Friday, May 10, 2019

The Calm Before the Phantom Menace

Image result for Phantom Menace20 years ago from the day I am writing this, I was a ending my Jr year in high school and  culture was different.  We were 9 days away from a major change in pop culture, and little did I know I was 9 days away from the rest of my life ( but more on that later).  We (the self proclaimed nerds and geeks of the world) were excited and were still naive and optimistic about what we would see in one weeks time!  We were all looking forward, barely able to breath, to see Star Wars the Phantom Menace!

Back then Star Wars was how I met most of my friends.  When I went from Elementary to Jr. High, to High School, I made my friends by having conversations about Star Wars.  It’s how I found people who could speak my language.  They were numerous, and for the most part are still my friends now.  Star Wars allowed us to create a language of trust among us.  The story was the same.  It was something we all latched on to.  We trusted in it, we liked it.  It was a part of our lives we all shared.  A jumping on point.   
Image result for Power of the Force figures
In elementary school vintage Star Wars figures were a playground currency, by the time Jr. High came around the Power of the Force 2 figures were on the shelf.  The original 3 movies were re-released with their new versions into the theater again.  It was a little bit of a renaissance.  But it wasn’t new, and George Lucas was promising new.  

He had been teasing in interviews for years.  He talked about his whole saga that he had in his head.  Anytime there was a magazine article that came up in one of the Sci-Fi or Pop Culture publications It caught my attention.  We would get to see the Clone Wars - and see the Jedi, and see Obi Wan and Anakin Skywalker.  It would be huge and amazing.  I wanted to see this vision.  We all did.  We were young and we trusted in Lucas.  Why shouldn’t we.  His creations were part of us.  Part of our past, and part of our story.           

The year leading up to the Phantom Menace was was long and arduous.  On a personal note a lot was changing in my life.  A band that I had been in for 4 or so years leading up to that and had been a huge part of my life broke up.  It was, on the surface, friendly - but underneath I think it was emotionally messy.  I was trying to go through those emotions.  I wanted to move on.  During that year I also had 2 or 3 Girlfriends who came and went, as relationships in high school do.  This was 1999, the same year the Columbine shooting occurred, and I don't care where you were or who you were, if you were in high school at that time- it hit home.  All this was causing me to butt up against real life, and when I did that I usually retreated (escaped) with one of two things.  Doctor Who or Star Wars.  It was a good time to prep for a new movie coming out.

Image result for 1999 Phantom Menace Time MagazineThose original 3 Star Wars for me, until more recently, have been perfect.  I could cast aside the flaws that they brought because of the nostalgia they held for me.  They were, for the most part simple, or at least I thought they were.  It wasn't until years later would I truly understand how Nuanced that original saga is.  My Earliest memory of Star Wars is seeing Luke taking off Darth Vader’s helmet and revealing his face.  I was probably about 4 years old.  It was so simple - His dad was a bad guy - but in the end he made the right decision and saved the day!  I remember asking a lot of questions.  I wanted to understand.  I’m not sure I did for years.  But I was interested to see what led Darth Vader down the path he went down.  Again, this is something we were promised.

Now back to 9 days before the release.  I remember sitting under a tree outside the cafeteria at lunchtime, comparing rumors with a friend of mine. Sharing what we had heard.  I told him I had read that Boba Fett would be Darth Vader’s brother (and Idea I still think makes way more sense than what we got) and how George Lucas’s wife had talked him out of it.  He would tell me about how the Millennium Falcon would make an appearance in the movie.  There was no question though, that it would be a perfect movie.  We would love it.  We would finally have more Star Wars.  Again, we were optimistic and naive.  We were not yet jaded old fanboys.
Image result for Phantom Menace Toys sneak preview
In those days leading up to the movie the toy shelves were already selling us new toys from the movies.  The Power of the Force (or Power of the Jedi by this time) had already been giving us glimpses of characters and designs.  At this point it could still all go any direction!  

Those 9 days eventually passed.  The waiting was excruciating.  It is a day I will not forget.  The Day that the Phantom Menace came out was on a Wednesday.  May 19th 1999.  This was also I was working that night.  I worked on a cleaning crew at a corporate office for a nursing home ran out of my hometown.  I didn’t go to see the movie that night.  I did see Phantom Menace the next night.  I went by myself (as all my friends had already seen it).  That first viewing was magical.  The opening Scene was everything I wanted.  My heart raced.  I was blinded by new Star Wars.  by Seeing Obi Wan in action, by seeing real lightsaber battles.  I left the theater and went across the street to get a toy Lightsaber, because I felt like that was what I should do.  I wanted to go right back in and see it again.  It felt perfect.  It was more Star Wars.
Image result for Phantom Menace
It wasn’t until a while later that it all started to wear off.  Maybe it wasn’t as good as it felt.  The plot began to fall apart.  Jar Jar began to be questioned.  It was problematic.  I got on that bandwagon eventually, but for a moment It was perfect.  For a moment I got to relive a childhood dream - of seeing more Star Wars.  It was good enough for that enjoyment. 

Now we are expecting the final movie of the Skywalker franchise later this year.  The Prequels are pretty much berated.  The newest trilogy has gotten mixed reviews and toxic fandom has made its stance known about the Last Jedi.  I, however have faith, that if. . . IF. . . a movie can suspend my disbelief for the amount of time I am in the theater and it can give me the childhood joy that Star Wars has always done, I am fine.  The movie is fine.  I love Star Wars - and while the phantom menace does not stand up these 20 years later.  I have pleasant memories of the time leading up to it as well as watching it, and honestly still get joy out of it. 

Fandom and Society changed the night that movie came out - so I have find memories of those days leading up to its release!  

So Why didn’t I see the movie on opening night?  I had a date with a girl who I had been pining for without even knowing it for years.  It was the first available date we could get together.  It was at a coffee shop and we just talked.  I don’t know about what.  I’m sure images of Star Wars were swimming around in my head.  That was our first date.  20 years later we are married and have 2 kids and I get to show them Star Wars and tell them this story.