Episode One ten years later part 2 – hype

A lot of movie marketing uses the word “anticipated.” which always strikes me as curious. Movies are often anticipated simply because they have strong marketing behind them, so claims of a movie being “most anticipated” are something of a closed loop.

[[image:epone2_poster.jpg:Every saga has a beginning…:right:0]]However, when people called Episode One one of, if not the, most anticipated movies of all time, it wasn’t hyperbole.

As I mentioned before, Star Wars had been slowly ramping up in the 13 years since Return of the Jedi. The release of the Special Editions brought Star Wars back into mainstream pop culture. Parents were taking their families see the movies they cared about when they were kids, and rediscovered their love for the saga by seeing it through the eyes of their own kids. Star Wars was once again something that families were sharing together. Children newly introduced to the saga were clamoring for toys of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, and their parents were telling them stories of what it was like seeing Empire for the first time, not believing that Darth Vader could possibly be Luke’s father. The saga was relevant to a new generation, and was being rediscovered by the generation that grew up with them.

It was this environment in which Episode One was announced.

It might be hard for people who didn’t live through it to imagine the cultural impact that the prospect of a new Star Wars movie had. Nearly every media outlet was trying to get a piece of Episode One. Star Wars was on the cover of Vanity Fair, Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone and many other magazines. Every piece of Star Wars news was endlessly regurgitated on every TV program that could justify it. For kids today, look at the coverage Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton get every time they get too drunk and do something embarrassing and multiply that by a factor of 10. Unlike the hype machines of today that are trying to turn every movie or show or announcement into an “event,” this hype was generated naturally, authentically, organically. Star Wars is not some niche sci-fi property jealously defended by a tiny core of dedicated fans — Star Wars is a legitimate cultural touchstone.

Do you remember where you were when you first saw the teaser for Episode One? I do! I spent an entire day downloading the video over my dial-up internet connection. It premiered on television a little later, and while I don’t remember the show that debuted it, I do remember recording it on VHS and watching it hundreds of times. For the first — and so far only — time, I was jealous of people who went to see an Adam Sandler movie, as The Waterboy was the first theatrical release to have the teaser attached. That VHS tape where I captured the teaser video also contained hours of Entertainment Tonight style coverage of the film. Every clip of the film was endlessly watched and analyzed.

[[image:epone2_darthm.jpg:Darth Maul with Speeder Bike:left:0]]It was a dizzying time to be a fan. Everywhere you went, there was some kind of tie-in merchandise. Since Lucasfilm pretty much invented the modern industry of merchandising, it’s only fitting that Episode One was so heavily merchandised. For a while, no matter what kind of product you needed for your life — whether for your car, your pantry, your kitchen, your bathroom, your garden, whatever — you could get it with a Star Wars logo affixed.

I was hardly immune to this licensing bonanza. Do you remember “Midnight Madness”? This was the name attached to the midnight openings of Toys ‘R Us stores for the release of the Episode One toys. At the event I attended, they let in fans 10 at a time, and I was in the third group to go in. Even with only 10 people there, the mood was manic. The single-packed Darth Maul figure was already long gone by the time I reached the shelves, but I did end up getting the Maul figure that came packed with his speeder bike, along with figures for Obi Wan, Anakin, Qui-Gon, Darth Sidious and Jar Jar.

[[image:epone2_soundtrack.jpg:Spoiler Alert!:right:0]]I also bought the novelization before the movie came out, and somehow, somehow I managed not to read it. I bought the soundtrack and listened to it endlessly. The track “Duel of the Fates”, to me, is as iconic a piece of Star Wars music as the Cantina music or the Imperial March. However, I instantly regretted my soundtrack purchase — not because it was bad, but because the track listing included a major spoiler for the film. Between that, all the minor spoilers on the toy packaging, and my unquenchable thirst for clips, I went into Episode One knowing a bit more than I would have liked. I even ended up with a full set of the fast food premiums — the cup toppers and the Taco Bell kids meal toys — and I was decked out with my Episode One ballcap, multiple t-shirts, watches… pretty much everything.

It was a magical time in my life. Something I cared deeply about was being wholeheartedly embraced by the mainstream culture, and I loved it. 1999 seems fairly early in the Internet’s life now, but I still managed to point my dial-up connection to AOL over to the then nascent StarWars.com and the thriving fansite TheForce.Net, both of which still exist today, serving the needs of the Star Wars fan. I cherish that time in the lead-up to Episode One — it was a time of total immersion in a universe I love, and I’ll always treasure those memories.

On May 18th, 1999, the evening before the midnight release of the film, I lined up about ten hours in advance. The buzz was a palpable, physical thing. It was ten hours of consistent adrenaline, of hanging out with people who cared about the same thing as I did, people for whom the saga was something more than just a space-fantasy. The conversations that evening were nerdier than even the geekiest comment thread on GameSpite.

The doors opened. Seats were found. My heart was racing. The Lucasfilm logo appeared… and then the crawl.

After 13 years of keeping the flame of Star Wars alive, I was back in a Galaxy Far, Far Away.

17 thoughts on “Episode One ten years later part 2 – hype

  1. Ah, yes. How could anyone forget the metaphorical ice pick jabbed into the base of their skull when being introduced to Jar Jar Binks for the first time…

  2. God I remember that night so clearly; the lines, the waiting, the anticipation, the deafening roar of applause at the Lucasfilm logo… The fact that the film was a complete letdown is irrelevant, buried beneath the sands of time. What I remember is the magical, excited, awesome feeling my friends and I shared that night. Good times, good times.

  3. I also spent several hours (and a couple of failed attempts) downloading the trailer on my family’s 28.8 modem. It was worth it. I think I still have it archived on a 100MB zip disk (remember those?) somewhere, although who knows what Dad did with the zip drive itself.

    It truly was a magical, wonderful time to be a Star Wars fan.

  4. I have a rather different memory of opening night, as it was my first foray into the criminal underworld. Refusing to ride our bikes the whole ten blocks to catch the first midnight showing I had somehow procured tickets to, my buddy and I had the bright idea to lift his old man’s car. so the excitement of seeing the show with a bunch of fanatics was coupled with the excitement of being an idiot was coupled with the abject fear as said buddy’s old man walked down the aisle of the theatre and yanked us out of the flick, right after the pod race, if I remember right.

    Didn’t see the flick all the way through for quite a bit, heh.

  5. I know I was excited about Episode One but somehow I passed on opening weekend. Once the uneven response came out, I actually held off on seeing it for a few weeks. Eventually I went to a half-price matinee and while I saw it as a flawed film, I definitely came away entertained and looking forward to more.

  6. You know, it’s funny — as much as I was looking forward to the movie, I didn’t see it at the midnight premiere. The next day, all my coworkers (each of whom was a decade older than me or more) wouldn’t shut up about it, because they’d all seen the midnight show.

  7. My friend had the Taco Bell life-size cardboard stand-ups of Qui-Gon and Queen Amidala at his house, where he invited everyone over for psychotropic substances (I declined), squirrely technical heavy metal (which I provided) and Linux (which I learned).

    God it’s been a long time. The movie was fun, but the lead-up was the interesting part for sure.

  8. I still have the R2-D2 topper and matching cup. I suspect originally it was supposed to be just him but then they expanded the concept to the other chracters.

  9. As much as everyone hates on him, I love Jar Jar Binks. My initial reaction, of course, was one of complete rejection. Who was this idiot, and why is he involved in SO much screen time? But when you take an honest look at the old movies, they’re filled with equal amounts of stupidity, it just wasn’t so… concentrated. Believe me, if Wicket or Chewbacca had spoken English, they would have sounded just as stupid. At least Jar Jar’s stupidity was purposeful and made me laugh. Padme robbing the cradle? Anikin slaughtering younglings? Younglings being called younglings? That wasn’t purposeful stupidity – that was unintentional, mind-raping stupidity.

  10. I didn’t see Episode One opening night. I waited a few days then saw it with a bunch of my oldest, nerdiest friends.

  11. For some reason (presumably the fact that my memory is crap) I don’t remember much about actually seeing the movie for the first time, but I *do* distinctly remember the spoiler in the soundtrack. I don’t think I even bought it at the time, but I glanced through the track listing on the shelf at a CD store. That was kind of unfortunate.

  12. I’m pretty sure ‘Enemy of the State’ was the first movie to show the teaser. Maybe I’m wrong though…

  13. That teaser poster reminds what it felt like to anticipate the movie.

    I saw the midnight showing, and my mother called me in sick the next day at school – as a senior in high school, this was the only day I had ever skipped, and I did it with my parent’s permission.

    By the way, I read the same spoiler in the track listing for the score.

  14. I remember feverishly checking StarWars.com every day in anticipation to the movie. Having no access to any disposable income meant that I couldn’t deck myself out with memorabilia as I no doubt would’ve done likewise. Thank god for small mercies. I don’t remember when I watched the movie, whether it was opening night or not, etc. It might even be the first movie I waited in line to see opening night in my entire life. Yet I don’t remember.

  15. My lead in to The Phantom Menace was almost identical to yours, except I didn’t manage to steer clear of spoilers. Even if I had’ve done, the soundtrack still had that stupidly big spoiler on it. I’m willing to bet the Sixth Sense soundtrack doesn’t have a track called “He’s actually dead, you know”.

  16. Unlike alot of folks my Star Wars obsession was spurred during the prequel trilogy, not the original one (and i’m not some Gen-Y kid, I’m about to be 27). Weird, I know. But i feel like the newer movies had more scope rather despite their flaws

    anyway, as for anticipation goes, i didn’t feel that with Ep. 1 as much as I did with Ep. 3. I feel like Episode 3 was the true pinnacle, and that’s when I truly saw eye-to-eye with the public collective. even though the obsession wasn’t as fervent in 2005 as in 1999

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