Welcome to my life, y’all. Welcome to my mind. There is plenty of space between my Ego and my Id to get cozy, I’m sure. In this bi-weekly column, I’m going to examine, analyze, and reassemble my formative experiences – and hopefully our generation’s – with the screen. That means pulling out old treasures, recognizing past trends and swimming in a deep pool of nostalgia.
Remember your first movie crush? The movie that gave you nightmares? Your favorite Disney VHS? Hopefully, by the end of this journey I’ll learn a little bit about myself and what makes me tic. So without further ado, I’m going to reflect on the first movie I remember seeing in a theater – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
This movie is regarded by many as the worst follow-up/prequel in history. Writer/director George Lucas was accused of everything from creative suicide and hypocrisy to racism. He demystified the Force by introducing ‘midichlorians’ and bored people with long-winded trade negotiations. People love to hate on this movie and the ensuing prequels. My favorite reaction is that of actor Topher Grace. Grace re-edited all three prequel films into a single 85-minute version that removes most of what people hate. I should note that at the time of release, it wasn’t entirely reviled by critics. Viewers enjoyed the ending light saber duel, the pod race, and its general scope. It goes without saying that the film made a boatload of green.
How did all of that register to a five year old? It was kickass! Having not seen the movie in many years, I don’t really want to comment on the quality, but the residual experience. The Phantom Menace introduced me to a new concept: the event movie. At the time, I could not fathom that there was a tie-in coloring book available before the movie was in theaters. I carried it around with me like it was a prize. As a good consumer, I begged for Star Wars merchandise. Plastic lightsabers that made sounds and lit up were all the rage. Watching the movie was only half the fun; I relived it again and again on the playground, in books, on the web. The best thing I received was a lightsaber lollipop that lit up when I pressed a button. I ate it slowly so that there would always enough sugar ‘blade’ to glow.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a shame that Star Wars turned me into a mindless consumer. But blockbuster entertainment promises spectacle that extends off the screen. Lucas successfully created a movie that stimulated my imagination, or perhaps just unlocked my potential. Finding an immersive world is why I see movies. In years since, I’ve been obsessed with other franchises, most recently Nolan’s Batman movies, and always Indiana Jones. I’ll remember, however: Star Wars came first.