On opening day May 19, 1999, Star Wars fans turned out in droves to return to a galaxy far, far away for the release of George Lucas’ Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
Southern California’s KCOP 13 News on opening night produced a segment interviewing Star Wars fans exiting first screenings of The Phantom Menace, the first prequel coming 16 years after 1983’s Return of the Jedi.
“There’s no way it’s gonna be a disappointment,” says a moviegoer wearing a Darth Vader mask when interviewed before the show. When reporter Hal Eisner asks a sprawling crowd if they expect a “lousy movie,” the line outside the AMC 14 theater yells in unison: “No!”
“I liked the special effects, I thought Lucas did a really good job,” says one fan interviewed when exiting the theater. Says another, “It was so intense. I mean, my heart was beating, it’s still beating now. I just screamed, literally.”
The highest praise comes from one fan dressed as Darth Maul, the fan-favorite dark side user who cuts down sage Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) in the blockbuster’s climactic lightsaber battle.
“It was amazing, it was everything I thought it was gonna be and more,” the cosplayer says.
Singled out by one fan was Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), a young slave destined to one day become the villainous Darth Vader. “I think that little Anakin Skywalker, and everyone’s gonna say it, stole that movie,” the fan says.
Others weren’t so impressed.
“I mean, I don’t want to bag the movie, but I really didn’t think I cared about the characters,” admits one fan. Critiques another, “It really didn’t have any personality.”
Says one disappointed moviegoer, “Thumbs way down. I think I deserve a public apology from George Lucas.” In the middle is another audience member who admits to mixed feelings, saying, “I was kind of disappointed in the ending. But yeah, I gotta say it was worth the wait.”2comments
Of 19 moviegoers polled after the midnight screening, 10 reported they “loved it,” seven “liked it,” and two “hated it.”
The Phantom Menace has grossed $1.027 billion in lifetime box office totals and spawned two direct sequels, 2002’s Episode II: Attack of the Clones and 2005’s Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, both penned and directed by Lucas, who in 2012 sold the franchise and company Lucasfilm to The Walt Disney Company.