sadly, they will never understand that it’s not just about waiting for a movie, it’s about forging new relationships and talking to people who you may never had met otherwise.
The Phantom Menace Eve
Unfortunately, we missed out getting tickets for the midnight show, but had managed to procure 8am tickets for the next morning. As midnight approached, theater attendants dropped the red rope that held the midnight line and hundreds of fans cheered as they charged into the theatre. Each “yahoo,” felt like another kick to the kidneys. If only I had slept another month on the sidewalk, it could have been me shouting “yahoo!” as I walked victoriously into Grauman’s! As the cheers died down we decided to call it a night and crawled into the pup tent that Matt brought.
Our eyes sprang open at 2:30am by the loud enthusiastic crowd coming out of the midnight show – smiles all around. This made me feel better since I had glanced at a few early reviews which weren’t exactly glowing. I tried getting back to sleep but now I was like a child on Christmas Eve. . Eventually I slipped into sleep with visions of Jedi, Sith and Gungans dancing in my head.
At 7:30am the red rope dropped and hundreds of us sped into Grauman’s Theatre. Matt and I knew exactly the seats we wanted since we did some recon the week before. Now to make sure I was going to get the best viewing pleasure, I did something I’m not very proud of. I poured half my bottle of water on the seat in front of me assuring that no one would sit there. I had to tell several people who were about to sit down that others had jumped up because they felt something wet. It was one of the last seats in the theatre so eventually it was taken. However, the poor fan had to put a pile of napkins down first. Karma kicked in since he kept squirming through the first half of the film. Serves me right.
The lights in the theatre dimmed and the crowd went absolutely crazy! Adrenaline coursed through my body. I was so excited to finally be seeing the new Star Wars movie! The trailers didn’t last long since George Lucas made the stipulation that any coming attraction to be played before Episode I could be no longer than one minute.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
It was starting! The crowd was deafening! There’s the new crawl. Maybe it’s the lack of sleep, but what’s this about taxations and trade routes? That must’ve made my brain work too hard or maybe the adrenaline was wearing down because I was starting to drift off.
I tried to fight it, but I wasn’t strong enough. Matt elbowed me a few times but that just upset me since it was a reminder that I was dozing off. Every time I jolted myself awake I tried to get back into the story. Now what’s this about squabbling delegates? Who’s an angel? Then I was out…
Matt elbowed me again and my eyes sprung open just in time to see Darth Maul getting sliced in half. The new villain can’t get killed in the first movie! Did I just see what I thought I saw? How could they ever bring him back, there was just no way?
I left the theatre furious with myself. Matt looked a little dazed too, I’m not sure if he also dozed off. We looked at each other and then parted ways with no words spoken. I think he just needed time to process all of this and get some sleep himself.
Luckily I was seeing it again that night with another friend and his energy kept me pumped! The theatre was again coursing with excitement. The lights went down…and so did I. It happened again!
Once again, I left the theatre furious with myself. Why didn’t I take a nap that afternoon? Why didn’t I have a gallon of coffee beforehand? I just didn’t think it would happen this time.
Luckily I was able to see it again with my sister the next week. Guess what happened? I saw the whole entire film again for the first time and I loved it! New characters, new adventures, old friends. I saw The Phantom Menace 14 times the summer of 1999. I lost count on the number of viewings today but I’m sure it’s over 100.
One more thing, Jar Jar rules!!!