Star Wars: The Phantom Menace turns 25, here is what opening weekend was like

There may not have been a more anticipated movie release in my lifetime ranking higher than Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace. It turns 25 years old this year, and while on the lower end of the scale of movies in the mythology for many, it’s reception was unforgettable.

That week in 1999 was crazy as the world prepared for the first serious live action work in 16 years. We didn’t have internet buzz back then. We were walking into what was going to be a mostly unknown experience. There were a couple of magazine articles and stills. We knew it was about the Anakin Skywalker journey to becoming Darth Vader, and that was mostly it.

I saw it in a theater complex in upstate New York. Only two theaters in the building weren’t showing Episode I. When the title screen flashed, my screening stood up and clapped as the John Williams score blared over the speakers. Every single second was precious, we weren’t so cynical, we were eating every thing up.

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We laughed at Jar Jar Binks.

Pod Racing was cool.

Darth Maul was incredible. The double lightsaber reveal and Natalie Portman’s “We’ll take the other way around” got the biggest pop in the movie.

“Duel of the Fates” had us locked in and the lightsaber fight is still arguably the best in the series.

And when Qui Gon Jinn died, you could hear the air exit the theater. We couldn’t believe what we were watching. They killed off a leader we believed we were going to be watching for at least two more movies.

Finally, when the credits rolled. We gave it another standing ovation.

Now, over the last quarter century, history has been cruel to Episode One and then actually kind again as the fandom becomes more sentimental.

The next time we would get this hyped again for a release was…. You guessed it. The Force Awakens 16 years later.

But you could argue that 1999 was the last time a movie audience was ever that bright eyed and just happy to be there watching a new chapter in a legendary saga.

Some of the movie chains will offer an anniversary screening this year. It might be worth checking out. For me, I don’t know if I want an anniversary watch blurring that feeling I got when I walked into the theater so many years ago.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

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