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16 years after ‘Phantom Menace,' should ‘Star Wars' fans be wary of new film hype?

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Posted at 3:04 PM, May 22, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-22 16:37:31-04

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

That famous line from the “Star Wars” universe may already be lingering inside the minds of longtime fans, as they anticipate the release of the saga’s newest entry. A-list film crew members, Disney at the helm and trailers full of fanservice have made 2015 one of the most thrilling years for “Star Wars” devotees in decades.

But it wasn’t long ago that fans were eagerly awaiting the release of “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” before being almost universally disappointed by the film.

It’s been 16 years since that movie premiered, and with just over six months until “Episode VII: The Force Awakens” opens worldwide, experts on the series can’t help being reminded of their feelings in 1999.

“I think 1999 and 2015 are basically twins,” said Jason Ward, editor-in-chief of MakingStarWars.net, a leading “Star Wars” news destination. “Fans are clamoring for every bit of information on the new film they can find. Everyone is wondering what the tone, feeling and story is going to be like.”

Regarding the new movie, Ward said he “could not be more excited,” but cautioned fans to temper expectations, or risk the letdown many felt after viewing “The Phantom Menace.”

“Some are waiting for the best movie ever made to come out this December. I think those people should be wary, for sure,” Ward said. “People should always be wary of hype.”

Ask other “Star Wars” experts about the potential for disappointment with “The Force Awakens” and they’ll agree oversaturation can be as dangerous as a Sith lord with a double-bladed lightsaber.

“[In 1999, ‘The Phantom Menace’] was everywhere,” said Justin Bolger, co-host of The ForceCast for “Star Wars” fan website TheForce.net. “Whether you were a ‘Star Wars’ fan or not — it was on potato chip packaging, on soft drinks and fast food, places you didn’t necessarily associate with ‘Star Wars.’”

Bolger praised the marketing efforts behind “The Force Awakens,” as distributor Walt Disney Studios have avoided literally ramming the new film down people’s throats.

“Now, [Disney is] really focusing on the 21st century viral aspect of marketing to let fans and people who are interested in this stuff spread the news,” Bolger said. “When a new trailer comes out, that’s when everybody is talking about ‘Star Wars.’ Then it dies back down until the next wave comes.”

Despite lukewarm reaction from critics and moviegoers, “The Phantom Menace” grossed over $1 billion worldwide, making it the second-highest grossing film of the 1990s. Bolger said he expects “The Force Awakens” to make at least $1 billion at the box office, for a number of reasons.

“‘Star Wars’ is a sleeping giant, just waiting for its chance to come back,” Bolger said. He added that appeal for the new film could be broader than that of its 1999 counterpart because it’s not a prequel, but rather a continuation of the original “Star Wars” trilogy.

Trepidation about a potential disappointment aside, neither Bolger nor Ward could hide their excitement about seeing a new “Star Wars” film.

“If you’re a ‘Star Wars’ fan, it’s still more of something that you love. If you love something — or even like it — I think you can always find something to like about it,” Bolger said.

Ward agreed, letting his anticipation show.

“We found out about the movie on October 30th, 2012 … I still can’t believe it is actually happening,” Ward said. “With their expectations in check, most fans are most likely going to be in for a treat.”

Clint Davis is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.