The Phantom Menace

Weekend Watch – Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of The Phantom Menace

Welcome to Weekend Watch, a recurring feature where we highlight some of the best geek-related videos around the web. Whether it’s short films, behind-the-scenes clips, video essays, or top 10 countdowns, the only requirement is that they are about our favorite geeky topics!

In this week’s special edition of Weekend Watch, we’re opening a time capsule to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Unleashed upon audiences twenty years ago to this week, the film’s release was a watershed moment for geek culture. At the same time, the massive amount of expectation from fans and critics made its lackluster storytelling even more disappointing. Part of the fascinating thing about looking back on The Phantom Menace is seeing where Lucas and company went wrong. With that said, we’re here to celebrate the film – for better or worse.

With that in mind, we’ll start with a flashback to the Episode I trailer before showcasing a making of documentary for The Phantom Menace. Afterwards, we’ll look back on what fan anticipation looked like for the prequel with a shorter doc. Additionally, we will explore the reactions of fans and critics after seeing the movie for the first time. Finally, we’ll close things out with a few panels celebrating the 20th birthday of The Phantom Menace.

Star Wars Episode 1 Trailer

First up, we have the first teaser trailer for The Phantom Menace, which serves as a great appetizer. Aside from the completely different editing style used for marketing two decades ago, this is still a pretty solid trailer.

The Beginning: Making Star Wars Episode 1

Next, we have the classic making of documentary for The Phantom Menace that comes from the Star Wars Youtube channel. Even though this documentary isn’t new, it is perhaps one the most insightful, fascinating and honest depiction of making the film. However, this documentary also gives valuable insight into what it was like making a blockbuster film in the birth of the digital era.

While watching this doc, one can easily see where Lucas and company went wrong. For example, the “rough cut review” (54:44) portion of the film is absolutely priceless because it’s the exact moment where the filmmakers realized that they may have “gone too far.” Overall, The Beginning provides a wonderful fly-on-the-wall look into making what would become one of the most over-hyped and disappointing movies of the 20th century.

Star Wars or Bust: The Phantom Menace Fan Documentary

One aspect of the aforementioned documentary that was only barely touched upon is the sheer anticipation before its release. Luckily, this fan documentary courtesy of Retrocade Podcast does exactly that. This short film was shot in the days leading up to the release of The Phantom Menace. The doc interviewed fans attending the midnight premieres of the film in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. Therefore, it serves as a historic cache of sorts about the state of Star Wars fandom in the late ’90s. If you’ve seen The People vs. George Lucas, then some of this footage might look familiar. Regardless, it’s worth checking out – simply because it showcases how monumental of an event the film’s release was. In hindsight, people were simply just happy to have a new Star Wars movie coming out. Until it actually premiered, that is.

The Phantom Menace Fan and Critic Reactions From 1999

Next up, we have a duo of videos that highlight some of the fan and critic reactions after it’s release. The first, from Funny Local News, features archival news footage of fan reactions from the night The Phantom Menace premiered. It’s interesting to see how utterly excited people were coming out of the film, but hindsight is always 20/20. If anything, people’s initial reactions prove that it took some time for people’s perception about the movie to change.

Once the reviews hit, things started to look a bit grimmer in terms of critical reaction. This video from Hello Greedo delves into some of those initial reviews, along with the aftermath of fan reactions. As they so eloquently point out, the initial divisive reaction to The Phantom Menace was akin to The Last Jedi a few years back. Both films effectively split Star Wars fans, although the former had the benefit of being relegated to online forums. It seems that, as much as things change – they also stay the same.

The Phantom Menace 20th Anniversary Star Wars Celebration Panels

Moving to the present, we’ll close things out with a pair of lengthy panel videos that celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Phantom Menace. Although these panels come straight from Star Wars Celebration last month, this is the perfect time to showcase them. The first turns the pages back on the film with rare behind-the-scenes content also features special guests.

The second gets slightly more specific by looking at the extensive design work for The Phantom Menace. Hosted by Lucasfilm VP and Executive Creative Director Doug Chiang, this panel provides a great look at the conceptual designs. Despite the film’s numerous flaws, it’s comforting to know that it has found its place in the Star Wars fandom.

What are your thoughts on The Phantom Menace ? Make sure to let us know in the comment section below!