Revisionist history isn’t always destructive. Remembering events as you wish them to be rather than how they actually occurred is [Internet word] when trying to convince the girl on your doorstep holding a baby that you wore protection when the two of you had drunken sex on an Easy Bake Oven nine months ago. But bending reality to your will has perks. For instance, I believe I was quite popular in college despite pictures that show me with dyed blond hair and a shell necklace poking out from behind an ill-fitting Billabong hoodie. Youngs probably wear this ensemble ironically on Halloween now.
BRIAN BYRD LOOKS LIKE A FUCKSTICK.JPG
Oh darn it won’t load.
This isn’t uncommon. We constantly relitigate, rationalize and reinterpret events to mitigate embarrassment or boost self-esteem. Like Slim Charles said, “If it’s a lie, then we fight on that lie.” However, there’s a goddamn line where benign rationalization gives way to dangerous delusion. As the Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning Ashton Kutcher film The Butterfly Effect and its two spectacular sequels warned, recklessly altering the past can have catastrophic consequences.
Which is why we need to stop pretending the first Star Wars: The Phantom Menace trailer is anything but a sweaty taint dipped in hot dog water.
The Internet rarely agrees on anything. Cops who buttchug Creatine shakes tossing a child around like a dog toy? Racist shitbags dressing up as KKK members for Halloween? Demanding basic gun controls in the wake of perpetual mass shootings? Gotta hear both sides. The Star Wars prequels, though, unite the geek community in hatred.
Yet because the Internet either suffers from mass amnesia or is stuck inside a Jose Saramago novel, it has somehow agreed that while the movie itself is a daycare fire, the initial trailer is a nonetheless a remarkable achievement. Not just at the time, which could be excused given the anticipation surrounding the first new Star Wars movie in 16 years. Now. Right fucking now. Collider recently ranked all the Star Wars trailers and The Phantom Menace finished third out of 17. Not third from the bottom. Bronze medal position. Last month’s full Force Awakens trailer — the one that shut the Internet down like a 20-lane Chinese traffic jam — was fifth.
I don’t mean to single out Collider. Rolling Stone ran a piece last month that describes the trailer as “masterful.” Den of Geek called it “massive and gorgeous” in April. And here’s The Stake with a piece titled “Remember How Good the Phantom Menace Teaser Was?” No, I don’t remember that. The trailer I saw was a cross between a SyFy original and Taiwanese Saturday morning cartoon. Maybe you had access to a different version, The Stake, one that didn’t include a developmentally disabled platypus sticking his dumb duckface into a pod-racer engine.
Look at this week-old diaper masquerading as marketing. LOOK AT IT!
Even allowing for advancements in trailer composition, the 1998 preview seems more like a fan-made creation stitched together on a Zune app than a top-notch advertisement for a major motion picture. The first scene is a stegosaurus crip-walking out straight outta fog. This is arguably the trailer’s best moment if only because everything that follows is worse.
To be fair, the 36 seconds between the thugosaurus and Jar-Jar electrocuting his face are tolerable. Mostly because the trailer fills those seconds with dialogue-free scenes depicting furious space battles, chaotic firefights and thrilling pod races. It’s when characters begin speaking that it all falls into the Sarlacc Pit.
First off, it’s impossible to hear the line “He can see things before they happen” in reference to Jake Lloyd’s character and not recall the actor ending up in the back up a South Carolina squad car after leading police on a 100-mph chase down I-95 in June. Meth apparently wreaks havoc on midichlorians.
The best part comes roughly halfway through the trailer. Somber music plays as Anakin’s mom weighs the cost of sending her son away with total strangers against the greater good. “He was meant to help them,” she concludes. The trailer then smash-cuts to Liam Neeson drawing his lightsaber and screaming “ANAKIN, TELL THEM TO TAKE OFF!” before cutting right back to a whiny Anakin asking his mother whether he’d ever see her again. It’s a tonally baffling sequence that aimlessly lurches between tenderness and INTENSITY, turning what should be an emotional moment into a laugh riot.
This bizarre non-linear editing permeates throughout the trailer. Darth Maul shows up, and that’s cool, except we’re never given any idea who he is or what he wants or why he’s attacking the dudes in robes. I’m using “dudes in robes” to describe the film’s protagonists because the trailer does an atrocious job letting the audience know who anyone is. Critically important characters like Qui-Gon, Mace Windu and Padme are never identified. Ewan McGregor appears in two scenes before he’s introduced as Obi-Wan in the most juvenile way possible. Obfuscation is common practice in trailers today, but remember, the Internet wasn’t always the global nerd encyclopedia it is now. Google launched just two months before the teaser. People were still using dial-up and meticulously tracking their usage so they didn’t exceed their 500 free AOL hours. Casual fans had no easily accessible resource to learn more about these characters. During the holidays, parents had to ask exasperated Toys R’Us employees whether the store had any Tall Old Beardy Man action figures left.
The trailer closes with more space porn, stock Yoda dialogue, racist CGI caricatures, robot fights, Natalie Portman cosplaying Memoirs of a Geisha, and old wrinkled hands settling on a kid’s shoulders like something from Jared’s Fogle’s wet dreams. Christ. This was the best you could do, Lucasfilm?
Even now, it’s not hyperbole to call Episode I the most anticipated movie ever. George Lucas was returning to the Star Wars universe for the first time in more than 15 years to show audiences how the greatest villain in cinematic history wound up in that iconic mask. Fans bought tickets to movies they had no intention of watching just to see the trailer. And what did they get for their money? A preview so gloriously generic it could have been mistaken for Wing Commander if not for the familiar score and a couple legendary character names. Any sense of wonder the footage managed to convey resulted from cutting-edge (at the time) special effects.
In that sense, The Phantom Menace teaser deserves a modicum of credit. Trailers are sophisticated deception, carefully engineered to hookwink audiences into paying for the movie presented in the two-minute sizzle reel. Marketing teams aren’t concerned whether or not the trailer misrepresents the finished film. OH WHAT UP MAN OF STEEL?! Yet The Phantom Menace preview perfectly encapsulates the movie it was designed to promote. Episode I is a scattered, juvenile, wildly inconsistent mess, quite possibly the most disappointing pop-culture event ever. It’s a hollow vessel, a Star Wars film in name only. Any resemblance or connection to the original trilogy is stated, never felt.
All this is clearly evident in its wretched trailer. We should have seen this coming. Better to recognize our failures and tip our caps to a con well done than to keep pretending we were duped by spectacular marketing.