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My dad loved movies, he loved technology, and he loved showing me and my sister the things he loved. He sat us down to watch cartoons on Saturdays so we could laugh and enjoy the silly humor that came from shows like Bonkers, Bump in the Night, and Batman: The Animated Series. He also loved taking us out to go see movies a lot. We would go to the 2-for-$5 theater out at the Carousel Mall in San Bernardino to see movies as well as to the Rubidoux Drive-In. He would sit us down to watch movies at home, too, like Indiana Jones, Star Trek, Batman, and Superman. His favorites were from the sci-fi or action genres. Looking back on those times, my dad pushing for me to be an athlete might have been a waste of his time. What I think he didn’t notice though is that he accidentally pushed me to be more artistic through his love for cinema and pop culture. See, my dad wasn’t a cinema snob or an outright nerd, because he was more into team sports when he was younger and that pushed him to be a team player in every part of his life from the point of graduation to his death. But, again, when it came to his downtime he spent it watching whatever he could get his hands on, whether it was on TV or on sale at the local Fedco store. This led us as a family down a path of engulfing every new form of technology we could afford, so you can damn well believe we got DVD players when they became the fab item to have.
But before that, the new technologically fab thing to do in the spring of 1997 was to go out and see the newly remastered Star Wars films. My dad had worn out the CBS FOX tapes that he bought in the ’80s, watching them over and over again with my sister and me. We enjoyed all the fights, the alien costumes, and the vast landscapes that filled the screen, telling the story of a young boy who would one day become a knight that would lead the charge and defeat an evil empire. My dad was excited and wanted us to go to every screening when each one came out. I remember the whole family took the day off to see Episode VI – A New Hope, and my dad came into the theater with us just a little after the movie started and went back to work after it finished. It was during this screening though that my father and I heard about the beginning of the saga that we all know and love – Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.
From what we gathered from folks talking about it and what we were able to read up on thanks to the advances in computer technology and the internet, it looked like it would be more of what I enjoyed when we watched the original Star Wars trilogy: epic space battles with new shiny ships, lightsaber fights with epic jumps and spins, and melodrama that sparked my nostalgia for the original trilogy. We wouldn’t get our first glimpse of any solid visuals until 1998, but that didn’t stop both of us from imagining what it would be like. My feelings about the politics of the fanbase, the thriving underbelly of the merchandising of the movies, and how to get past the late-stage hatred for the Lucas trilogy wasn’t there yet, like they would be later on in life, but my young mind and heart wasn’t ready for that. Those childhood feelings bubbling up from my love for the original Star Wars movies would fuel my love for The Phantom Menace. At least for now.
With all the hype for Phantom Menace building up over the course of the late ’90s, I was all-in for anything and everything when it came to toys, books, and video games involving Star Wars. The remasters had opened Taco Bell to the Star Wars toys overflow that would rule my life for the next couple of years. The Star Wars remastered toys were the first ones to get me. The Yoda/Vader switch piggy bank was my favorite, and I would play with it and drop loose change in it any time I had the chance. The games that came out before the release of Phantom Menace’s trailer pulled me. X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter and Rogue Squadron became go-tos any time I was over at a friend’s house who had either an N64 or a computer. When the trailer came in late 1998, I was already on the edge of my seat. I couldn’t wait to see what was in store for me with The Phantom Menace.
The buildup to the release was ungodly. I remember seeing the epic newsreel of folks camping out weeks earlier than they probably should have and all the folks dressed up in Jedi robes and having lightsaber battles out in the front of whatever theater they were staying at in order to see the movie. When the movie was released in May of 1999, I was super excited to go see it and the madness at the theaters that came from being a Star Wars fan. It was all over the place when I drove in with my dad to see the lines in front of the movie theater attached to the mall he worked at. He would tell me we would have to wait for the hype to die down from the first two opening weeks before we could see it. We waited and finally saw the movie in the second week, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Everything was so big and epic — hell, bigger than Star Wars Episodes IV-VI. Seeing Anakin as a child made me relate to him more than before when I saw him as Vader. The lightsaber battles were more vibrant than they were in the originals. Darth Maul was scary as hell but I couldn’t help but want to get my hands on a double-bladed lightsaber. It was everything I was hoping for. On top of that, Taco Bell once again had the Star Wars-related cups, the little planet toys, and the contests to get Episode I stuff, which I was all for. I jumped right in and begged many times to go eat at The Bell and get the kids’ meals so I have all the toys. It was a blast sitting there and playing with the toys. I couldn’t get enough of it. The Phantom Menace got me by the heart, and I was ready for whatever else George Lucas wanted to throw at me.
Episode II – Attack of the Clones wouldn’t take long to come into theaters after The Phantom Menace. 2002 saw the start my high school years, and it was epic, to say the least. Attack of the Clones, when I saw it for the first time, felt like my high school years: full of angst, crushes on senior students, and having some unseen beef with my elders. The movie was a hit, in my book. I remember seeing Count Dooku as a pompous punk who was willing to take whatever he could and use it towards his ultimate goal of dictatorship and pleasing his master, Darth Sidious. The alien monsters were freaking cool and deadly, so when they released the toys based on the monsters that were in the battle arena, I just wanted to waste all of my allowance money. The epic Yoda fight with Count Dooku was amazing. Seeing the great Jedi Master at his height of power and youth, utilizing all his skills to take on a deadly foe. This was the last Star Wars film I would see with my dad, so it meant a lot to see it with him in the theater too. The hype, again, was building up when the ending gave way to Episode III and the conclusion to what would be Anakin’s story.
When Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith came out, my dad had passed away on February 14th, 2004. It was a bittersweet finish to something my dad and I were looking forward to with our shared love for Star Wars. When it came out, I was not disappointed. It felt like the ending I needed to see in a film: the young boy who was trying his damnedest to be a good person became corrupted by the powers looking to take his strengths and weaknesses and utilize them for power grabs and taking over a whole galaxy. In hindsight, perhaps trying to take over the galaxy was kinda crazy, but that’s beside the point. The movie itself started out fast with its buildup to introducing characters that I, unfortunately, had no knowledge of, thanks to not having Cartoon Network with my cable provider. I had no idea who General Grievous was or who a lot of the clone troopers were, since they were introducing those characters in the Clone Wars series that was coming out on Cartoon Network. That’s where I feel like a lot of my frustration with the series ended up coming from; it wasn’t until later on that I was able to get a better grasp of the lore I had missed out on, but that would be years before I could get my hands on information, DVDS, and books that helped fill in the gaps for me.
Later on down the line, closer towards my early years in college, I started coming across comedians like Brian Posehn, Doug Benson, and Patton Oswalt. They were a part of my dad’s generation of Star Wars fans who loved the original trilogy. Through them, I was able to hear the downfalls of Episodes I-III. Being the edgy college student I was, I fell prey to hating on The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. It was pretty much the cool thing to do in the nerd community to talk down about Episodes I-III. I had pretty much lost a lot of my memories about the movies that were the lead-up to the epic space opera that most Star Wars fans held as the gospel to follow when anything Star Wars was to be made. I wasted a lot of energy on quoting those comedians and arguing with folks about how bad the prequels were, and I didn’t take into account that they were George Lucas’s babies. This was what he wanted for his original trilogy, and these are the ideas he wanted to focus on with melodramatic space wars and political war backdrops. My anger and frustration bled into the newer Star Wars movies that would come later on, and even though I ended up liking The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker, I still ended up being bitter over Episodes I-III. It was sad, really, to have all this angst and anger built up over these movies. I became almost as toxic as the fanbase. To think, that something I cherished in my childhood as something I could share with my dad had become something I could bring up in conversation as a point to how art has been failing us for years thanks to the overuse of pompous storylines and digital special effects.
I had to take time to realize that I had been a part of a bandwagon moment when it came to my hatred for George’s trilogy, and it wasn’t until recently that I decided to give Star Wars: Episodes I-III a rewatch. Through these rewatches, I learned that there was a lot that I missed out on when it came to the extended lore that branched out from Episodes I-III. Each movie brought back a bunch of memories of sitting down and enjoying the battles, the toys, and everything that came with the release of the movies. The Clone Wars TV series is now a must-watch for me, as is Star Wars Rebels and even more so the Disney+ series. All these connections and the rich storytelling have me wondering why I even was so mad at Episodes I-III, and I wish I could go back and tell my younger self not to follow in line with those who thought of themselves as superior for hating on such a beloved franchise and some of its shortcomings. Some things didn’t work out for those fans who just wanted more of the same, but those who were looking to Star Wars to keep breaking ground and becoming the epic Lucas wanted it to be, were happy. Lucas also got the chance to act out his dream of being like his favorite director, Akira Kurosawa, with all the imagery, political melodrama, and love stories that always end in tragedy. In the end, I feel like, if anything, I owed it to myself and my dad to try and not be so harsh about the films I used to love as a kid. I’m still surprised by what I can find when I take the time to rewatch some old films I used to love as a kid.
Star Wars: Episodes I-III all screen at The Frida Cinema starting Friday, August 26th.
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
Friday, Aug 26 – 1pm
Saturday, Aug 27 – 1pm
Sunday, Aug 28 – 1pm
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
Friday, Aug 26 – 4pm
Saturday, Aug 27 – 4pm
Sunday, Aug 28 – 4pm
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
Friday, Aug 26 – 7pm
Saturday, Aug 27 – 7pm
Sunday, Aug 28 – 7pm