Prequel Trilogy,  The Phantom Menace

“Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is one of the most influential movies of the last two decades”, says senior lecturer in media

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From ABC News:

“Film culture would never be the same after the release of Meet Joe Black.

People bought tickets for the film, where Brad Pitt plays the Grim Reaper, but they were really there to see the trailer for Star Wars: Episode One — The Phantom Menace. Most stayed for the 2 minutes and 12 second runtime of the trailer and then left. Only the brave stayed and watched all 3 hours of Meet Joe Black.

In Australia, senior lecturer in media at Swinburne University and author of Star Wars After Lucas, Dan Golding, was a pre-teen testing the limits of his household’s dial-up modem.

“I tied up the phone line for over an hour downloading the teaser trailer for The Phantom Menace on a 56k modem and scrutinised every frame. It was an impossibly mythic moment.”

Two decades later, the release of The Phantom Menace feels like a myth. A film too big to fail that lured in fans but left most of them seething. For 20 years we’ve been coming to terms with The Phantom Menace and how it drastically changed the way movies were made, marketed, consumed and then spat out.

The prequel turned 20 this week and its influence is still felt in CGI-heavy films and the moans of fans dissatisfied with everything from Game of Thrones to the latest adventure in a galaxy far, far away.

The rise of the internet collided with Hollywood in the lead up to the release of The Phantom Menace and it was the moment when trailers took centre stage. Now we have teasers trailers and teaser trailers for the actual trailers.

After Return of the Jedi, the only Star Wars fix you could get was through novels, comic books and video games. Star Wars fans had waited 16 years for an event they thought would never happen and it was destined to be huge. The trailer for The Phantom Menace was one of the first to go viral online, despite the agonising wait for each second of footage to download. The trailer made it into news bulletins as did the countdown to its release and fans camping outside cinemas for tickets.

One of the first dedicated film websites on the scene was Dark Horizons, based in Australia, run by editor, Garth Franklin.

“It was a big event, probably the single biggest I’d seen since Batman in 1989 in that everyone was talking about it,” says Franklin.

“Far bigger than even the recent double punch of Avengers: Endgame and Game of Thrones.” […]

Fans have always been misbehaving but the reaction to The Phantom Menace planted a seed of discontent within pop culture and a precedent for how to behave.

A lot of it may have been a mixture of great expectations, disappointment and denial but fans would go on to have their guard up about anything. It was no longer cool to be excited for a new Star Wars, in the fear you’d be humiliated if it was bad. The cynical age of fandom had begun.

“The Phantom Menace was perhaps the biggest early flashpoint that set us down the path that we find ourselves on today in terms of a certain strain of fan feeling like they own popular culture,” Golding says.

When you see online petitions to remake the final season of Game of Thrones or the harassment of people who don’t give fans what they want, it’s a symptom of two decades of fans spreading the sentiment to never forget The Phantom Menace.

The Phantom Menace still made $US1 billion at the box office, which was all Hollywood wanted to hear as it forged ahead with planning the next decade of CGI blockbusters made in its image, which included two more prequels — Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

“The Phantom Menace is one of the most influential movies of the last two decades,” says Golding.

“Motion capture performance, green screens, even the word ‘prequel’ — all of these things owe a huge debt to The Phantom Menace. When I look around at today’s blockbusters, I see complex seriality everywhere, I see CGI everywhere, I see motion capture performance everywhere. All of this is the shadow of The Phantom Menace.”

Looking back, Franklin says people are beginning to view the film in a different light.

“It’s both a cautionary tale and misunderstood. Lucas made the film he very much wanted to make, expectations be damned, and so the auteurism of these films is now being reassessed and appreciated,” says Franklin.

“It’s especially important now as the last two years has seen the rise of what is a growing issue of the line that filmmakers have to walk between what’s good for the story and what’s good for the fans.”

Golding says the distance from the film, and two films continuing the saga, the Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, means the prequel now stands in a different light.

“The Phantom Menace was George Lucas’ answer to the way that critics and academics had by 1999 taken the original trilogy to task for its black-and-white morality and simplistic politics.

“The Phantom Menace and the prequels in general tell a story that looks even more prescient today, about how democracies give themselves away to dictators.”

Looking back at ’99, it ended up being an incredible year for film with The Matrix, Fight Club, The Sixth Sense and Being John Malkovich to name a few in a long list.

Another ground-breaking film on the opposite end of the spectrum would defy Hollywood logic when The Blair Witch Project became a mega hit and deftly used the internet as marketing tool.

Despite the influence of all these films, The Phantom Menace is still the one that resonates when you see action scenes made entirely in a computer, read an article with a trailer breakdown 6 months before a film’s release or debate the merits of a blockbuster on Twitter.

May the discourse be with you.”

0 Comments

  • Marshall

    Once again, it was the media that tried to sow those seeds of discontent in fans’ psyche way before the film was released. I remember a Newsweek article (it was called “Waiting for Star Wars”) that sneakily asked: “but what if Lucas is peddling a bummer?” Lucas never played by Hollywood’s rules during the OT years and since the media is owned by studios, Hollywood wanted revenge. I would say that it backfired but I would hardly compare fans’ frustration with GOT to prequel hate.

  • MithrandirOlorin

    The Mummy and Mewtwo Strikes Back are the other 1999 films I’m Nostalgic for. But in Japan the 99 Anime films were Pokemon 2000 and the Utena movie.

    This movie made me a Star Wars fan. There have always been those who like the Prequels.

  • Slicer87

    They also ignore how even the media darling TESB originally opened to mixed reviews from critics and fans in 1980. Even back in 1983, old intranet posts have been found of fans complaining about ROTJ. There was already plenty of nerd bitiching around the release of the SE in the late 90’s. The hate and toxic fandom started long before 1999. The internet just happened to give them a soapbox a couple of years later.

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