As soon as I heard that AMC theaters was having special events for the opening of The Phantom Menace, I bought tickets for our family. My husband and I had seen TPM when it was first released. We lived in Manhattan then, and I remember the walk back to our apartment from Union Square, complaining about what I saw as faults of the movie.
There were so many expectations from my childhood love of Star Wars that TPM could only disappoint. I hated Jar-Jar. Young Anakin seemed pandering to the G-rated audience. Midichlorians sounded just a bit too much like mitochondrion. Darth Vader’s name was Ani – like Aunty Annie’s Pretzels, for goodness sakes!
On the plus side, Ewan McCutie was in it. I had fenced in college and was quite particular about duels – and TPM did have the most amazing lightsaber battle, ever. Did I mention Maul? Mean, mysterious, focused and really, really scary Darth Maul? My favorite kind of bad guy? We dressed up as Maul and Obi-Wan for Halloween 1999.
Over time, I warmed up slowly to TPM. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I truly appreciated it without dismissing it out of hand as childish. After watching all six movies in continuity on Blu-ray, TPM setting the six movie story arc in motion finally made sense to me. Without seeing how sweet, innocent, and generous Anakin Skywalker was, it would be hard to understand the depth of his fall or his need for redemption.
Though our daughter had seen TPM a number of times on our television, it was still exciting to share the experience of it with her on the big screen.
For the debut weekend, AMC had planned character visits, exclusive giveaways, and Maul face painting. The girl at the ticket booth advised me to come early. Since only six AMC theaters across the country were participating in the debut celebration, it felt like an exclusive event. We drove forty-five minutes across the San Francisco Bay to Emeryville, where the San Francisco area event was. We were the second group of people in line. Soon, we were part of an animated crowd that snaked around the corner of the building. There were all sorts of people there: young, old, and families like ours.
A group of Padawans, including my own, recreated my favorite fight scene of the Star Wars series. I have to say the Padawans were better sports than the Jedi and Sith. Everyone shared lightsabers, and to the relief of the moms, no one ended up crying – or with their eyes poked out or chopped in half.
The doors opened and we left the cold February morning into the warm popcorn smell of the theater. There was swag – toys and the exclusive pod racer 3-D glasses. We found our just-right seats to view the movie – not too close, not to far back, goodies in hand. Though it was before noon, we got popcorn, red vines and Cokes. The AMC seats were spacious and plush. It felt as if we were alone, even though the theater was full.
Unlike the first time watching TPM, when I was full of expectations – and disappointment – I was free to simply enjoy the experience, and this time I did. The extended Podracing was exciting, despite knowing the outcome. Duel of the Fates, in 3-D with Dolby surround sound vibrating around us, was even more thrilling.
Best of all, there was a party after the movie. Darth Maul and Jabba the Hutt showed up. So did Stormtroopers, various Jedi, Padmé Amidala and Mace Windu. There were Legos to build. Kids could preview of the new Star Wars Xbox and play a Podracing video game. Even Lucasfilm showed up to film it all.
I’m still annoyed by Jar-Jar. I still love Maul. As much as my life has changed from 1999, some things haven’t. Watching TPM in the theatre with my family, joined by so many other fans, reminded me of why I love Star Wars in the first place. There is always adventure, excitement, and the sense of being a part of something greater than myself. Indeed, may the Force be with us all.
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