A look at what's been going on with PHANTOM MENACE...
April 2: Lucasfilm puts the kibosh on advance tickets, issuing a decree that no tickets for PHANTOM MENACE will be sold before opening day - purportedly to eliminate scalping.
April 9: Lucasfilm and Fox require that all theaters that want to show PHANTOM MENACE agree to certain conditions, such as: no more than 8 minutes of trailers before the movie; the film has to be shown in the plex's biggest theater and stay there for at least 8-12 weeks.
April 17: Lucasfilm sends field agents to each theater to inspect not only the projection and sound systems, but also the quality of the popcorn. Many of the field agents are people who used to inspect theaters for Kubrick and are now without a job since his death. Additionally, a new decree is issued: Each moviegoer will be frisked prior to entry into the theater, and all recording devices will be confiscated.
April 19: Lucasfilm carefully screens and approves all trailers to be shown before PHANTOM MENACE and charges $1 million per showing to each studio that has a trailer before the film.
April 23: Lucasfilm and Hasbro decide jointly that any and all PHANTOM MENACE toys and action figures will be tripled in price, to discourage kids who merely want to play with these precious artifacts of the century's most important film.
April 27: Lucasfilm releases a three-part STAR WARS EXAM to be issued to theaters. Moviegoers will have to get a grade of 80 or better on the exam, which is designed to weed out anyone who hasn't seen the first trilogy at least ten times. Fans will have to summarize each film, match quotes to characters, identify 15 obscure alien races, and write a 500-word essay on what STAR WARS means to them, among other things. Anyone who fails will be denied a ticket.
April 30: Lucasfilm recalls all PHANTOM MENACE posters and other lobby promotional items, and issues new ones that squirt green ink if an unauthorized person attempts to remove them. Violators will be prosecuted and denied a ticket.
May 1: Lucasfilm contacts all the major newspapers and magazines and asks for a list of all critics who are scheduled to review the film. All such critics will be subjected to a pre-movie briefing. Any and all reviewers for small publications, alternative papers, zines, or web sites will be legally blocked from writing about the film until 4 weeks into its run.
May 2: Lucasfilm's legal department sues www.starwars.com for unauthorized use of images from the film, then realizes that www.starwars.com is the official Lucasfilm site.
May 3: Ron Jeremy's porn parody SPERM WARS EPISODE 69: THE FAT PENIS is withdrawn from adult video stores pending legal action by Lucasfilm. Jeremy insists that it's simply the 69th video in a series of adult-entertainment films about men with thick members. He also says that the inclusion of such characters as "Qui-Goo Jizz" and "Jabbin' the Slutt" is "pure coincidence."
May 5: Fox announces the heretofore-secret Star Wars Channel, which will broadcast "all STAR WARS all the time," including not one but four versions of the first trilogy (pan-and-scan original, letterboxed original, pan-and-scan special editions, and letterboxed special editions). Every so often, says SWC vice-president Harry Knowles, the channel will run a super-hush-hush version of STAR WARS including the fabled Biggs Darklighter footage, but it will never be announced in advance, so the only way to catch it is to watch the channel constantly. The transmission of the Biggs version will be scrambled so as to foil video pirates. More than one lucky viewer will catch the footage and say afterward, "Big fuckin' deal - some asshole with a mustache talks to Luke for like two minutes."
May 7: A version of the Bible turns up on a web site, rewritten to replace "the Lord" with "George Lucas." Lucasfilm promptly squashes the site, not because it objects to Lucas being called God, but because the webmaster runs a tiny thumbnail photo of a rivet on an engine of a vehicle seen for 7 seconds in PHANTOM MENACE.
May 8: Roberto Benigni screams his opinion after attending a VIP screening of PM: "This film, it is like the big fat breast that you suck on! I have pulled my hair out with sheer joy of this film and now I am bald!! I would like please to be in the next amazing sequel please!! I will be the zany Italian sidekick for Anakin Skywalker! I will do a good job, you will see!!! This film is better than sex with my wife!" Lucasfilm has no comment. Neither does Benigni's wife.
May 10: The media begins to notice the lines that have been forming for several weeks outside theaters. Every local news station runs a piece on the rabid fans in line, many of whom have quit their jobs and ruined personal relationships just to be among the first to see a movie that will be over in two hours.
May 11: Some wise-ass posts "RARE! PHANTOM MENACE BAG OF DOG SHIT!" on eBay. The bag of dog shit is purported to be taken from the Tunisia set of PHANTOM MENACE; the bid, which opens at $2.00, actually gets up to $51.00 before the seller announces that it's just a joke.
May 12: Fox announces another surprise: the STAR WARS trilogy on DVD. Contrary to popular rumor, the DVDs contain only the special editions, and not both versions on either side of the disc. To placate the grumbling fans, Fox does promise a collectors' edition boxed set, due out at Christmas, of all three DVDs containing both versions on each disc; each boxed set will contain an original frame from one of the three movies, and will retail for $129.99.
May 14: The PHANTOM MENACE hype begins to approach critical mass. The movie is on every cover of every weekly magazine. Each article will contain essentially the same interviews with George "I just wanted to wait until the technology was there" Lucas and the key cast members ("I couldn't pass up the chance to be a part of film history - it's a modern myth, really"), and essentially the same photos. Darth Maul will be explained a thousand times. Ewan MacGregor's family connection to STAR WARS (i.e., Denis Lawson) will be noted a thousand times. And for that all-important Gen-X cred (as if STAR WARS needed any), Kevin Smith will be quoted a thousand times on how much he loves STAR WARS, to prove that hip guys are into it too.
May 16: AIN'T IT COOL NEWS is so overwhelmed with hits that its server crashes. When the site comes up again, it becomes clear that there's nothing there except "reviews" by dweebs who claim to have sneaked into secret test screenings of PHANTOM MENACE, even though there haven't been any.
May 17: The backlash site www.fuckphantommenace.com is temporarily derailed by a virus. When it finally comes up again on May 23, well after the premiere, its webmaster strongly suggests that the virus was the work of a Lucasfilm hacker. Lucasfilm denies it and sues for libel.
May 18: Fistfights break out in lines across the country as the adrenaline mounts. Anticipation is running high, and so are tempers. A total of five people are killed and twelve people are wounded across America in place-in-line-related incidents. In a New York theater, two women and a six-year-old boy are hurt in a stampede resulting when the theater finally opens its doors for the midnight-first-showing crowd.
May 19: PHANTOM MENACE opens and predictably goes on to have the biggest opening weekend in history - a staggering $150 million between Wednesday and the following Monday. Rumors circulate that some studios showing such films as THE MUMMY have cut a deal with major theater chains to credit a fraction of PHANTOM MENACE ticket sales to their movies. In any event, other movies that weekend don't do so badly, since dejected moviegoers need some other film to go to when PHANTOM MENACE is sold out - THE MUMMY, for example, enjoys a healthy third weekend and then swiftly vanishes. Despite Lucas' assertion that the movie will have a normal 2,000 or 3,000-screen opening, theater managers across the country swiftly order more prints to meet the demand, and the release actually expands to 7,400 screens. Which means, of course, that any movie released just before or just after PM that isn't cutting the mustard - that isn't pulling in PM-sized crowds - gets yanked from theaters to clear more screens for PHANTOM MENACE.
May 20: By now, the critical verdict is in: PHANTOM MENACE is "the movie of the decade" according to some reviewers, "the movie of the century" according to a few excitable others. A handful of naysayers vent bitterly, knowing all too well their opinion doesn't mean dick when it comes to this one. Then there are the old-school STAR WARS fans who wouldn't have been satisfied with the movie no matter what, as well as the old-school STAR WARS fans who would've loved the movie no matter what. For at least six months, chat rooms and message boards writhe and hum with heated debates over whether PM is "a masterpiece" or "just like STAR WARS" or "too much like STAR WARS" or "not enough like STAR WARS" or "a dud" or "a good start, anyway."
May 25: Fans begin to get in line - to wait for EPISODE 2.