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Some Days in the Life - The Phantom Menace

Posted 5/19/99

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Some days you just have to do something that's patently insane. Why? Because you're not dead, that's why. That was last night for me, and while I'm amazingly tired today, I wouldn't trade last night for anything. Even if that sounds amazingly, utterly, totally goofy when you hear what I did.

I finished work last night and decided to take a short drive. I was feeling tired -- dulled. I wanted to kind of refresh for a while. So I drove and listened to NPR.

And they had a couple of reviews of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, which I'd planned on seeing next week, when the craziness was over. The reviews, as so many of the reviews have been, were mixed. The only major reviewer who's given it an unqualified rave is Roger Ebert, who chided other reviewers for missing the point and not coming with a sense of wonder.

A sense which the thousands of fans queuing up to see the movie at 12:01 am had in droves. Listening to the reviews while driving (I had driven down to Rochester on Route 28, being very careful about my speed in the Alton traffic circle, then heading up Route 11. By now I was on Route 16 heading North to home) I thought about that sense of wonder, and all those people.

And it hit me. I wanted to go. I wanted to see Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace. That night. Right then.

"That's crazy," I thought to myself. "First off, all the tickets will be gone gone gone. Advance ticket sales, remember? Second off, it's a good long haul to any theater showing the movie. Third off, I need to be in to work at 8:30 in the morning. Fourth off, no one else I know is going in the area, so I'd be by myself. You have to be responsible and smart about this."

I was nine years old when Star Wars came out. My family went to it together. I remember looking over at my Dad while he watched the movie. He seemed to be as enthralled as I was. This was 1977, and I'd never seen anything like this movie. It was epic in ways I couldn't begin to comprehend. It was entirely new and fantastic and wonderful.

But Dad had seen it before. Many times. When he was nine years old he saw it, played out on the screens of the movie serials week after week after week. And right then, he was nine years old just like I was. He was thrilling to the adventure, to the epic scale, to the philosophy (as simplistic as it was and is). This wasn't morally ambiguous. This was adventure. Pure and simple. Darth Vader wore black. His minions looked like skeletons. Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa wore white. They swung over trenches. They outfought any twenty stormtroopers without breathing hard. They nearly got crushed in pit traps. They bickered but came together. And in the end, the hero saved the day.

Dad could remember. That was a part of himself that had been inside him for a long time. But for those scant hours, it was awake and alive and in the front of his brain again. I could see that, and dimly understand it. And then I looked back at the screen and let myself drown in it. Star Wars.

It's been sixteen years since they had a Star Wars movie. The hype for this thing was thick throughout all media. The reviews were mixed. But of course they were mixed. When we all saw Star Wars, we were transported back into fantasy and it caught us by surprise. This time, we expected the fantasy. The reviewers are paid to poke holes in it. To say "but what about character development. What about dialogue."

Which misses the point so much about what Star Wars was. This isn't a movie to analyze. It's a movie to experience. I knew that, driving back to Wolfeboro in my car.

I'm thirty-one years old now. I have responsibilities.

But I had the sudden, sinking feeling that the magic wouldn't last. That too many people would leave Star Wars and echo the reviews without understanding why they were. That those people would sit and stare at the screen and be enthralled, and then walk out and forget. And I was afraid. Afraid that I'd listen to them. That the thirty-one year old cynic would take charge when I did see it.

Does thirty-one mean you don't do utterly crazy things? Things like drive for a few hours and search for a movie theater you can get into. Things like watching a midnight movie almost two hours from your house, knowing how little sleep you'll get?

I guess it doesn't mean that. I turned around and headed south for Portsmouth. If there was a theater whose midnight showing wasn't sold out, I would find it.

Portsmouth had only one theater, but it was indeed sold out. So I pointed the car Northeast, for Portland. I knew of a theater there that was showing it on six screens at midnight. Maybe....

Nope. Sold out again. And a huge lineup hours before for seats. So I grabbed a paper and checked. Where else....

North Windham, Maine. Where Chunky's is, but it wasn't at Chunky's (sadly.) North Windham's small and a bit out of the way. Maybe... just maybe....

So I drove there, and found a moderately short line of people waiting. I quailed....

And then learned they weren't waiting for seats. They were waiting for tickets.

The Five Star Cinema in North Windham didn't do any advance ticketing. And there were only twenty people in line. Tickets wouldn't go on sale until 10:45 pm.

So, to all those people who camped out for weeks waiting on line for Star Wars, who made this a pilgrimage... I'm afraid I went on line at ten o'clock last night, and ended up four rows from the front, dead center, with a good sound system for the 12:01 show. Neener neener neener.

My review of the movie? Spoiler free, naturally....

Don't go and analyze. Go and watch, and enjoy. Stare up at the screen, and let yourself be pulled back. Back to who you were when you saw Star Wars for the first time. Drink up the adventure. The fantasy. Drink up good and evil. Enjoy the performances (many good). Ignore the one annoying character. Goggle at the scenery. Thrill to the best fight choreography I've seen in a movie of this sort.

I was nine years old again. I was brought back.

I can't wait to bring my Dad.

Some notes from the line....

Only a few people in costume. Some of whom had lightsabres, one the double-sabre you've seen in the commercials. So they went to the front of the theater and started whacking each other while we waited for the movie to start. It was actually a darn good fight scene.

One person, a couple of places up from me in line, had been there all day. He had a copy of the Novelization. He was almost done. I asked him how he could possibly read the book two hours before seeing the movie.

"The movie'd ruin the book for me," he answered. "I like to be surprised."

I opened my mouth, and closed it. Oddly enough, it makes perfect sense.

In the hour or so I waited in that line, a lot of people came in and joined friends who were waiting up front. The people around me were so angry about that. Amazingly so. Line jumping clearly is considered a capital offense by society at large. In Texas, I imagine the laws reflect that.

Two people near the front asked others to watch their places for a minute. The others agreed. The two ran down the street and came back with cases of Pepsi, which they handed out to the crowd, just 'cause we were all in this together. The people at the front of the line gave the two the first two positions in line, and the rest of us agreed by acclaim. Warm Pepsi is an odd sort of communion wine, but it worked.

An extremely minor character was depicted on the Pepsi can. I therefore ascribe to it the "Minor Characters Collectors Series, collect all thousand."

No one in the line, myself included, was wearing a watch.

I got home late, and made it to bed by four. Up this morning. Feel like death warmed over. I'm not a kid any more, my body likes to rest on a more or less daily basis.

Man, am I glad I did that.

Go see it. Don't listen to the cynics or the reviews. Go and be nine years old again. Go and let your sense of wonder out. It's missed you.