On this day in 1999, over two decades after the release of Star Wars (1977), creator George Lucas brought the world The Phantom Menace, a prequel to the first three Star Wars films. This episode told the story of young Annakin Skywalker -- the future Darth Vader.
Hype... merchandising... anticipation... The film opened in 4,000 movie screens, with production costs at $110 million and running time of 132 minutes. Even though critic Roger Ebert called the film "an astonishing achievement in imaginative filmmaking," other early reviews were not as glowing.
George Lucas said he never expected critics to like his films. Just as his heroic character Hans Solo said in the first film, Lucas echoed, "Never tell me the odds."
In anticipation of the film's release, Lucas told CNN, "When the movie comes out, I'm basically going to go and lie on a beach somewhere for a while."
And make money. According to Forbes magazine, thanks mainly to the film, Lucas earned $400 million and was the top showbiz earner of 1999.
Lucas released Episode II, Attack of the Clones in November 2002. Episodes I and II made more than $1.5 billion worldwide.
About the importance of Star Wars, Rob Coleman, the animation director of 2005's Episode III Revenge of the Sith said: "It's bigger than George. It's bigger than all of us, especially the original trilogy. It's taken on a life of its own and it's special to so many people."
Hooray for the Force...May it be with you!