The year, 1999. The day, May 16th. The place, Los Angeles, CA. It’s the premiere of Star Wars Ep. 1 – The Phantom Menace. The prequel craze is born, both for fans and studios.
May 19th, fans all over the US, and soon the world, cheer as they get to experience the origins of arguably the greatest villain ever to grace the silver screen. I was one of those wide-eyed children whose parents had shared their love of the Original Trilogy and agreed to let me go to the midnight showing on a school night because they were just as excited and couldn’t find a babysitter.
It more than delivered and the buzz about the playground was children mimicking lightsabers and blasters for the last two days of school. The school year ended, and friends went to our separate camps and activities, looking forward to seeing each other again in the fall.
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Then, something changed on May 21st.
Up to this point, articles had been positive, even one from Vanity Fair referring to The Phantom Menace as the eventual champ over Titanic and would be ‘a massive film financially’ and Entertainment Weekly (EW) saying you need to listen to the album to decide if a movie is worth your time, and Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace was a ‘duh’.
Summer came to a close, as it does, and it was the first day back at school. I was excited to show my friends the Anakin lunch box I had saved three-weeks of chore and lawn mowing money to buy. You know the one; fabric with Anakin in his pod racer gear in a weird triangle shape.
Not only were my friends apparently not impressed with my lunchbox, but they laughed at me when I asked if they wanted to play Jedi v Sith. Star Wars Episode 1 was a TERRIBLE film now and all their excitement a few months ago had, of course, been fake.
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Now, I never was big into the film magazine articles at that age. They were a luxury we couldn’t afford, like a lot of low-income families, which was why a family trip to the movies was such a big deal and all I had through the summer of ’99 regarding Ep. 1. I was confused and hurt by this shift in attitude because when you’re 10, what your classmates think means a lot.
Then one of the boys took pity on me and showed me the article; it was, shock of shocks, EW and it eviscerated much of Ep. 1, but the main targets were the supporting alien character Jar Jar Binks and the quote ‘Force-feeling Christ character’ Anakin. The kicker? It came out THE SAME DAY as their article about the music/soundtrack making Ep 1 a ‘no brainer’, May 21st.
Suddenly, you weren’t a real fan if you loved the Originals and Prequels, you had to choose. Why? Well, the internet was very much a thing, as that’s where both EW articles mentioned above were, and still are, available, but the World Wide Web was not quite what it is now, thanks largely to the smart phone hitting the market in 2007.
Legacy media still had a majority of the control, and a lot of the message boards weren’t open to or accessible to everyone; I know it’s hard for Gen Z’ers to imagine, but computers were more common in school computer labs and/or libraries than homes and pockets, with limits on how long you could be on them, connected by dial up. So, that one article held a LOT of pull. If you liked Episode 1, you were a loser.
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I often wonder how much of the modern mockery of the Prequel Trilogy can be tied back to the influence from that one EW article and the wave of peer pressure that followed. The truth is we’ll never know, but that doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant. If anything, it is a lynchpin moment in entertainment and human history we can reference when we wonder why so many people are easily swayed one way or another by corporate access media.
The same tactic is being employed today with modern mythoi we fans love and have turned into the juggernauts they are. If Professor Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings had only sold 38 copies, rather than been translated into 38 languages, Amazon wouldn’t have spent billions trying to chase the success of the Peter Jackson trilogy and using the Tolkien fandom to manifest his own Game of Thrones. The irony, of course, being that Martin was trying to get his own, albeit more nihilistic, Lord of the Rings.
So, Amazon is dipping their hands into the proverbial Prequel pot and are coming armed with their own Vanity Fair and EW articles. Articles that have been dissected by fan and shill alike. The difference? The internet isn’t what it was back in 1999 and fans, true fans, have a voice that isn’t amplified or diminished based on corporate and legacy media outlets and how they want/need to spin things.
Not only are articles, social media posts, and videos being made, but fans’ ability to present feedback is almost instantaneous. San Diego Comic-Con is where upcoming productions go to be heralded and celebrated, creating buzz and anticipation. The reaction Amazon is getting after their presentation is not only negative, it’s knowledgeable.
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Unlike Star Wars fans who had no real inkling what Disney was going to do to the Star Wars legacy and story, the Doctor Who fans who were curious about the approach a female Doctor could offer only to be spat on by The BBC, or the Wheel of Time fans who bore witness to the Amazon massacre of one of the most massive sequential fantasy series ever created, Tolkien fans are more than just numerous.
Knowing the lore of books and films, having a keen and descriptive guide of what the aesthetic should be, and able to recognize the patterns of a fly-by-night, lore trashing operation that has to be either a money laundering front or helmed by the most incompetent and untalented individuals on the planet as the purported billion dollars is clearly not going into the actual show, there is no amount of spin that this multi-billion dollar corporation can pull that is effective, and that enrages and terrifies them.
Why does any of this matter? If these corporations own it, they should be able to do whatever they want, right? These are just movies/books/music after all, they aren’t real. Why care so much? Because, as The Critical Drinker so aptly put over a year ago in his video ‘Why The Past Matters.’
“Art is what makes us who we are. From the first time we learned to use tools, we’ve been driven to express ideas that transcend the limitations of our existence. We’ve been compelled to create things that will outlast our short lives.”
“To tell stories that enthrall and captivate people long after we’ve lived and died. Our art is an expression, not just of who we are, but of who we were, and who we might be. The good, and the bad,” he declared.
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