Ten Years of TPM: September 25, 1998

10 years ago today, Lucasfilm officially revealed the title of Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

It’s kinda funny because I’d gone out to buy some CD-ROM or other and when I came home and logged on to my AOL account to check my e-mail (Lordy, does this ever sound so 1998), I got an IM from one of my fandom correspondents who asked, “What do you think of The Phantom Menace?” I sent a message back asking, “What the hell is The Phantom Menace?” His reply: “The title of the new Star Wars movie.” OMG! Of course, I didn’t know that abbrieviaton then, but that’s pretty much what I thought! I went to starwars.com and there it was, the official announcement. Word spread like fire throughout the internet and the mainstream media. If you could point to when the Great TPM Hype Fest first kicked into gear, it was on September 25, 1998.

The title announcement followed months of speculation and rumors. I’d heard as far back as 1996 that the title was going to be “Balance of the Force” or “Child of the Force.” SW fans always love the Something Of The Something kind of titles!

But Phantom Menace didn’t refer to anything obviously SW like Jedi or Empire. Nobody (or at least the unspoiled) really knew what the heck it referred to, period. As you might expect, it unleashed a new round of fandom wankery as the usual suspects complained that it didn’t sound like a SW title, that it sounded like a Scooby Doo episode. Deep in the X-Files era, some panicked that Episode I was going to be some kind of paranormal fest. My personal reaction was, “Hmm that’s interesting, I guess we’ll know what the title’s about once we see the movie.”

Fans, being what they are, started to speculate the film title was a fake one a la Blue Harvest and the real title was going to be revealed later on. Except there was a practical reason to use Blue Harvest while they were filming ROTJ; it was to keep nosy people away while they were filming on location. There was no reason whatsoever to put out a fake title for TPM. If Lucas wanted to keep it secret, he could’ve done so for at least a few more months. But believing that requires logic and we know how there’s none of that in fandom!

The hysterical reaction of some fans dismayed me a bit and I wondered if this was a warning of things to come. After all, I’d known for a long time that SW fandom has a strong reactionary streak and one of the things that worried me about a new trilogy was that many would reject it out of hand simply because it was new and different. (Just call me fandom’s Cassandra.) Little did I know the wankery would be outpaced by the announcement on August 6, 2001 of Episode II’s title. Oy, those memories were ug-lay. Fortunately for you, that’s a tale for another day in three years’ time ;).

Nevertheless, September 25, 1998 made the long-time dream of a new SW film that much closer to reality. It was a day long remembered, until the debut of the brilliant first trailer a couple of months later…

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One Response to “Ten Years of TPM: September 25, 1998”

  1. oxward321 Says:

    When I fist heard it I was like…huh? After I finally saw the film it clicked, the title fits, as with the title in all the films.

    This is also around the time Star Wars insider #40 was released. And I got my first look at the battle droids, it was love at first sight. That’s when my excitement took a new a high, I couldn’t wait until May 99!

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