From an e-mail sent to friends in May 2005.
Starting way back in 1980 with the release of The Empire Strikes Back, the last two weeks prior to the release of every new Star Wars movie has been nerve wracking for me. Dread creeps in and I become so full of this dread that if it had mass I would balloon to Jabba the Hutt-size proportions.
The dread takes on two forms, the first of which is a fear that the new movie is going to stink like a wet wookiee. To be honest, it comes as no surprise to me that this happens. After months of anticipation and higher and higher expectations there is nowhere else to go but downward.
With The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the expectations were centered on the well being of the characters. Luke, Leia and Han were like old friends and I was concerned whether or not they were going to come out okay in the end. Who would live on to fight the good fight and who would meet a heroic end? Who would ultimately win Leia’s love, Luke or Han? I was rooting for Luke but accepted that she chose Han. It took years for me to forgive George Lucas for that bogus “twins separated at birth” thing.
Magazines were the main source of information back then. Most of the science fiction or movie magazines did stories about the two movies prior to their release. Most of those stories were pure speculation about what could happen. Some writers were so bold as to suggest what should happen. In the end, most of the speculation was way off the target, but it was enough to fuel my imagination.
As the movies approached I became more and more excited. But when it came down to crunch time, I was a nervous wreck that the movies would be bad. The nervousness proved unnecessary. Empire was great, nearly as good as Star Wars in my opinion. Others maintain that it is superior to the original, but they’re just goofy. Jedi was a satisfactory ending to the trilogy but lacked any major oomph. While the final confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader was great, the Luke/Leia-brother/sister thing was unnecessary and made for some icky moments in the earlier films. And don’t get me started on those damn Ewoks.
With The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones we knew that Obi-Wan and Yoda would live beyond the end of Episode III and that Anakin would become Vader, so the anticipation was driven more by hype than by character development. The fact that Lucas was returning to the Star Wars universe for the first time in sixteen years certainly helped, too.
Following the end of Return of the Jedi there was a long dry spell of anything new about Star Wars. Fans had known for years that Lucas had plans to do the first trilogy and waited for years while he put out such stellar films like Howard the Duck, Tucker and Radioland Murders. The only things available to slake our thirst were a comic book series from Marvel Comics that at times bordered on the absurd and a few video games. The comic book series was canceled within a few years of Jedi and the games added nothing new to the story.
Star Wars was nearly forgotten by 1992 when a new series of novels came out detailing the further adventures of Luke, Leia, Han and the others. I bought these books but couldn’t get into them, not finishing a single one. A couple years later, Dark Horse Comics obtained the rights to do a series of comics based on Star Wars. These comics were more serious than their counterparts at Marvel and of a much higher quality.
None of this new material was to be considered canon, though. One story had Boba Fett surviving his fall into the Sarlaac Pit even though Lucas maintained that Fett was indeed dead.
A glimmer of hope appeared in 1997 with the release of the Special Edition versions of the original trilogy. The movies were cleaned up and had new features added with the help of computer generated imagery. The fans were told that this was done partly to show Lucas that the creatures and environments he imagined for the prequels could now be achieved. The news that Lucas was now working on the prequels was most welcomed.
The hype surrounding the release of The Phantom Menace was unprecedented. Several TV programs and cable channels did specials on the new movie. I fell for all of the hype, recording as many of the programs as possible.
One program on the E! Channel promised an exclusive first peek of the teaser trailer to be released months in advance of the movie. The trailer looked great but the small screen of a TV didn’t do it justice. I called around to area theaters asking if they were showing the trailer and which movie it was attached to. I finally found it attached to Enemy of the State, a Gene Hackman and Will Smith movie I already wanted to see. The trailer looked even better on the big screen, making me anxious to see the movie more and more.
The Internet was the biggest source for information about the new movie. StarWars.com and assorted fan sites provided as much news as a fan could possibly want and more. Some fan sites somehow managed to get inside information about the plot of the movie and were only too eager to spoil the movie for others. I stumbled upon some of the spoilers by accident and had to force myself to avoid them before seeing the movie. I happened upon a few more to my regret.
There was an onslaught of magazine coverage of the first Star Wars movie in sixteen years. Several newsmagazines did cover stories on The Phantom Menace and numerous other magazines devoted entire issues to the movie. I bought as many of them as I could find.
The movie was mostly a critical flop. Most of the critics panned it and several fans claimed to hate it. Despite all of this, the movie still raked in over $400 million, falling just short of the original Star Wars box office take. It became “cool” and “hip” to slam The Phantom Menace. I must have thought the movie was okay since I saw it thirteen times at the theater.
The hype for Attack of the Clones was severely toned down compared to Menace. The coverage wasn’t nearly as extensive and the product tie-ins were pulled way back. The movie took in less money than its predecessor even though it wasn’t panned nearly as harshly. It was still criticized poorly but was considered better than Episode I. Initially, I liked it better than Menace but caught myself falling asleep during my fifth viewing. I didn’t watch it again until about a week ago. I almost fell asleep that time as well.
The hype for Revenge of the Sith is much closer in scale to that of The Phantom Menace. You can’t go anywhere without seeing something about the movie. The reviews have almost all been positive. My expectations are high and so far there has been no dread.
An odd thing that happened prior to each of the first two prequels was that I had a dream about watching the movie. The dreams were very vivid and had me believing, when I woke up, that I had indeed seen the movie. In both cases, the movies in my dreams were horrible.
In both cases, the dreams fed my dread feelings about the movies.
How could the movies possibly live up to their legacy?
There are only two nights left before the release of Revenge of the Sith and so far I’ve had no dreams. I’m taking that as a good sign.