10 Years of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
We look at the anticipation we all felt ahead of its release.
Ten years ago this month, excitement reached fever pitch ahead of the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. After 16 years without a Star Wars film in cinemas, an entire generation got ready to experience the magic of George Lucas' space opera on the big screen.
We all remember our reaction when the film finally unspooled. Though the film set box office records and managed to stay fresh in the eyes of critics, fan reaction was generally pretty cool. Plenty of criticism was leveled at the film's new foibles, not least Ahmed Best's Jar-Jar Binks, who managed to offend even the staunchest of Ewok apologists. Indeed, we seem to gloss over the popularity of the character with the under-10s who spent as much allowance as they could muster on various pieces of merchandise emblazoned with the Gungan's stupid face.
But while most of us remember how we felt after we saw the movie, how familiar are we with the levels of excitement we felt before? Journalist and Star Wars fan Scott Andrews presents a timeline of anticipation for Episode I.
- November 1st - George Lucas begins writing the first prequel.
It's based on an outline written in 1976, before Episode IV was released.
- June 26th - Filming begins.
The shoot moves between Leavesden Studios in the UK, Tozeur, Nefta and the not-coincidentally-named Tataouine in Tunisia and Caserta in Italy.
- September 30th - Filming ends.
Familiar architecture? Tataouine in Tunisia.
- August 13th - US release date announced as May 21st 1999.
- September 21st - International release schedule announced.
People in the US with camcorders realise that they're going to have two months to secretly film it and distribute it online so people in the UK can see it.
- November 17th - Trailer released in US cinemas.
According to the New York Times, a cinema showing Denzel Washington thriller The Siege took about $1000 on the 16th. When the film was shown the next day, with Star Wars trailer attached, it took $13,000. Meet Joe Black and Wing Commander also benefit, as cinemagoers turn up, buy tickets, watch the minute-long trailer... and then leave. Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, tells the paper, "This is incredible. We've never heard of a trailer packing people into a theater. It's a precedent-setting event."
To try and get people to stay put, some cinemas announce that they'll be screening it twice - both before and after the main feature. And it's worth it, because the trailer is brilliant, giving us Yoda, Samuel L. Jackson, a slightly bored looking Liam Neeson, and lots of great production design. We get our first proper glimpse of Jar-Jar Binks, but he's not really in it that much, so we're lulled into a false sense of security.
- November 23rd - The trailer hits the web.
Lucasfilm's servers go into meltdown as they receive up to 400 hits a second. Marc Hedlund, director of Internet development for Lucasfilm, tells the Times: "We knew it was going to be popular, but I'm still surprised at the reaction." Maybe this new fangled interweb thing is going to catch on, eh, Marc?
- December 16th - The trailer hits UK cinemas.
The trailer is given its own premiere at Leicester Square Odeon two days before it goes on general release for six weeks. It's pulled after that on the order of George Lucas. The poster of young Anakin with Darth Vader's shadow begins to appear everywhere. Rumours that it was actually self-replicating, like some sort of paper-based virus, remain unconfirmed.
The first teaser trailer.