15 years after The Phantom Menace

Queen Amidala (TPM)

The Phantom Menace turning 15 is our second significant anniversary since Episode VII was announced (Return of the Jedi turned 30 last year,) so here are few TPM links: James’ reflections on The Phantom Menace 3D; J.W. Rinzler on George Lucas’ thoughts on midi-chlorians; Jake Lloyd on Episode I in 2009 and our own anniversary post that year; Amidala’s costumes in Vogue.

Head below the cut for a few more videos of note.

The original trailer:

‘The Beginning,’ the making-of documentary:

4 Replies to “15 years after The Phantom Menace”

  1. TPM is a VERY special film for me. It was the first Star Wars film I saw in cinemas, when I was ten and going through some very tough times (mostly involving immigration for economic and political reasons, not an uncommon experience for children in the Balkans and Eastern Europe at that point). At the time I was living with extended family and felt largely abandoned by my parents, who had only done what was best for me, even if I couldn’t see it.

    I had seen ANH and ESB on old VHS tapes when I was even younger, but for some reason, they just didn’t click with me and I remember very little of that first viewing. Don’t know if the fault was the (atrocious) Romanian dub on top of the English dialogue, the poor-quality image on our dinky little TV or the general aesthetic, but the end result was that I fell asleep halfway through Empire and missed the big reveal (not that my cousins didn’t miss the chance to spoil it for me).

    Then came TPM.

    I was a lonely, miserable kid with anger and trust issues, who was finding it very difficult to adapt to a whole new country and a large capital city, as opposed to a village in the boonies. I missed my parents and resented them at the same time, I missed my old classmates and to top it all off, I had to deal with kids constantly making fun of my ‘country bumpkin’ accent and lack of experience with their way of life. My uncle decided that he’d take me to the cinema to try and cheer me up — and he chose TPM because the advertising was EVERYWHERE.

    I was utterly enthralled from the first few seconds. I cheered for the Jedi and the Queen escaping Naboo, I marveled at the bright, intense, colorful world in front of my eyes, I tried to pick apart every single one of Amidala’s glorious outfits in my head, I laughed at Jar-Jar’s ridiculousness (even if today he mostly makes me roll my eyes) and I listened intently to all that was being said. By far my biggest point of connection with the film, however, was Anakin Skywalker. He was the same age as me, he was a daredevil. he reacted much as I would (my standard response to people belittling me for my origin varied from scowling to biting their heads off) and he faced similar hardships — being separated from whom he loved most, facing a thoroughly uncertain future, among people who were still strangers to him and having to prove himself worthy of trust.

    In spite of his age and the chaos all around him, however, he remained kind-hearted, heroic and selfless in his wish to help others, if it was in his power to do so. The scene where he reminded Shmi that too few people genuinely wish to help others is by far my all-time favorite moment in the entire Star Wars saga, even taking the Expanded Universe into account. It still manages to give me shivers to this day. In the Anakin of TPM, I very much saw myself reflected, just as I saw how a morass of confusion, grief and loneliness could be navigated, if you kept your head high and refused to allow yourself to be battered into cynicism and hatred. To me, Anakin Skywalker stood for what was best in humanity in his childhood and I loved him FIERCELY for it, even as I later despised the fact that a large chunk of Star Wars media was more preoccupied with shading his every action with ‘see, see, he’s totally gonna fall, see this is indicative, this is evocative, this is the walk to the dark side’, instead of organically developing him into the flawed, yet at the same time complex, kind and heroic person whose beginning we saw in TPM and whose ultimate fate would make those watching or reading wail in grief. It took The Clone Wars, more than a *decade* after TPM, to actually give me the above.

    Still, getting sidetracked. I promised myself that this would be a positive celebration of TPM, because there’s already enough bitterness and anger for this fandom to wallow in.

    By the end of TPM, I was cheering and hollering in the theater — which is a big deal, since I’m normally a very quiet, reserved person. I was still innocent and ignorant of Palpatine’s machinations, so the ending of the film seemed unquestionably positive for me, on top of the fact that it played out in a way that I *needed* to see at the time. The sight of the Naboo and the Gungans coming together to protect their homeworld, then celebrating together and chanting ‘peace’ was wondrous for a kid weaned on crumbling superpowers, regional armed conflicts and ethnic tensions that ran deep and bitter. I was born in the Republic of Moldova, which at the time of my birth was still a part of the Soviet Union. When the USSR fell apart, this part of the world fractured straight down ethnic and linguistic lines. Arguments became firefights, fears of one ethnic group being assimilated by another turned into a feverish frenzy of hate, neighbors turned into enemies. The Romanian-speakers feared Russia and the Russian-speakers feared Moldova and Romania. Long story short, because no one wants a history lesson in Eastern European conflicts, the Russian-speakers seceded by violence and set up their own enclave (Transnistria/Transdniester) between Moldova and Ukraine. A good deal of us Romanian-speakers left our childhood homes and fled for safety, losing much of what we had built in the process. Some of my most vivid early childhood memories are the sound of gunfire, being ordered to stay away from the windows and crying when I was being passed from adult to adult, in a confusion of bodies and voices.

    Then there was also the fact that the year I saw TPM was 1999 — when the NATO bombers flew over Romania to bombard Serbia and its capital Belgrade and our TV stations were full of the destruction and the loss of life in the Kosovo War. 1999 was the year when our fragile, post-communist reality almost fell apart in another violent coup, stopped at the last moment when the army halted the march of thousands of armed miners headed for the capital. ‘War’ and ‘coup d’etat’ weren’t abstract realities for me back then — they were in the air I breathed and in the dreams I dreamed in that hot, sweltering summer.

    My childhood taught me that fear and mistrust and ultimately hatred would always rule relations between those who come from very different ethnic or linguistic backgrounds. TPM was the first piece of media to acknowledge some of this…. yet also present a fiercely optimistic outcome, the kind that I had fervently wished for before we had to run. After the film, I couldn’t stop laughing, talking, cheering, BEGGING my uncle to buy another pair of tickets, so I could see it again. We weren’t rich and going to the theater was seen as a bit of frivolity back then, but I ended up seeing TPM five times that summer, each time coming out more and more ensnared by this universe that had given me what felt like a balm for the soul.

    I ended up rewatching the original trilogy on VHS and greatly enjoying it, just as I attended the premieres for both AOTC and ROTS. I was thoroughly and irrevocably hooked on Star Wars, to the point where I’d write stories about the characters in my school notebooks and pester my uncle to help me find clothes that I could fashion into Jedi robes and Queen Amidala outfits. Today, if someone asks me what film I consider to be the best in Star Wars, I answer ROTJ. However, if they ask which one is my FAVORITE, the answer always remains the same and I say it with my head held high.

    The Phantom Menace.

  2. great time… the hype was unreal and one of the most memorable times of my life when it comes to SW… I’m hoping episode 7 ‘s hype will be just as good.

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