Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace in 3D is coming to theaters this weekend. I remember when this film was released the first time, in a mere two dimensions, back in 1999. Actually, no, I remember the hype beforehand pretty well. The Sci Fi channel (before it became infested with syfylus) had a series of funny commercials featuring a pair of nerds waiting in line to see the movie and pondering the intricacies of the Star Wars universe such as “if it’s a prequel, shouldn’t the opening scroll real ‘Longer ago in a galaxy not as far away,’ once you take into account there’s an expanding universe?”
The other major event before Episode 1 came out and disappointed everyone was the midnight premiere of the action figures. I collected toys back then, but not Star Wars. For whatever reason, the Star Wars universe has never really appealed to me. I was just more of a Star Trek fan. But I was fascinated–in a watching a train wreck way–by the idea of holding a midnight premiere for toys and the sorts of people that would attract.
And my mom came with me. But that’s okay, we’ve laughed about that experience many times since then. I don’t quite know how to describe it, except that it was like seeing a bunch of salivating, hungry dogs tear apart a dead bird. I don’t just mean the free Sunny Delight and crackers that the Toys R Us we went to was offering. I mean they ravenously snatched up these figures like the survivors of an apocalypse would grab at edible food after foraging for months. I remember constantly hearing cries of “Darth Maul! Get the Darth Maul!” as that figure was sought after the most. And why not? He was kind of cool looking in a generic “I’m a badass” way and since the movie hadn’t come out nobody knew that he’d only have a couple of minutes of screen time and not really do anything except get killed. At one point, I stumbled across an unopened case of figures set aside from the display–probably meant to restock in the morning. I called out “what’s this” and nudged at it with my foot, pushing it more into view, and within a minute the horde had descended on the case and torn it open, robbing it of all the Darth Mauls it contained.
That figure Darth Maul figure, which came with a “Comm Tech” chip (the gimmick Hasbro was pushing with their first wave of Episode 1 figures; you could plug them into a communicator device and hear some poorly recorded sound clips) can be bought online for $4.