By Rhett Wilkinson
As I rode with my fiancée to the Westates University 6 Theatres minutes before the midnight showing of “Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace” in 3D format Thursday night, I expected the masses that accompanied the release of the three ‘prequel’ films that told the story of how Anakin Skywalker became Vader-ized in 1999, 2002 and 2005.
Needless to say, I was a bit surprised to find absolutely no one in front of the cinema, or stacking a line that was pressing toward the doors, even despite the dark, cold and wet conditions that permeated Logan city that night.
When I entered the building to ask the manager if the film was actually still showing—“George Lucas’ empire surely hasn’t fallen that flat with the fans,” I thought with trepidation—I was pleased to learn moments later that a crowd had indeed shown up to watch wise Qui-Gon Jinn liberate the boy Anakin Skywalker, a teenage Padme Amidala fight for her Naboo people and two Jedi fiercely battle a long-hidden Sith Lord at least one more time. Sure, the theatre was far from full, but after interviews with a half-dozen patrons—and a dozen-plus the following night—I was re-assured that the passion for this particular intergalactic struggle, which has firmly established its way in global culture for decades, indeed remains prevalent.
“Who could dream this up, you know?” said Jordan, a teenage spectator who could count himself among the likely minority who had never seen any of the six films on the silver screen. “It’s been a part of my life forever, and now I get to see it on the big screen—and it’s going to be coming at you? OK, I’m going to see this.”
Others appreciated the fact that Lucasfilm was definitively establishing the order of the films by releasing them according to their chronological lineup in the series.
“I’m happy to see this one because it came out in my childhood, even though it’s not as good as the original ones,” said a USU student. “Because it did come out in our childhood, I appreciate it.”
Others expressed satisfaction in seeing the blockbuster, which grossed more than $924 million internationally and more than $431 million domestically (seventh all-time) in 1999, just because of its quality appeal. One midnight-hopper, whose father told him as a boy that it wasn’t too strange that he saw the original “Star Wars” film a dozen times in the theaters in 1977, has not let the critics get to him.
“Absolutely not,” he said, when asked if “Star Wars” creator George Lucas had overstepped his bounds. “I don’t know if they say the stories are bad or whatever. I don’t care, it’s awesome.”
“I like going to see them, so I feel like Lucas can do whatever he wants,” said a patron whose father took him to see the special edition of the original trilogy, as re-released in the theaters in 1997, when he was 4 years old. “I’m just happy to be here.”
As was I— only I saw it the following day (thanks, Political Science 1100 morning class). Did Jake Lloyd still make me cringe each of the four (maybe more?) times he said “oops” while accidentally piloting the Naboo Starfighter to the destruction of the Trade Federation blockade ship? Did the craft truly get hit by laser fire, only to conveniently land in the main hull next to the main reactor? Yep. Did he still really say “sandstorms are very, very dangerous” to his Jedi hero with the utmost measure of apathy? Sure. Did the plastic center of Darth Maul’s two-bit mannequin still reflect camera light as the Sith Lord fell down the Naboo palace core after getting sliced by Obi-Wan Kenobi? Absolutely.
But this time, the thrust of Podracers was breathing toward my face. Battle droids were falling apart toward me as they were carved by Jedi lightsabers. Ships of every kind were cruising over my head, and Maul’s lightsaber was threatening to strike me nearly as viciously as it did for poor Qui-Gon.
As one tween reminded me—she was one of those dozen-plus friends who came to the film together, dressed in attire with variety ranging from a full Darth Vader suit to a white-and-blue box that at least recalled R2-D2—even Jar-Jar Binks’ tongue came close to giving you a lick.
In hindsight, I feel proud to throw myself into the mix of that decked-out group, at least half of whom—yes, I asked for a show of hands—had never even seen Episode I in theaters before.
“I think (3D) did make a difference,” said a quite-accurate Obi-Wan imitator, taking on himself the role of group spokesman. “He shouldn’t make any more (“Star Wars”) movies and he shouldn’t have made the (Cartoon Network) show, but this—this was still Star Wars.”
“It’s always Star Wars!” yelled my tongue fan.
Indeed, young Padawan. Special editions, CGI characters, DVD tweaks, “Han shot first”—ultimately, isn’t it always about that adventure in a galaxy far, far away?