By Scott Murray
I remember the excitement leading up to seeing a new Star Wars film in 1999. I remember going into a theater full of rowdy Star Wars Fans that were anxiously awaiting the 20th Century Fox fanfare to play and the glowing Lucasfilm logo to appear.
Before all of that happened, I remember taking a moment to clear my head of expectations, memories of the original trilogy and just be excited to see a new Star Wars movie. After all, I knew I wasn't going to see Han, Luke, Leia, Vader, the Millennium Falcon, X-Wings, Tie-Fighters and ther familiar things.
This was not only a new Star Wars movie, but the first in 16 years. I had to be ready for things to be different. Unfortunately, I don't think everyone in Star Wars Fandom was ready for that.
The result was the beginning of the Star Wars fan rage fad that we have today. Looking back on it all 15 years later, I have come to some conclusions of why it went so right for me, why it went so wrong for others and where things stand today.
Unreasonable and unfair expectations
I am quite certain some fans set themselves up for disappointment by simply not realizing what they were going to see the first time they watched Episode I. Most of us were kids when we went to see IV, V, VI in 1977, 1980 and 1983. It never occurred to some fans that watching a film made in 1999 in your 30s, 40s or older might not feel like the exact same experience.
Think about it. What were our expectations (as children) for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi? The biggest expectation was probably that it would be super cool. A lot of times, that's all you want as a kid (along with good popcorn, candy and soda).
If you realized that after seeing the movie, you probably didn't like it. Though the trailers should've been a signal that this was a very different kind of Star Wars movie.
The Phantom Menace was not only our first return to the theater to see a new Star Wars movie, but it was also Lucasfilm's first attempt at producing one in some time. When you leave that story and come back to it again after that long... it's going to be different. For one thing, it's different today how we shoot, produce, edit movies and tell stories. There was very little chance this was going to feel like the 70s and 80s.
I also think there was an element of storytelling that was overlooked when it came to the angry knee-jerk reactions to the film. This was the first episode. It wasn't the fourth, fifth or sixth. . . it was the FIRST.
So, the story wasn't in a place where everything was instantly about a galactic war, big dogfights in space and a galaxy ravaged by tyranny. It was a calmer, more tranquil time in the galaxy (hence the brighter colors and settings) and something had to trigger the events to come. In this case, THAT was The Phantom Menace.
So, there's another reason why some might have not been ready for this movie. We were used to being dropped into the middle of the big action and now we had to start from the beginning. It was a new experience.
I think I read a quote from George Lucas one time where he pointed out that fans wanted Episode I to be Episode III, and that just wasn't possible. He's right. It wasn't.
Complaining has turned into raging fad
Now there's nothing wrong with not liking a movie. Heck, there's nothing wrong with disagreeing with people who liked it. However, as with anything, there are extremes and that's where dislike for a movie gets out of hand.
The more amusing complaints come from fans who think just because they saw the original trilogy hundreds of times, that it made them experts on how the prequel stories should have been told. Sorry, it's still not your story. It's George's. And by the way, it's not just for us (and fans in our age group).
I am more than happy to discuss the weaker aspects of The Phantom Menace. I can understand and even agree with some of those points. What I don't understand is the fan that says The Phantom Menace completely ruined Star Wars or fans that continue to rage about it 15 years later. In an age of internet trolls and forum flaming, Star Wars rage has become a fad.
Ever since The Phantom Menace, some people go out of there way to complain about every single thing Star Wars does. It has carried on from the prequels, all the way to rage about how Star Wars: Rebels is proof that the franchise has been Disney-fied and destroyed.
I honestly feel sorry for those fans. I'm not saying you have to love everything that's done with the franchise or that it's a fan's obligation to even support everything it produces.
Just remember - it all could be dead. It could've ended in 1983. If it did, all we would have is a set of epic movies that we could only talk about. We would also have future generations that had no chance to experience Star Wars the way we did.
However, Star Wars is bringing us more events, collectibles, toys, movies, TV shows, comics, video games, books and much more. It saddens me that some fans have allowed their fan rage to get so out of control that they can't find anything to genuinely like anymore (or perhaps not secretly enjoy).
Yoda might not have been talking about angry fans, but that whole, "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering" thing is speakin' some truth.
Defending the movie
I'm glad I was able to enjoy The Phantom Menace. Granted, I don't rank it ahead of Episodes IV-VI, but it is a part of Star Wars that I like.. I remembered debating all kinds of things with people after seeing the movie for the first time. I remember even calling in a movie critic radio show and defending the film
Despite understanding some of the complaints about Jar Jar, I've defended him as well. Just like other characters and story elements in the Star Wars Saga, his character has roots in mythology (The Fool) and I believe his part is key to the larger theme. - even a clumsy, silly alien has a role and a purpose in the galaxy.
These days, I have found others that enjoyed the movie, as well as people that grew to like it over time. I find love for The Phantom Menace in all walks of the fandom.
It's good to know that the tired complaining, 15 year-old jokes and constant fanraging fads have not slowed down the chance to enjoy the movies and get more Star Wars.
This is a re-post of a blog written in May of 2014. Check out our recent discussion about the state of Star Wars fandom HERE.
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