It’s not as punny as May 4th, but for me, May 19th is Star Wars day. Seventeen years ago, on this day, Star Wars Episode I was released in theaters amid massive hype, merchandise, and expectation. Being born in 1980, it is the first new Star Wars movie that I ever got to see in theaters. Like the original Star Wars in 1977, it revolutionized the way movies were made. Scrutinizing every single frame for digital manipulation, a concept once impossible at worst and cost-prohibitive at best, is now standard, thanks to the production pipeline invented to create The Phantom Menace.
The amount of movement, color, and detail that can be in every frame is now limitless. No film prior to The Phantom Menace had been able to have so many frames be so dense with imagery, though that’s often hard to remember now since it’s fairly standard blockbuster procedure these days. Film editors are now able to explore inter-frame options when editing. Can a take from one actor be combined into one frame with a different take from a different actor? Want the camera to move through a shot that was filmed with a still camera? No problem. The quality and density of the imagery of The Phantom Menace, in 1999, felt like something wholly alien, something so unique and different, that it was literally impossible to process the movie after one viewing. There was so much to take in that it was actually impossible to take it all in. Fortunately for me I was lucky enough to see it three times on opening day, and it remains one of my favorite Star Wars movies.
Episode I, to this day, has what remains the BEST making-of documentary about it in the history of Star Wars. It may be one of the best making-of ever. Thanks to YouTube you no longer need the Episode I DVD in order to watch it.