Once upon a time and what seems like yesterday for some of us the Phantom Menace premiered on May 19, 1999. The internet was still wild but relatively young. Dial up was still at thing. And word went out the Prequels were finally being filmed. I poured over every picture presented in the Star Wars Insider, made sure to stay up to date on the original Star Wars website where they showed sneak peeks of behind the scenes activity, especially to subscribers. They never let story slip and speculation was rampant on the forums. I remember recording the first TV trailer with a VHS on a show I never watched. I remember downloading it over Dial Up. When the toys hit before it came out I dove in headlong to get my share. I was an adult now, with a job. Old enough and making enough money to at least have fun with it.
I charged into the first showing at the nearest theater after taking a very rare day off from work. I loved most of it. The entire planet of Naboo blew me away as did the Jedi in action. I loved Jar Jar and am not ashamed to admit it. I did find some of the podracer drivers (or is that pilots?) a bit corny and still feel Jabba doesn’t match his size in the New Hope Special Edition or Return of the Jedi. (Did he go on a diet?) and Bib Fortuna looked a bit off too. But those were minor quibbles. I was very impressed overall and did not hesitate to see it again while it was out. I saw it again on a re-release and yet again on it 3D release! The moment Anakin meets Obi-Wan gave me chills. I felt for young Anakin having to choose between staying with his Mother and chasing his dreams of freedom and heroism. Shmi’s kindness and incredible courage and generosity in letting her son help the Jedi and go with him amazed me. And to this day, Padmé’ making peace with the Gungans is one of my favorite moments. It’s not easy to admit to needing help.
The Phantom Menace also broke new ground in technology. Not so many years before an underwater city, a character like Jar Jar, battle droids, all the gungan technology and the amazing battles probably wouldn’t even have been possible. As usual Lucas was pushing the envelope. The only thing as amazing was how the artists and authors of the Expanded Universe fleshed them out. The Phantom Menace gave us Aurra Sing the Jedi killer, Quinlan Vos (blink and you’ll miss him, he had no name.) For the first time ever we saw the Jedi temple and met the Jedi Council.
For those of us into the Expanded Universe, there was that extra thrill at finding the Expanded Universe was confirmed in the movie. There was the thrill of hearing the name Coruscant on screen for the first time, confirming it was the galaxy’s capital. Darth Maul’s double bladed lightsaber had comic book fans recognizing it from Tales of the Jedi’s Exar Kun.
Back then, Star Wars was out constantly even before that in the form of books and video games. Lucas had kept the prequel era as off limits (he knew he was going to make the movies.) But Dark Horse comics had created stories set millennia before. There was plenty of room to explain away any discrepancies therefore with the natural changes of time. But now, finally the lead in books, comics and games could lead into the prequels themselves.
In celebration its a great time to reread and revisit these stories that came out in the lead up to the movie premier of the Phantom Menace:
Jedi Apprentice young adult series however came out May the third according to the internet. I don’t know how accurate that is, but its safe to say the first book by Dave Wolverton was before the movie. It starred Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon as they began their journey as master and apprentice. Thirteen year old Obi-Wan’s adventures included occasional clashes and reconciliation with his master, battling pirates, bounty hunters, diplomacy that was not a simple negotiation and more. They are still popular for both kids and adults in spite of being out of print.
Star Wars Republic by Dark Horse Comics initially didn’t have the title Republic. But issue 0, Prelude to Rebellion came out in December 1988 with that first story arc concluding on the movie release date. These have since been rereleased as omnibuses, now under Marvel. We saw Ki-Adi Mundi and Aurra Sing in comics before in film hit theaters.
The Phantom Menace adult novelization of the movie by Terry Brooks came out the month before. The Junior Novelization by Patricia C. Wrede came out early in May. The comic adaptation started at the beginning of the month.
Other stories came out after the movie but were set chronologically before it:
The Jedi Apprentice series switched to author Jude Watson and continued a long run of 18 books and 2 special editions before changing to the Jedi Quest series which is about Anakin and Obi-Wan.
Have you ever heard the Tragedy of Darth Plaguies the Wise? While the line wasn’t uttered until Revenge of the Sith, his story takes place leading into the prequels. Darth Plaguies was written by James Luceno with close contact with George Lucas monitoring, it’s an in depth look into Palpatine’s rise to power.
Cloak of Deception involves Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon chasing pirates who prey on the Trade federation, as Darth Sidious plots and maneuvers to weaken Chancellor Valorum prior to his being ousted in the movie.
Darth Maul Lockdown by Joe Schreiber infiltrates a prison to retrieve a bomb his Sith Master wishes to get in the hands of a terrorist group.
Darth Maul Shadowhunter by Michael Reaves stars the Sith Lord tracking down a neimodian out to sell the plans for the Naboo invasion to the highest bidder. He runs afoul of a down and out man and his droid, as well as a Jedi Padawan.
There is also a Darth Maul Journal and Amidala Journal by the same author (different psuedonym) as the Jedi Apprentice books. There was an Anakin Skywalker journal by Todd Strasser as well as a child’s book “The Queen’s Amulet”. These were released soon after the movie, in June. They reveal how the characters experienced the events in the film.
A set of comics was also released for each character (named for them), showing different points of view of the movie with side adventures not on screen.
There were also video games. The Gungan Frontier game for PC and Mac came out May 24,1999. The game basically is set uses Obi-Wan, Amidala and occasionally Jar Jar. But the primary objective is to create and maintain an ecosystem on one of Naboo’s moons. Disasters both natural and artificial make challenges.
Obi-Wan for XBox has the player as the Apprentice dealing with criminals and more leading right up to the end of The Phantom Menace and a battle with Darth Maul.
The Phantom Menace managed to be even better than I could imagine. Not so many years before an underwater city, a character like Jar Jar, battle droids, all the gungan technology and the amazing battles probably wouldn’t even have been possible. As usual Lucas was pushing the envelope. The only thing as amazing was how the artists and authors of the Expanded Universe fleshed them out. The Phantom Menace gave us Aurra Sing the Jedi killer, Quinlan Vos (blink and you’ll miss him, he had no name.) For the first time ever we saw the Jedi temple and met the Jedi Council. Perhaps most important of all, The Phantom Menace instantly gave and hinted at more depth to the Anakin’s redemption in Return of the Jedi. He was, as he told Padme, a person and not just a suit of armor or one dimensional villain. If you saw Return of the Jedi first one suddenly get a hint why he was redeemable. And for those who saw the prequels first, well, there is reason to root for him to return to the generous boy he started as. His ability to be redeemed is hinted at in why he fell. That all began here.