Top Summer Movie #8: Sam L. Rules the Galaxy
STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE
Release Date: May 19, 1999
Tickets Sold: 84,859,901
Total Box Office (Adjusted): $645,783,843
With trade disputes strangling the Galactic Republic, two Jedis are dispatched to negotiate a settlement. Along the way they meet a young queen and a slave named Anakin Skywalker, whom they decide should be trained as a Jedi (in retrospect, this might have been a bad idea).
Wow Factor: 3 words, “New Star Wars”. Phantom Menace was the event that people had been waiting 16 years for, and it still sets the standard for summer movie anticipation. People began lining up to buy tickets a month in advance, and theaters were forced to implement rules about when tickets could be purchased and how many a single person could buy. Some scalpers were selling tickets for as much as $100 each. Name another movie people were scalping tickets for. Seriously.
Re-Watchability: You don’t camp outside a movie theater for a month to only see a movie once and then be done with it; you do it so that you can say you were there for the first showing and flaunt it to all your friends by saying things like “Oh man, I can’t wait until you guys see it, I had no idea Anakin would actually win that race” or “I wonder why Liam Neeson didn’t want to be in the second movie”. If you really think about it though, that first viewing is probably the absolute worst. You’ve been living like a vagrant outside a movie theater for days, you haven’t showered, you’re in a theater with a bunch of other people who haven’t showered, you’re tired, you’re hungry…and now you’re supposed to sit through 130 minutes of Star Wars and enjoy yourself? There’s a reason people saw this movie multiple times…
Improvement: After rescuing the young Anakin Skywalker from his slave owner, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon go to the Jedi Council, led by Samuel L. Jackson, and ask for permission to train him as a Jedi. The council refuses, saying that he could too easily be turned to the dark side. Of course, Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon) is the kind of guy who gets what he wants, so after being mortally wounded in battle, he tells Obi-Wan to go ahead and train him anyway. I understand that this needs to happen in order for the first trilogy to make sense, but now that I know Sam L was involved, I feel cheated that he wasn’t in the original trilogy popping up every time Darth Vader came onscreen and screaming “I TOLD YOU SO! I F***ING TOLD YOU SO!” at anyone who would listen.
Lessons Learned: Don’t rush out and make a crappy sequel just to try and capitalize on the “heat” from the first one. George Lucas waited 16 years between Return of the Jedi and Phantom Menace, and it still shattered every box office record imaginable. If you’ve got an interesting story and good characters, people will wait. Then again, Phantom Menace is the worst reviewed of the 6 Star Wars films (62% on RottenTomatoes) so maybe the lesson learned is that even if you wait 16 years, there’s no guarantee the sequel will be any less crappy.
armovieguys score: 7.5 out of 10.
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