The Phantom Menace is relevant right now 20 years after it’s original release.
I loved it. I consumed it. I collected it. I was 12 years old. More on that later.
Right now, you get to read a rambling third of my history with Star Wars.
I don’t remember how old I was, but my first memory of Star Wars was watching the sarlacc pit scene of Return of the Jedi on cable on the basement TV (it was a Zenith.) My dad caught me watching and asked, “Do you like this?”
I said yes.
He disappeared in the closet for a few minutes and came back out with the VHS three pack. “Here. Start with the first one.”
Episode I: The Obsession Rises. I was not in control of my own finances, so I didn’t have complete autonomy on how my consumption progressed. My father was supportive, however. Boba Fett was the first action figure I got. The second was a cereal box mail-in stormtrooper with removable helmet to reveal Han Solo underneath. A cascade of toys followed.
Then, the mother lode.
Rebel Assault. Not only did I get to live through the Star Wars universe, I got to blow up the Death Star. I played the game so much, I wore it out. Ask anyone if they remember Commander Ru Murleen and if they don’t have a television-style flashback, they don’t know this game.
My father was an early adapter of Apple products. My first PC was in college. We were only allowed education games, for the most part (your Mathblasters, Super Solvers, Carmen Sandiegos, and Swamp Gas Visits the United States of America.) This was the first game-game I had. He followed it up with Rebel Assault II and TIE Fighter because all other X-Wing franchise games weren’t available for Mac.
There’s so much more. Star Wars introduced me to the adult section of the library, it got me into video-editing. Star Wars launched me to a level of curiosity in media that you can only get once in a lifetime.
Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for:
The Phantom Menace
I was 12.
Blue iMacs in the computer lab.
A grassy hill. The slow roll of the tanks. I memorized that trailer.
“I will not condone a course of action that will lead us to war.”
(I’m now informed that this was the second trailer, but it’s the one I remember getting on the school computer.)
It was me and one other kid, before YouTube, breaking through firewalls to get the trailer. So many broken links.
There was so much joy, so much excitement. I collected all the Pepsi cans. I read the book. I knew more about the movie before I saw it. I was young and not jaded.
The movie itself:
The lightsaber fights against the droids. Amazing. Qui-Gon using his lightsaber to melt through the blast shield. A dream come true. The thrill of watching a fast-paced lightsaber battle, the thrill of two Jedi fighting one Sith with a double-bladed saber at the speed and intensity they were going was awesome to behold. What did this mean for lightsaber battles in the future?
R2D2’s origin story. I loved that he was able to complete the job while all the other droids got blasted off. And, the queen recognized him for his (its?) service. Even if it was a decoy at that point, I still thought the gesture was important.
Jedi using the Force like they used the Force in the video games. Force jump, Force speed, holding their breath for extended periods of time. It was thrilling to see Jedi masters finally doing what I knew they could.
I didn’t mind Jar Jar. I’m sure on some level he was annoying. I didn’t want his toy. He was essentially a useless character, a Forrest Gump who bumbled his way through much more important events.
The podrace was thrilling. Seeing Jabba’s stranglehold on Tatooine seemed to clear something up in my mind. Tatooine was basically immune from the influence of both Republic and Empire both. Having read the book, I knew that humans could not race pods. The only reason Anakin could was because of his connection to the Force. He used the Force to survive. I liked that Watto could resist the Jedi mind trick, because Jabba could, too. Scum and villainy, remember.
Seeing so many Jedi was amazing.
For me, Qui-Gon’s and Obi-Wan’s battle with Darth Maul and Amidala re-taking the castle were the best parts.
I think I got a lot of the toys before the movie came out, but that’s more hazy. I had the oversized Gillette razor communicator that played the soundbite chips that came with each action figure. I loved the Battle Droids. I loved the “roger, roger” soundbite the best. I loved my droid on his Stap the best. I loved Star Wars. And, my love for Star Wars extended to The Phantom Menace. It was finally a new entry into the world that wasn’t a computer game, wasn’t a book, it was finally something that everyone would share with me. They would get back into the universe. It would be relevant to everyone, not just me, and that’s what mattered.
At the end of the day, I enjoyed The Phantom Menace. I ignored the things I didn’t like, but, to this day, I still vividly remember the things I liked about it. Maybe it was made for kids, maybe it wasn’t. Nothing can take away my joy and excitement I got from it.
An elegant emotion for a more civilized age.
Also, if my aunt is reading this, I don’t apologize for making you do Darth Maul make-up on my face more times than I remember. I do, however, want you to realize that I remember and it still means a lot to me.