Counting Down to The Phantom Menace – 20th Anniversary


“Every Journey has a first step…”

Episode I Teaser Trailer

Fandom took its first steps into the prequel world on November 17, 1998 with the release of the Star Wars: Episode I teaser trailer. Were we ready for this? What would be our first glimpse of new Star Wars footage? Images ran through our heads of what we wanted to see. Lightsaber battles! More Jedi! And a young Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker! Whatever you do, don’t blink so not to miss a frame.

Gungans walking through the mist, Battle Droids preparing for combat, Yoda speaking of the dark side, and the new bad guy WITH A DOUBLE BLADED LIGHTSABER! The second coming was here! Now to process all of this new information. Social media was shaking its rattle in its infancy so we couldn’t communicate with the worldwide fandom to share in the excitement. Now we just have to wait 7 more months until the film’s release.

Spring of 1999, Star Wars mania went from Colossal to Other Worldly! I was going to make up for lost time and immerse myself in every ounce of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace hype. I drove to every every Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken in the greater Los Angeles area looking for the new toy premiums. (Click here for comprehensive Phantom Menace fast food premium list )

Between stops I’d also run into 7-11 hoping to find the rare gold Yoda Pepsi can (alas, I never found one). My magazine collection was growing rapidly since publication from Entertainment Weekly and Vanity Fair to T.V. Guide and GQ had a Star Wars cover. Everyone wanted in on the Star Wars action.

I even subscribed to The Hollywood Reporter just so I could keep tabs on the box office tally. However, in one particular issue there was an article about an upcoming screening to benefit the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. I really wanted to go but the $500 ticket price said otherwise. The article went on to mention that the event was being coordinated by the company, Along Came Mary. This was my in!

I called them up and said I would very much like to volunteer my services in any way possible. They graciously accepted my offer to entertain the kids present, and told me to come  down for costume fittings. “Not necessary. I just had my own Obi-Wan Kenobi costume made.” I was excited to debut it here at the ultimate Star Wars party!

May 16, 1999 – Party Time!

The Hammer Museum where the event was taking place was transformed into a Tatooine landscape with moisture vaporators and helpers in Mos Espa attire. To top it off, the new John Williams score was being piped in. Word of my extreme fandom got out as art directors and set dressers were coming to me for last minute details on character names, vehicles and planets for signage.  

Moments after the charity screening had let out, the museum courtyard was filled with the lucky golden ticket holders. I armed the young attendees with balloon sculpture weaponry such as Lightsabers, blasters and wrap-around arm lasers. I even took it up a notch by teaching myself new sculptures such as Naboo Starfighters and Podracing goggles.

New cast members Samuel L. Jackson and Jake Lloyd were there. I was really hoping to say hello but Sam Jackson was surrounded the whole time by the media looking for a sound byte. Jake spent the afternoon at the video game console playing a Podracing game.

Other celebs such as Drew Carey, Lisa Kudrow, Melanie Griffith, Magic Johnson, Danny Devito and Brian De Palma were also in attendance.

I was surrounded by over a hundred people who had just seen the new Star Wars film I had been waiting 16 years to see. What if they were to start discussing a major plot point? By this time I had known things thanks to The Phantom Menace soundtrack! With every ounce of my power I tried to drown out all conversations. But one sentence slipped through,  “Anakin Skywalker built C-3PO!”

POODOO!!  That kid is NOT going to get a Naboo Starfighter balloon!   

Despite hearing more plot points than I wanted, this was an amazing event. Big time props must go out to George Lucas and 20th Century Fox for offering numerous charities to use The Phantom Menace as a way to raise millions of dollars, particularly for the kids infected by the HIV virus.  By the end of the event I felt like I was a part of something meaningful. For that afternoon, those kids in attendance who were infected looked like they didn’t have a care in the world. They were having fun playing video games, meeting celebrities, battling with balloon Lightsabers and trying to scare each other with Darth Maul painted faces. They seemed to forget any worries or troubles they had back in the real world. I hope that feeling stayed with them for a long time. A long time…

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