« on: May 20, 2004, 09:00 AM »
(this is from a writing exercise I do as often as I can, just a kind of stream-of-consciousness writing. I wrote it yesterday, and figured I might as well share:)
Five years ago yesterday, Star Wars Episode I was released. I remember that day well. Nearly three weeks prior, I had called around to all the local theaters, trying to find out as much as I could about the opening day activities. I decided I would go see it at my favorite theater of the time. The Tinseltown theater was about a half-hour drive on the expressway from my house, but worth it for its deluxe auditoriums with huge screens and extremely comfortable seating. (Two years prior, I had done a marathon of A New Hope for the rerelease (all 5 showings the opening day) at the local General Cinema theater, and my neck and back had paid for it.)
There was going to be a ticket presell (the first one I can recall, definitely the first one I had attended) the week before, with the box office opening at noon. I drove down at 10:00 am to find a line already wrapping the building, tents lined up near the front. I settled in at the end of the line near the rear exits of the theaters to wait. About an hour in, my younger brother showed up to wait with me. By noon, my girlfriend also showed up. Between the three of us, we held our spot in line while also going over to the Wal-Mart across the street for refreshments, potty breaks, and (at least in my case) ogling the huge Star Wars merchandise displays for new stuff I hadn’t seen yet. I remember the line moving pretty quickly once the doors opened and everyone started going. I must’ve been out of there by 1:30 or so. I bought tickets for the midnight showing, as well as some for 11:00 am.
The night of the 18th, I worked until 8:00, then went home and changed into my Star Wars outfit: jeans and a Jawa t-shirt. It was a rainy night, and after some initial car problems that made me worry we wouldn’t make it to the movies in time, we were on our way: my girlfriend, my brother, and me. We got to the theater about 10:30, and once again found ourselves in a long line, this one waiting to get seats. The crowd was populated with many of the now-classic sights: homemade Jedi outfits, an army of Darth Mauls, plastic lightsaber skirmishes, the occasional ornately-made Amidala costume. We were near the back of the pack, and by the time we made it in most of the theater was full. We wound up in the nosebleeds, three rows from the projector. Spirits were high as the crowd waited, I remember some guys behind us having fun with a laser pointer on the screen to the groans of the rest of the mob. Management came in and made threatening noises, and when that didn’t work, one of the homegrown Darth Mauls came up to confront the guy he was sure had the laser. It was an amusing sight.
When the previews started, there was a cheer the likes of which I hadn’t heard in a theater before, followed almost immediately by the largest “boo” for the preview for “the Beach” starring Leo DiCaprio (then a rumored favorite to play adult Anakin, but mostly hated for Titanic’s success.) Other film previews flashed by: Titan AE, Fight Club, American Pie, Austin Powers 2.
Then the movie started. Applause for the 20th Century Fox drums, then more for the logo. Then more for the Lucasfilm logo. A veritable roar for the “A Long Time Ago” titlecard. Somehow the noise just kept getting louder, as the words Star Wars leaped onto the screen, culminating in the cheer when the lines Episode I: The Phantom Menace scrolled into view.
The film upon first viewing was a treat. It looked good, back before our collective eyes got weary of all the digital stuff. I remember being drawn into Liam Neeson’s performance quite a bit, while his main adversary for the bulk of the movie—little CGI Watto—reassured the fears that Jar Jar Binks was already stirring in me. The movie came to conclusion amid many cheers (and not as many groans as I’d expect, looking back), all the way thorugh the end credits, when the patient could hear the phantom breathing of a character that wouldn’t appear for another two films.
We went home afterward, talking about the eventuality of Anakin’s fall and Obi-Wan’s failure. Of whether any casual fans would pick up on Palpatine clearly being Darth Sidious. Of Threepio and Luke being half-brothers. Of the surprisingly limited use of Darth Maul after all of the promotion. We got home about 3:30 in the morning, took quick naps, and went back for the morning showing. This time we sat very close, and felt more immersed in the story and images than the night before—so close I saw the ET senators that second time.
We talked about going again that evening, but finally decided not to. I saw it plenty of more times that summer. After a few viewings, it was easy to see this new Star Wars wasn’t going to have the same effect on me the old ones did as a kid, but I always had a good time.