A long time ago, in theaters not so far away, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace debuted to jam packed houses and the agape mouths of hardcore Star Wars fans everywhere. The 1999 release of the first new Star Wars movie in decades forever fractured a fan base from creator George Lucas, one that was primed to crack after the controversial changes to the Original Trilogy of films in 1997. This past week's release of a remastered version of the film converted into stereoscopic 3D opened to a respectable-if-not-planet-shattering box office but still to theaters filled with costumed fans. If there was ever a real war between Lucas and the hardcore Star Wars fanbase, its clear that Lucas had it won a long time ago.
Albeit smaller and a tad 'stickier' than the massive movie palaces that hosted the original Star Wars (known now as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) in 1977, the AMC 30 in the Chicago suburb of Barrington was one of just ten theaters nationwide to host a special Star Wars event in celebration of the re-release.
In the theater's lobby kids could get faces painted Darth Maul-style, play the Boonta Eve Classic pod racing stage in the upcoming Star Wars Kinect video game and get their picture taken with an official, and plenty of unofficial, people dressed up as Star Wars characters. Finally, despite it being ten o'clock on a Saturday morning four hundred people donned Anakin Skywalker Podracer-goggle-style 3D glasses to watch a movie that was for them almost assured to have been not the first time. Once the limited edition goggles were all handed out and well on their way to becoming eBay heirlooms, the pair of theaters showing the movie still continued to fill with people of all ages for whom all the sturm und drang about the prequels is just a distant memory.
Mike Lopez, 37, looks around at a theater diversely populated by age, sex and race before answering why he's back to see the film in 3D, “Star Wars brings people together,” a point well illustrated by his and other fans showing off of their various pieces of Star Wars merchandise including t-shirts, lightsabers and camera phone pictures of just how much the practically omnipresent media franchise has insinuated itself into their lives. Lopez is especially proud of a picture of his infant son's nursery that features a wall sized, licensed wallpaper depiction of Darth Vader reaching his hand out to Luke Skywalker at the climax of The Empire Strikes Back. He brags that he had it imported from Europe and professionally installed so he can bring the famous “I am your father” scene to life for his own son.
Passing along the Star Wars legacy turned out to be a trend among the attendees for a film that was at the same time attacked and defended as being 'for children.' Busy father Steve came compete with his two kindergarten age children, a son and a daughter, but admits that his ticket purchase was his idea, and that Star Wars has had a place in his life for a long time. “I've been a Star Wars junkie for a while. A good friend of mine is [Eisner Award winning artist] Dave Dorman who is one of the major comic book artists for Dark Horse so I've been on Star Wars covers, he's drawn me on there, so I've been attached to [Star Wars] for a long time.”
Steve's kids, dispute being too young to have even seen Episode I in its initial release are already well versed in the lore, “[My son]'s seen them all multiple times, she's seen a couple of them. He's got all the Legos and stuff.”
Sisters Karen Baker and Susan Manuel, their own lightsabers in hand, had rushed to the theater after getting off of work that same morning to try for a pair of the Podracer glasses, but coming up short didn't deter them from wanting to see the movie with each other and their 13-year-old daughter/niece. They offered an opinion on the direction of the franchise that featured a rare perspective. They had seen a preview of Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones with George Lucas himself at a special event at the Skywalker Ranch, and after interacting with the Star Wars creator they see him and his views as completely genuine.
“If [the hardcore fans] knew [Lucas] personally, they would know that he probably isn’t [all] about the money. He's interested in new technology, making things better and wishing he had the technology back a long time ago do to the things he's doing today. I know that is what it is with him. He just thinks its a way of just improving on what he has done and making it more attractive to a younger generation.”
When prompted 'their' 13-year-old, a voice of that younger generation, gave her opinion on the films. Her favorite? “The fourth one, its an old movie [but] it's really good.” Perhaps for Star Wars there is a new hope after all.