Ten Years of TPM: November 17, 1998

The day I christened Trailer Tuesday, November 17, 1998, had been a day of tremendous anticipation among SW fans. After more than a year of odd pictures here and there and leaked images on the internet, fans were finally getting a first official glimpse at the most anticipated film of all time.

The way it worked was that the Mother of All Trailers would be initially screened on a Tuesday with a few select films in North America, then released on the internet that Thursday, and finally with a general release that Friday with a variety of films. As if I was going to wait until Thursday, especially with my crummy dial-up internet connection!

Back then I was in between temping gigs, so it was no trick to plan my excursion to see the trailer on that Tuesday. starwars.com conveniently posted a list of cities where you can see the trailer and with which films. The choices varied, but the trailer usually was attached to Meet Joe Black, a Brad Pitt movie with late ’90s it girl Claire Forlani and Anthony Hopkins, or the Adam Sandler comedy The Waterboy. The theater closest to me showing the trailer was The Uptown in Washington, D.C.. If I went there, I would be stuck with Meet Joe Black. Reviews of the film noted that it was three hours long and about as much fun to watch as drying paint. The next closest venue was a multiplex in suburban Baltimore, MD. It was showing The Waterboy, which was only 90 minutes long. I figured in the amount of time it took to get to The Uptown and watch a three-hour movie, I could drive to Baltimore, see The Waterboy, and drive home before evening rush hour traffic. It was a clear winner to me.

The first screening of the film was around noon, so I left home about 10:30 or so. I had a vague idea of where this theater was located, but I relied on Yahoo Maps to get directions. Well, the directions were inaccurate because I found myself in a completely unfamiliar neighborhood. I had to stop at a K-Mart and get directions from an employee. Despite that unexpected detour, I got there early enough to poke around the faux Main Street set up of the shopping center and eat a hot dog. I had to force myself to eat it because I was soooo nervous. When I went into the theater, there was a small group of very guilty-looking adults in their 20s and 30s in the audience. For me, the anxious, nerve-wracking half hour wait until was worse than waiting to start the bar exam. Really. Finally, the auditorium went dark and the trailers started. Of course, The Trailer was the last one shown. As soon as the 20th Century Fox logo appeared, you could have heard a pin drop.

Of course, the trailer was amazing. Even though it was full of new characters and new locations, it still had that old GFFA feeling. It was the trailer that let the world know, “Star Wars is back!” It was all so thrilling and exciting, the first thing I could do once it was over was run to the bathroom. I’d been “holding it” for a while as to not miss the trailer.

To discourage people from up and running from theaters after seeing the trailer, Fox decided that they would on this one occasion show the trailer once before the film and once again after the film’s credits. So I sat through all of The Waterboy and as soon as the credits ended, once again the auditorium got very quiet. A guy who had been talking on his cell phone to his secretary or whatever at work said, “I have to go, I’ll call you later.” The trailer showed again and it jazzed me up for the ride home.

An article appeared in The Washington Post the next day about those who trekked to The Uptown. People called it amazing and “biblical.” I wrote in my old fanzine Blue Harvest, “Mine eyes have seen the glory and it’s called The Trailer! I got shivers, I got chills, and I had a big goofy grin for hours and hours afterward. If just two minutes of this film could do that to me, I will probably be speaking in tongues once I see the whole thing! I was reminded of why I fell in love with the Star Wars universe in the first place. I didn’t want it to end because I didn’t want to leave! SW fans across the U.S. and Canada laughed, cried, and partied like it was 1999.” In response to the fan wankery over the title, I wrote in the same issue, “Would you like barbecue sauce to go with that crow?”

Thus began the massive trailer hype. Within days, just about every t.v. outlet except for The Playboy Channel and Eternal Word Television Network showed the trailer at least once. When it went online, it set a record for the most downloads, a record previously set by the release of Kenneth Starr’s report on the Monica Lewinski scandal. Soon national news became international news.

Trailers are events today only because TPM MADE trailers events unto themselves. Let’s now look back at a classic:

Update: Check out this great reminiscence of 10 years ago today.

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