Before EPISODE VII: Revisiting THE PHANTOM MENACE Trailer Fever…

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace movie poster

There’s nothing in all creation more exciting than the words ‘Star Wars trailer’. Nor anything in life as exciting as that moment you see the trailer for a new Star Wars film for the first time.

For whether it’s The Phantom Menace in 1999, Return of the Jedi in 1982 or The Force Awakens in 2014, there can only be that one first time you see it.

Tonight great ripples will reverberate throughout the fabric of the Living Force as Star Wars fandom awaits the first official teaser for the new Star Wars Trilogy.

This is what ‘breaking the Internet’ is really about – the first new, live-action Star Wars footage in almost a decade, its appearance the subject of hushed anticipation and with the inevitable trailer breakdowns and analyses to follow; all of it building inexorably to the release of Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens a year from now.

Frankly, I’m still reeling from the Revenge of the Sith trailer and that was ten years ago. This is actually the first time since Uncle George’s big business announcement two years ago that I’ve genuinely felt some excitement about what we’re going to see. I still remain a conscientious objector in principle to the production of a new Star Wars trilogy at all, but no life-long Star Wars obsessive can truly remain uninterested or aloof when trailer time (or indeed film time) arrives.

I generally hate movie trailers for the most part, but Star Wars has always been an exception.

I am reminded naturally of the utter hysteria surrounding the release of The Phantom Menace trailer in 1999. Do you remember how exciting that trailer was? How excited we even were to have a trailer for a new Star Wars movie? How frothing at the mouth we were to commence with the as-yet-untold saga of Anakin Skywalker and the Old Republic?



Before the new era of Star Wars formally begins (with this new trailer), let us revisit those far-gone days of Episode I  fever.

I don’t think there’s ever been as much hysteria around a single movie trailer as there was back in 1999, partly because there had been no Star Wars for sixteen years at that point, partly because those were simpler, more innocent times in terms of the amount and frequency of big-budget sf/fantasy cinema and big-name ‘franchises’, and partly because The Phantom Menace trailer was so damn good.

And it was really good.

People can say what they want now about The Phantom Menace, but you can’t disassociate from the genuine mass hysteria and excitement that characterized the lead up to that movie’s release, nor how exciting both the main trailers were. As we all wondered with baited breath what new magic would be coming into our lives after years and years of wearing out our Original Trilogy VHS tapes from repeat viewings, we shut the fuck up and watch as the iconic Lucasfilm logo appears to hushed silence, followed by the even more iconic ‘Far, Far Away’ text, and within seconds the familiar stirrings of John Williams’ The Force theme truly gooses our bumps and resonates with the deep-seated connections felt by millions of people who grew up in the eighties to a dozen mythic memories of George Lucas’s Galaxy Far, Far Away.

Then come the mythic words ‘Every Generation Has a Legend, Every Journey Has a First Step, Every Story Has a Beginning…’ By that point, a lump is in the throat and a tingle in the skin, and life suddenly seems newly alive with possibilities.

So many of us paid to get into screenings of that trailer and then left without waiting to see the film we’d been billed for (a phenomena that is due to be repeated tonight, according to many, though surely the trailer will be appearing online); and then spent hours discussing what we’d witnessed in that minute or so of footage.

From our first glimpses of the Boonta Eve Podrace to that mouth-watering Darth Maul double-bladed lightsaber reveal, with all the tantalising new dialogue to mull over in the meantime, such as Mace Windu’s “you refer to the prophecy of the One who will bring balance to the Force”; yes, I obsessed over that line for weeks. Remember: this was the first Star Wars dialogue we’d caught ear of in sixteen years.

And there was our first glimpse of Yoda in over a decade (back when he was still fully puppet), with his classically Yoda-esque dialogue (“Fear is the path to the Dark Side…”), those super-looking Battledroids and our first taste of the evocative Coruscant cityscape, among other little teasers that had us impatiently awaiting May 1999 and the full cinema release of The Phantom Menace.



That wasn’t all either; those several ‘Tone Poem’ teasers for TV that accompanied the trailers were just as memorable (I always resonated with the “One Dream” Anakin one in particular). Star Wars was back; it was really happening – the trailer confirmed it. And scores of people would lose their jobs due to taking the day off work on the day of The Phantom Menace’s release; or more than that, camping outside movie theaters for over a week in advance so they could among the first in line to see the film.

Marriages would crumble. Educations would go wanting.

For the record, while acknowledging its flaws, I’ve never belonged to The Phantom Menace Hate Club; there’s some damn good stuff in that movie (but I won’t get drawn into that speech right now).



And all of that is just talking about The Phantom Menace; the Revenge of the Sith trailer was something I watched over and over again for months prior to the May 2005 film release.

And that dark, moody trailer immediately separated Episode III in tone and feel to its predecessors, giving us our early glimpses of Anakin’s tortured journey to the Dark Side, Palpatine’s manipulations, the fall of the Jedi, our first look at Palpatine’s scarred transformation into the Emperor we knew from Return of the Jedi, the march on the Jedi Temple and of course the lava-laden lightsaber duel between Obi-Wan and Anakin that we’d all been imagining in our minds for years.

And if that hadn’t been enough, we had all kinds of additional teases crammed into that two-minute trailer, details that we would pour over for months; we realised Windu and the others would confront the Sith Chancellor directly, that Yoda would be taking on Darth Sidious, that poor old Ki-Adi Mundi would fall to his own troopers (in hindsight that trailer probably showed us too much), etc.

Star Wars trailers typically have a certain poetry to them and an old-style charm. Trailers for other contemporary films just don’t have the same effect on me – being mostly generic, overblown or by-the-numbers affairs.



Whether that effect will be replicated today with the Episode VII trailer remains to be seen, given how much more big-budget, over-hyped competition now exists that didn’t in 1983 (or even 1999); judging by the epidemic level of interest right now, however, I’d say this imminent Star Wars: Episode VII trailer is going to have as big and as rapt an audience as it could possibly wish for.

Some of that Phantom Menace sort of excitement and intrigue will be felt this evening by devotees of the Galaxy Far, Far Away. Depending on what we see, I might even be one of them (though I still don’t think there should be a new Star Wars trilogy: at least not in overall story terms). 

I don’t know that I can be as compelled again as I was in 1999 or 2005; but I’m open to it. And I’m excited. And I will almost certainly be watching The Phantom Menace again this weekend, whatever happens.

More: ‘From Podracing to Palpatine: 10 Brilliant Things in THE PHANTOM MENACE’…

S. Awan

Independent journalist. Pariah. Believer in human rights, human dignity and liberty. Musician. Substandard Jedi. All-round failure. And future ghost.

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