In 1997 George Lucas re-released the Classic Star Wars Trilogy, complete with new scenes and Special FX. After about 14 years of silence, Star Wars was back in theatrical form, and speculation regarding sequels and prequels began to race in everyone's mind. Lucas would often say they were all written and that he was just waiting for technology to catch up to the epic story he was waiting to tell, but it can also be said that George Lucas was just stalling for time, and there would never be a second trilogy; sequel or otherwise. At the end of the special edition of Return of the Jedi, we got a glimpse of the city planet of Coruscant; a location that was featured prominently in the expanded Star Wars Universe. Lucas had admitted to putting it in as a special teaser to his prequel trilogy, in which the planet would be featured extensively.
In my circle of friends, our conversation turned from "If it'll ever happen" to "When it will happen." and it seemed like everyone else was interested in the future of the Star Wars film franchise. What we knew was that it would be about Darth Vader, aka Anakin Skywalker, before he turned to the dark side and became a wheezing Juggernaut of Sith power.
We were told that the droid duo of R2-D2 and C-3PO would be around in some capacity, and that the Jedi wouldn't be an extinct breed of warrior, they'd be the galactic defenders of truth, justice, and the intergalactic
We were also told that Vader needed his suit to survive after a tumble into some lava. The accounts of this origin were dated all the way back to a 1980 interview in Starlog Magazine with Mark Hamill. Later on, the origin would be used once more by Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Return of the Jedi Novelization.
" We fought ... your father fell into a molten pit. When your father clawed his way out of that fiery pool, the change had been burned into him forever â€” he was Darth Vader, without a trace of Anakin Skywalker. Irredeemably dark. Scarred. Kept alive only by machinery and his own black will ... "
The above image from Terminator 2: Judgment Day was close to what I had in mind. I imagined an epic battle between Darth Vader and his former Master in a factory of sorts, battling above pits of melted metal (possibly a factory used to build the Death Star?). I imagined Anakin falling in, and a brutally deformed Darth Vader forcing his way out, almost as if he was being reborn from the molten pit.
In the Summer of 1997, I received this issue of the Star Wars Insider. I had just moved to our new family ranch in Arkansas, so TV and Internet were luxuries we didn't have. This was big! This was Huge! This was the first solid step in creating new Star Wars movies! Inside the magazine was the announcement that relatively unknown actor Ewan McGregor was to be a young Obi-Wan. Liam Neeson was a Jedi Mentor, Ian McDiarmid would play the Emperor in his early Senatorial days, Natalie Portman was Queen Amidala, Pernilla August was to play the Grandmother of the Skywalker twins, and finally the new un-fugly face of Anakin Skywalker was revealed...
And he was a child. Up until that moment I had hopes that Anakin would be just a bit older. You know? Old enough to be the gifted pilot Old Ben told Luke about? The Legendary Hero of the Clone Wars? The man who'd become the 7FT Sith Lord? Why is Anakin being played by someone younger than I was? This guy Jake Lloyd couldn't even reach the controls of a TIE Fighter without a booster chair. Thus, my first sense of doom and dread about the new Star Wars movies eerily creeped over my body like the feeling of a million souls suddenly crying out in terror and quickly being silenced.
The first official pic from the set of Star Wars: Episode 1 I ever saw was this little teaser. A couple of Jawas just chilling on the one place in the entire world I'd sacrifice my entire family just to be. The issue also contained an interview with Liam Neeson, where he dropped tiny tidbits on his mysterious "Jedi Mentor" character. He looked awesome enough to stand side by side with Obi-Wan to protect the useless young Anakin. Maybe he was Obi-Wan's Father? Questions flooded into my mind regarding his role in the Star Wars saga.
Next came the reveal of Senator Palpatine. This was the man who'd one day control an entire galaxy with enough firepower to destroy a planet. In Episode One he was supposed to be an ally to the Queen. From what I knew from the Essential Guide to Star Wars Characters, Palpatine wasn't always such a bad guy. His political motivation corrupted him enough into becoming a Sith Lord. I was very interested in how this would all go down.
What could drive a man of morality and position to become a gnarly looking old man who blew up planets? Maybe he WASN'T just the Queen's ally, he was actually her Father? What if he goes all Romeo and Juliet on Anakin and the Queen and his moves to keep them apart leads to war between the Republic and the Jedi? What if something happens to Anakin's future betrothed leaving Anakin to side with Palpatine and share their collective pain by ruining the galaxy? What if the Emperor was actually the Grandfather of the Skywalker twins? Or what if he was Anakin's Father? We knew Anakin's Mom would be in this film, but what about Anakin's Father? No mention...Could Palpatine REALLY be a Skywalker who's responsible for the strength in the force belonging to the Skywalker family? SOOO MANY QUESTIONS, AHHH!!!!
Battle Droids were revealed to be the nemesis in Episode 1. In the Expanded Star Wars Universe, we had seen Gladiator Droids in various places, and despite my initial outrage that they'd be replacing Stormtroopers, I became excited about an army of these things battling some Jedi.
Throughout the following months we were given glimpses of various characters and planets from Episode 1. A teaser poster was shown that had made me the most excited I had ever been about Episode 1...
This was amazing to me. Here was Anakin Skywalker on Tatooine casting the shadow of Darth Vader. Even at such a young age his evil was a part of him. I instantly began thinking about Damien from The Omen. Imagine, this young kid going around choking small animals and torturing his schoolmates. What if this behavior had forced his Mother into giving him away to the Jedi? What if Obi-Wan had never been able to fully convert little Anakin to the lightside? What if he was always just a bad seed, and his evolution into Vader was natural? This was my favorite thing that was shown from the movies right up until this...
And this is where I'll conclude Part 1 of this article. The next one will examine the days leading up to the movie, and my first impression of The Phantom Menace. Till then, COURAGE!