17 years ago today Star Wars: The Phantom Menace premiered in theaters, marking the return of the beloved franchise after a hiatus of more than a decade.
Remember how we all felt going to the movie theater to see The Force Awakens after ten years of not seeing a new live action Star Wars movie? It was incredible, because just a short time ago we didn’t think Episode VII would ever happen. There was a high knowing Star Wars was back, and would stick around for at least long enough for Disney to release the sequel trilogy.
That’s how I imagine fans felt back in 1999 when they went to see The Phantom Menace in theaters, only at an intensity ten times greater. Star Wars was back, the story was going to continue. And whatever criticisms you might have for Episode I, there is no denying it kicked off a golden age for the franchise, an age of new books, comics, video games, and television series. More importantly, though, it began the story that would tell of the fall of Anakin Skywalker, and of the birth of the man of terror we knew in the original trilogy as Darth Vader.
It comes as no surprise, then, that The Phantom Menace was a hit at the box office. It made $64,810,970 in the U.S. opening weekend, and grossed almost half a billion dollars stateside alone with its premiere in 1999 and its re-release in 2012 in 3D combined. Many critics were positive about the film; Janet Maslin of the New York Times said, “It sustains the gee-whiz spirit of the series and offers a swashbuckling extragalactic getaway, creating illusions that are even more plausible than the kitchen-raiding raptors of Jurassic Park,” and the still-famous director Kevin Smith said, “I’m sure in about a week, it’s going to become quite fashionable to bash this flick — hard. But I’d like to go on record as saying I dug it. It’s a good movie with great moments” (via StarWars.com).
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Smith was not wrong, sadly, but today is a day to celebrate the movie, not reflect on its bad points or why it continues to receive vitriol seventeen years later. The Phantom Menace was the film that really got me into Star Wars, and I am not ashamed to say that I thought (and still do think) that Ewan McGregor’s young Obi Wan Kenobi was the hottest thing on this side of the galaxy, and that I fell off the couch laughing when Jar Jar Binks said, “Exsqueeze me!” I also love the galactic scope of the worlds George Lucas and ILM were able to create using CGI, the sound of the podrace, the long wide shots that let you take in your surroundings, the opulent costumes Queen Amidala wears, and the lightning-fast lightsaber duel at the end. There’s so much to love about Episode I, and I’m glad I got over my own dislike of the prequels to realize that I truly enjoy them.
What are your favorite moments and memories about The Phantom Menace? Where and when did you first see it? Talk to us in the comments below.