Almost Ten Years Ago Today

Since I will be offline May 19, I will post today my retrospective on TPM 10 years later:

Ten years ago (as of May 19), I left work at 2:00 p.m. to head home, change, have an early dinner, then head down with the family to Fairfax Square’s mini multiplex (located underneath two tall buildings and some fancy boutiques) in Vienna, VA to see the first new SW film in 16 years. I didn’t wear a SW t-shirt but I did wear my Star Wars Magic of Myth badge from my volunteering stint at the exhibit. There were people with lightsabers, including a young goth chick with her Sithly red bladed saber. For some odd reason, maybe it was someone’s birthday, there was someone who came in with some balloons. As is my curse, a couple of obnoxious teenage boys sat in front of me and kept trying to be funny by making obnoxious remarks. Why do I always get people like that at the movies?

When the movie started, the whole theater went nuts cheering. We’d all made it, lived long enough to see a new SW movie. The anticipation was over. A new age had begun.

I have to admit, the first 30 minutes of the movie made me feel like I was in a foreign country and I didn’t speak the language. It didn’t feel like any of the previous SW movies to me at all and seeing a SW film without the familiar crew threw me off more than I’d expected. You see, those of us old enough to remember seeing ANH in the theater remember how it felt to see that WOW shot of the Star Destroyer pursuing the Tantive IV for the first time. Few other films ever in the history of cinema had a knockout moment like that at the beginning. TESB and ROTJ have Star Destroyers appear at the beginning of the films but there was no need for a money shot like ANH’s; we were already familiar with the story and the characters. Perhaps a lot of my fellow SW Generation fans expected a similar WOW moment at the beginning of TPM but the film instead starts out with subtlety. Oh sure, there’s a lot action once the Jedi are off the consular ship, but the flow of the opening sequence is different from what a lot of us expected.

After taking a few deep breaths, I thought that instead of trying to reference or compare TPM with what I’d seen before, I’d just watch the movie and take it for what it was. And that’s when the film really started to grow on me. Who couldn’t love Qui-Gon? Liam Neeson added to TPM what Alec Guinness added to ANH: gravitas, experience. Even though I’d figured, without seeing the TPM soundtrack listing mind you, that chances were pretty good Quiggy wasn’t going to survive the flick, I was still shocked and saddened to see Darth Maul kill him. Maul, by the way, was just brilliant. I wasn’t one of those fans who thought the whole movie should’ve been about him; his onscreen time was just right. He was a mystery, an enigma and for basically a non-actor, Ray Park was great in the part. Park knew how to convey sheer malevolence and lethality just through a simple stare. I couldn’t see why all of the hate was dumped on poor Jar Jar. I thought he was funny and once I was able to understand him, I thought he actually got some of the best one-liners in the film. The other creature confections like Watto and Sebulba were great. Our new heroine Queen Amidala/nee Padme Naberrie? While not as outwardly sassy as her daughter, I can see why she instantly became an inspiration to a new generation of little fangirls. Her speech to the Senate remains IM humble O, one of the best acted scenes in the saga. And what impeccable style! I felt a tremendous amount of sympathy for Anakin and for Shmi, and let’s face it ladies, Obi-Ewan was h-o-t. There was the NASCAR in space podrace that reminded me of what it was like to drive on the Beltway and the amazing barnstormer of a conclusion. That three-way Jedi vs. Sith battle to the tune of “Duel of the Fates” was alone worth the 16-year-wait! The celebration at the end was perhaps the most joyous of the Saga but we all know the film’s big winner was Chancellor Palpatine, a.k.a. Darth Sidious. Awesome.

Ultimately the movie succeeded for me, despite some bad sound in the theater, primarily because it really made me want to see Episode II. I was dying to see a grownup Anakin in action and to see where things were going to go next. The more I saw it, the more I loved it, and the more I wondered, “Why am I supposed to hate this movie?” One of the things that’s genius about SW is that it is always challenging your preconceptions and expectations. It’s always making you go back and re-evaluate what you think you’ve always known about the GFFA. TPM did that in a big way and sadly, not everyone was up for the challenge. But millions of moviegoers still were and it remains the second most successful SW film to date.

May 19, 1999 began a summer of eating junk food, acquiring SW goodies, and squeezing in plenty of trips back to the theater to see the film. It seemed as though the world was celebrating SW’s return because TPM was EVERYWHERE. I’ll never forget finding SW stuff at the airport in Ft. Lauderdale, the huge toy and merch room at FAO Schwartz’s flagship store in NYC, the odd offering of a SW Pepsi can on the steps where Gianni Versace died in Miami Beach, the supermarket in Miami’s Little Havana that seemed to be entirely festooned with SW décor. There are many good memories associated with that time: the shopping runs, the local fan parties, and multiple viewings. I saw TPM 10 times in the theater. Most of the time I went with friends, once I went by myself. The theaters ranged from the famed Ziegfeld in NYC, which happened to be right next door to the hotel where I was staying, to small basement theaters to dollar theaters to the beloved Uptown Theater in D.C.. At the Uptown, there was a pair of German tourists sitting next to me and I could tell they loved the movie even though I don’t know the language. When I saw TPM during the charity run in December 1999, I’ll never forget one guy telling his friend, “What a masterpiece! Every time I hear that music (‘Duel of the Fates’), I feel like I’m fighting Darth Maul!”

But my favorite memory of that time is from June 1999, just a couple of weeks after the film opened. I was at Downtown Disney in Orlando one night and when I walked past the huge AMC 25 zillion screen multiplex, I saw a group of teenagers in Jedi robes having lightsaber duels. Let me guess, they were there to see “The Love Letter,” right? Then, when I reached the other end of Downtown Disney, I saw a group of young kids, all under the age of 10, having their own lightsaber battle in one of those fountains that shoots water from the ground. Those moments told me SW had reached another generation. It doesn’t get better than that.

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