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For Love of The Phantom Menace — Guest Blog by Jeremiah Stewart

For Love of The Phantom Menace — Guest Blog by Jeremiah Stewart

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Spring of 1999 was a great time to be a Star Wars fan. I was 11 years old and was riding high after the thrill of seeing the Special Editions just two years before (my first Star Wars movie-going experience). As a kid, Star Wars seemed to be everywhere from KFC to Burger King, to McDonalds to even Borders Books. Everywhere I went, there was Star Wars (even in the Scholastic school book order forms from school) and I had to have it all. From fast food game pieces to little cardboard posters they gave away with purchases at Borders Books, it was all stuff I needed to have (even pictures from newspapers). In fact, the Anakin cardboard picture I got from Borders Books, as well as many other posters, calendars, and even toys such as Micro Machines, are still on display in my bedroom back home.

Of the many toys I had in my room my absolute favorites were my Micro Machines. I would buy the little “bases” or heads that opened up as well as packs of the little figures and set up little battles. The Battle-Droid, Jar Jar, the Trade Federation Troop Carrier (that opened up to the battle of Naboo) were just a few of the sets I bought and still have in my room. The Star Wars (Phantom Menace especially) versions of Micro Machines matched my “army men” or “heroes vs. terrorist” sets that were so classically common in Micro Machine collectors man for man, base for base. Often there would be Star Wars vs. Army Men battles with hundreds, if not thousands, of figures headed by Jedi leading the way through the machine guns.

The posters and calendars were extra bonuses, the Sith vs. Jedi Poster with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan vs. Darth Maul was up in my room for a decade, and a calendar was opened to October where the image was Padme as a Handmaiden for almost a decade straight.

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With toys and images found in every store, fast food restaurant, and even schools for all of 1999, what surprised me was after The Phantom Menace set box office records, Star Wars seemed to disappear. As a child I had no comprehension of the hate some people had, and still have, for that film. To me it was the greatest thing since sliced bread and was the best film I had ever seen. I watched it repeatedly and had my figures do massive battles across my bedroom. I loved that film (and still do). But what changed? Episode II rolled around, and I remember being excited, just not as much. I remember images, speculation, Supershadow, trailers, and more, but the presence of Star Wars was weaker.

The first thing I noticed, as a Micro Machine collector, was that there were next to none. In book stores there were no giveaways and even the fast food giveaways were far less than they had been. Everything seemed to be scaled back and afraid to promote Star Wars. A child of 14 then, I still didn’t realize, or care, about the hate some had for the film, or that many products were still on the shelves from Episode 1 because they hadn’t sold. To me, another Star Wars film was coming out, but for some reason the product was gone. Some of this was due to a purposeful scale back by Lucasfilm and their partners, but why so much? This was incomprehensible then and today.

3D

Answers did not come until I saw The Phantom Menace 3D release in theaters. Still a huge fan, of course, I went with a lightsaber and Star Wars T-Shirt and enjoyed the film in the clearest, best presentation I had ever seen, complete with the now digital Yoda. What did I notice as The Phantom Menace came around? Figures were back on the shelves, posters were in book stores (the few that remained), fast food promotions, and again Star Wars was everywhere from billboards to newspapers. Now in the years after that film, I came to the conclusion of why products were not around for Episodes II and III, and it came as I went to Shopko late 2014 and looked on the toy hooks. On those hooks were lone action figures (no Rebels figures could be found of course) of Ric Olié and a Battledroid, still remaining from the 3D release. As I dug behind them there were many, still unsold over the years.

Something struck me that day; there is an excitement that I felt for The Phantom Menace, it is an excitement that Lucasfilm and its merchandising partners also felt. It was evident on the toy shelves as it was in bookstores, restaurants, and even movie theaters. There was a hope and expectation that Star Wars was back and that meant life was good. It was a feeling that was felt in 1999 and that Lucasfilm tried to have everyone experience again with the 3D release of the film. Alas, it was an excitement that some felt and others did not.

A child of 11 still comes out when I see my Phantom Menace merchandise, it’s still everywhere in my room at home, visible to me when I visit and, as I do, the magic comes back; The magic of a child who wanted more Star Wars than George could ever give, who got it through the toys, books, games, pictures, and world that was everywhere in 1999. Alas, it has only resurfaced a little when the 3D release came out, but perhaps,this being 2015, the year Star Wars returns with its sequel trilogy, that magic will return and I will be a child again.

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Jeremiah is the host and owner of Bombad Radio, a Star Wars and more podcast. He is a father of one, a future podcaster, and resides in Provo, Utah.

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8 Comments

  1. Carsten
    February 14, 2015 at 11:06 Reply

    I think original trilogy fans do not like the prequels because Episodes I-III make the originals feel out-of-date and boring. Episodes I-III are my favorite movies of all time and I will always treasure them the most.

    1. BombadRadio (@BombadRadio)
      February 14, 2015 at 12:17 Reply

      Thanks, I agree! There is just something in the atmosphere and feel of the time, I’ve never recaptured though honestly… Avatar came close (in theatres)

  2. Jon
    February 14, 2015 at 12:35 Reply

    As a child of the 70s, I loved the OT, but I very much enjoy Episodes I, II and III because it was so vast and new for Star Wars, great characters and awesome music. The Star Wars mythology of the Old Republic and the Clone Wars is a great place to go to see new adventures.

    1. Jeremiah Michael Stewart
      February 14, 2015 at 20:54 Reply

      Agreed, I think what excited me most about the PT was just how much bigger it made the galaxy.

  3. Jeff M
    February 14, 2015 at 23:01 Reply

    This is an even better read with all the pictures included 🙂 I’m OT all the way, but I DO appreciate what the Prequels added to the Star Wars universe. I will never be found saying that they are well-written, but as eye candy goes, they are stupendous, and there are lots of fun moments. Episode III is a legitimately good film, as well.

    I can certainly understand why someone younger (like yourself) would have the same reaction to the prequels as someone SLIGHTLY older (like….myself (sigh)) had to the OT.

    Great read, come back and do it again soon!

  4. Jennifer Regis
    February 14, 2015 at 23:38 Reply

    I only became a Star Wars fan fairly recently, but when I think back I do remember the pandemonium around The Phantom Menace it was intense, even I recall having a bunch of Star Wars items (Darth Vader and Storm Trooper Walkie Talkie, Lukes Lightsaber, a mini Millenium Falcon, a small rebel pilot, Darth Maul and Jar Jar Action Figures) and no one in my family had still even watched the Originl Trilogy at the time. Then I just remember as Episode II and III were release it became so quiet. I had no idea about the divided reception of the films only of people’s annoyances with Jar Jar.

  5. Jim Goetsch
    February 15, 2015 at 19:22 Reply

    I saw the original trilogy when it first came out, but I have loved the prequels very much–and I would even say TPM and ROTJ come in as a tie in my list of fav SW movies. I think getting to see TPM with my children when they were young and share all that excitement with them that I once had probably cemented it for me. But still I do love TPM–even the much abused Jar Jar (who was absolutely my 8 year olds favorite character). I have NEVER even come close to understanding all the hate around the prequels and TPM, and I have been distressed by all the negativity against Lucas, who has given such much joy in my life through his creativity and wonderful films.

  6. Mike MacDonald (@MikeTarkin)
    February 19, 2015 at 13:27 Reply

    I always enjoy hearing about a Star Wars fan who experienced the Prequels at the same age i experienced the Original Trilogy. I remember taking my nephew to Phantom Menace and seeing it multiple times. My son was 7 when Revenge of the Sith came out and he considers the Prequels “his movies” and the Original Trilogy “my movies.” I love them all so that’s fine with me! A nice article, well done!

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