The Phantom Menace celebrated it’s 20th anniversary a few days ago. Many here will certainly remember 1999, the anticipation, the excitement and maybe the disappointment or joy after seeing the movie. But what was it really like, back in 1999? We now live in an age where researching history has become easier than ever before. Back in 1999 the internet was still in its infancy, but 248 million people were online at the time, about 50% of them lived in the USA. IMDB already existed and scoop sites like Aint It Cool News also talked a lot about Star Wars, with reviews and comments still online today. There were also dedicated Star Wars fan forums. So we can actually go back in time and read what fans thought about the movie, it gives us the opportunity to see how Star Wars fans, the ones who were online at least, ticked and argued about. So what was it like back then? Click through for two videos and some thoughts about the matter!
If you want to know how fan reaction was back then you can still read reviews from 1999 on IMDB, you can go to old Aint It Cool News articles and read the comments section or you can go to The Force.net forum and read some of the old posts (unfortunately they lost most content from before 2001).
YouTube channel Eckharts Ladder did just that and released a video about online reactions from 1999 and beyond, and it’s quite illuminating:
This video will tell you that fan reaction, at first, was quite positive, but as time went by the movie was reevaluated and fan reaction became much more negative. Back then we didn’t have “haters” though, back then there were two factions: “bashers” and “gushers”. But the “bashers” easily outnumbered the “gushers” online. If that reminds you of what we have today, then yes, it is very similar to what we have today. And yet, fandom survived and eventually moved on. And twenty years later many fans have softened their stance on the prequels, some still hate them (or “bash” them), but many like them.
What I found extremly interesting in this video by EckhartsLadder is the fact that when Attack of the Clones was released (he briefly touches upon the movie, while the majority of the video is about The Phantom Menace) there actually were some (very few) fans who accused the movie of pandering to feminists and being too politically correct, complaining about female Jedi etc. This seems laughable today, but you cannot overlook the parallels with complaints some fans make about the Disney era movies. Also, it was a minority opinion back then, as is evident when you read the old forum threads.
YouTuber Hello Greedo also made a video about the same topic just a few days ago, it’s a complimentary piece to the first video, in my opinion. If you have time for only one video (each is about 11 minutes long) then go watch the first video, but Hello Greedo’s video is also informative and highlights the fact that the fandom was very much divided back in the late 1990s as well and that what we have now is nothing new. Hello Greedo highlights some more forum posts and critical reviews.
You can easily see that fan discussions back then were just as heated as they are today, especially after The Last Jedi. People were called “apologists”, some fans utterly tore the movie apart. And I even remember reading about death threats against George Lucas back in the day. Some fans were absolutely furious. Others not so much.
So, has anything changed?
Probably not that much. The history book on the shelf is apparently destined to repeat itself all the time. Only today people don’t post so much on forums anymore, they shout out their opinion on Twitter or Facebook to upset as many people as possible.
Maybe this trip back in time will teach us that time heals wounds. I think it’s time to relax a bit. No matter what you think of the current Star Wars movies, Star Wars will live on. And fans will still argue in twenty years from now, about whatever movies / VR experiences / holodeck simulations are released then.
How do you remember the Star Wars fandom back in 1999? Were you online then? Did you post something? Have you changed your mind about the prequels and especially The Phantom Menace since 1999? Have you made your peace with the prequels, either by reevaluating them or by choosing to ignore them – or did you love them when they were released and still love them today?
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