All-Time Favorite Trailers: ‘Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace’

With the unveiling of the first trailer for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” many generations were once again reminded of how thrilling it is to get our first glimpse at the latest episode which will take us to a galaxy far, far away. Seeing the fans cheer the trailer on at the recent Star Wars Celebration in Chicago, Illinois also took me back to the times when I got to witness any of the them on the silver screen with a large and incredibly enthusiastic audience as there are few cinematic experiences people are as passionate as a “Star Wars” movie.

After watching “The Rise of Skywalker” trailer, I found myself going back to the year 1998 when I was at the enormous movie theater located in the Irvine Spectrum Center to watch “Star Trek: Insurrection.” This was in the winter before “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” was set to be released. I remember hearing about the development of the prequel movies when I was in junior high school when time moved by way too slowly. Those movies could not come soon enough, and it would feel like an eternity before they finally arrived on the silver screen.

Never will I forget this particular evening as I watched the lights go down in the theater and the trailers began to appear. We thought we were getting “The Phantom Menace” trailer right at the start, but it turned out to be a teaser for “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” another all-time great movie trailer. But as soon as the Lucasfilm Ltd. Logo appear on the silver screen, the audience members began to applaud and cheer loudly as this was the one thing they were eager to see more than anything else.

Knowing this was particular “Star Wars” movie was the first new one since “Return of the Jedi,” which was came out almost 16 years before, and understanding how it marked George Lucas’ return to the director’s chair since “A New Hopes” (22 years to be exact), there was no way you could not be the least bit excited about this particular motion picture. We keep hearing about this movie or that one is the most anticipated movie in history, but this saying could not be truer when it came to “The Phantom Menace.”

This trailer hits all the right notes. John Williams’ famous themes never sounded as good as they did here, and the visual effects looked simply amazing. Seeing Yoda back in action earned an extra few cheers as few characters have given us such endless wisdom as he has. Plus, you had Samuel L. Jackson as a Jedi master, so you now there will be at least one bad ass motherfucker in this PG-rated movie. Plus, that Sith lord Darth Maul looked especially evil even by Darth Vader standards, so there was something else to look forward to. And when the trailer climaxed with Williams’ music, the crowd cheered louder than I have ever heard anyone cheer at a trailer before. It goes without saying that everyone was all set to see this sucker on opening night and perhaps even sleep outside the local movie theater so they could be the first ones inside.

Forget about what you thought about the finished film (that’s for a separate article). There was no cinematic experience you could have been more hyped about back in the 1990’s than “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.” I love this trailer because it reminded me of the many things I love about these movies, and of how important it was to see it before people spoiled it just as Homer Simpson spoiled “The Empire Strikes Back” for those waiting in line for it. Even today, 20 years later, this is still a thrilling trailer to sit through.

Star Wars Phantom Menace teaser poster

Star Wars Phantom Menace movie poster

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All-Time Favorite Trailers: ‘Austin Powers – The Spy Who Shagged Me’

It was December of 1998, and “Star Trek: Insurrection” just opened in movie theaters everywhere. At the time, I was a student at UC Irvine, and I had just wrapped up the last of my finals in the first quarter. To say that I was relieved was an understatement as I was minoring in English and made the mistake of taking three classes which left me with a boatload of reading and not nearly enough time to have a life outside of school. Once I was done, I didn’t even hesitate to celebrate, and I drove straight out to the Irvine Spectrum Center where “Star Trek: Insurrection” was playing.

But while the theater was filled with many people ready to boldly go with the crew of the starship Enterprise to where no one has gone before, the one thing foremost on our minds was if “Insurrection” would be preceded by the just released trailer for “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.” It had been almost 16 years since “Return of the Jedi” came out, and now that a new “Star Wars” movie was on the horizon, it felt to many like the second coming of Christ.

As the lights went down, I could feel everyone around me holding their breath in anticipation and praying that the first movie trailer shown would be for “The Phantom Menace.” Sure enough, once we got past “the following preview has been approved for ALL AUDIENCES by the Motion Picture Association of America” title card, we were thrust into outer space and shown what looked to be the wreckage of the last Death Star. As the camera zoomed in on the chair where Emperor Palpatine once sat, the audience got super excited and started to cheer as they were convinced the first look at the next “Star Wars” movie was about to be unveiled. Instead, the chair turned around to reveal Michael Myers as Dr. Evil who, while holding Mr. Bigglesworth, said, “You were expecting somebody else?”

It was a brilliant move on the part of Myers, director Jay Roach and New Line Cinema to promote “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” in this way as it played on what we know about “Star Wars” and exploited it to great effect. Once we realized what was actually being promoted, we all responded enthusiastically as Myers danced with abandon as the title character and sported those glasses and the inescapably large teeth he had. Yay baby indeed!

I also loved it when the trailer’s narrator said the following:

“If you see only one movie this summer, see ‘Star Wars.’”

You have to admire New Line Cinema for admitting this as even they had to admit there was no way this long-awaited sequel was going to beat “The Phantom Menace” at the box office. Instead, they presented it as an underdog to where it was kindly asking audiences to give it a look after they watched the latest “Star Wars” movie for a second time. Hollywood and the studios which inhabit it are always out to promise audiences how this movie is a must-see, and yet here this particular studio, which has since been absorbed by Warner Brothers, admitted this one was not going to use the force the same way Lucasfilm was going to, and it worked to the advantage of this “Austin Powers” adventure.

This is one of those movie trailers, let alone teaser trailers, which has stayed with me after so many years. I still remember the great feeling and humorous effect it had on me and the rest of the audience. As a result, it has long since earned its place on my list of the greatest movie trailers ever made.

We did eventually get to see the first “Phantom Menace” trailer before “Star Trek: Insurrection” began, but while the audience gave it a thunderous response, there was no forgetting the mark Mr. Powers left on us beforehand.

The People vs. George Lucas

the-people-vs-george-lucas-poster

It’s fascinating to see the trajectory George Lucas’ career has taken in the arena of public opinion. Here is a man who for years was beloved by everyone on the planet for creating “Star Wars,” who beat the Hollywood studios at their own game and opened us up to a world of tremendous and endless imagination. Then came the “special editions” of the original “Star Wars” trilogy which served to fund the prequels, and then the prequels followed shortly afterward, and he went from being seen as a demigod to being treated like a pariah of the worst kind. Our love for Lucas has long since turned into a vicious hatred which had us out for blood, but has he really become just another greedy CEO, or are we all just being a bunch of ungrateful bastards?

Those issues are examined in Alexandre O. Philippe’s highly entertaining documentary, “The People vs. George Lucas.” After all these years we finally get to see the filmmaker have his day in court. Granted, he only appears in past footage of interviews and behind the scenes stuff, but Philippe does make it seem like he’s giving his side of the story here.

This could have been just a one-sided portrait of Lucas and the venom he has inadvertently inspired in the most devoted fans, but what’s great about this documentary is how it gives us a multi-faceted view of him. We see Lucas’ humble beginnings and how he developed a love for film and a deep hatred for the corporations which took over Hollywood. We feel for him when he talks about how upset he was at film executives who re-cut “THX-1138” and “American Graffiti,” and we find ourselves rooting for him to gain his independence from the studio system forever. The fact he accomplished this through getting exclusive merchandise rights on “Star Wars” was a kick because no studio will ever let another filmmaker get away with such a thing ever again.

Then we see how Lucas, through gaining his independence, became the very thing he fought against. There’s a great interview with Francis Ford Coppola who talks about the filmmaker Lucas could have been and of how many great films he had inside of him, but the success of “Star Wars” ended up enslaving him for life. Lucas has said, with the conclusion of the prequel trilogy, he was going to make the smaller and more experimental films he always wanted to make, but he soon found himself drawn back to the galaxy far, far away when it became possible to do 3D versions of each “Star Wars” movie.

Philippe also shows us how Lucas is full of contradictions. On one hand, this is a filmmaker who fought against the colorization of black-and-white movies, and yet he will do nothing to save the original versions of the first “Star Wars” trilogy. Many feel like he totally ignored the fans who helped build “Star Wars” into a mighty franchise by giving them “The Phantom Menace” and Jar Jar Binks, but even he agreed with them that “The Star Wars Christmas Special” was a huge mistake.

By presenting all the different sides of Lucas, we don’t come out of this documentary loving or hating him. In the end, he’s human like the rest of us, prone to making inescapable mistakes like anybody else. While many despise him for how the “Star Wars” prequels turned out or for what he did to “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” his never-ending imagination has created splendid worlds we would all love to be a part of.

One of the great things about “The People vs. George Lucas” is watching the fan made films and parodies which “Star Wars” inspired. Seeing filmmakers use stop motion animation, anime and other methods is a lot of fun to take in. Among the best bits were “Troops” which is a spoof of the TV show “Cops” but with Storm Troopers, and the “Misery” parody which has Annie Wilkes making the injured George Lucas rewrite “Revenge of the Sith” the way she wants to see it. Why she didn’t make him rewrite “The Phantom Menace” remains a mystery.

In many ways, the “Star Wars” prequels and even the last “Indiana Jones” movie were victims of our intense anticipation for them. They represented a way to once again experience the things in our childhood which made us so happy to be alive, and we would give anything to feel like a kid again when it comes to movies. But in the end, our excitement for these movies was undone not because we expected more from them, but because our anticipation proved to be more exciting than the finished product. To put it in another way, here’s a quote from Lewis Black:

“There is no better moment than this moment when we’re anticipating the actual moment itself. All of the moments that lead up to the actual moment are truly the best moments. Those are the moments that are filled with good times. Those are the moments in which you are able to think that it is going to be perfect when the moment actually happens. But, the moment is reality and reality always kind of sucks!”

The anticipation for “The Phantom Menace” was higher than any other movie before it, and there was no way it could have completely satisfied everyone. In retrospect, our excitement for the prequels proved to be far more enthralling than what ended up on the silver screen because we wanted them to be one thing, and Lucas ended up going against our expectations whether he intended to or not.

What “The People vs. George Lucas” seems to suggest in the end is that we should be thankful he continued with “Star Wars” at all. It also suggests that, despite our utter disappointment at the prequels, he still gave us a wealth of imagination we can still be deeply inspired by. Had this been just a documentary dedicated to bashing Lucas to within an inch of his life, it would have become tiresome and boring very quickly. But “The People vs. George Lucas” is great because it gives us the different dimensions of the man and shows us how the ways he fought the system ended up working against him in later years. This is a great documentary that will appeal to fans and non-fans of “Star Wars,” and that’s assuming there are any non-“Star Wars” fans on this planet or others.

* * * * out of * * * *


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/14623364″>The People vs. George Lucas – Trailer #3</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user2655015″>The People vs. George Lucas</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>