What Happened When The Phantom Menace's Trailer Was Shown In Theaters

There is a great deal of excitement swelling this week as audiences around North America get ready for their first ever look at J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But do you remember the last time anticipation was this high about a new series of Star Wars movies? Allow me to throw you in a time machine and take you back to 1998 at the debut of the first trailer for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

As described by YouTube user Mola Yam, what you see in the video embed above is actually footage from someone bootlegging the Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace trailer back in 1998 when it was attached to screenings of the Brad Pitt drama Meet Joe Black. As you can tell from the reaction at the very end, excitement was at an extremely high level. One dude was even so excited that he just couldn't control himself when Yoda popped up on screen for the first time (even if he didn't exactly look a whole lot like the Yoda from the original trilogy).

What this video doesn't show you is the comedic after affect that came with the debut of the Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace trailer caused (this was back before trailers were debuting on the internet). As was reported by the New York Times way back when, hordes of Star Wars fans - identified as "mostly young men" - were buying up movie tickets for titles like Meet Joe Black, The Waterboy and The Siege simply so that they could watch the Star Wars trailer. After the two minutes of footage played, many decided that they didn't actually want to stay for the film and left the theater in droves before the feature actually began. Because select theaters were replaying the Phantom Menace trailer after the end of the aforementioned screenings, some movie theaters also allowed Star Wars fans to reenter the cinema with their stubs to get a second preview of the sci-fi epic.

The excitement for just the Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace's trailer was electric, and it was certainly reflected in the feature's ultimate box office performance. With a $474 million take during the summer of 1999, the George Lucas written and directed movie wound up making over a billion dollars at the global box office. This was despite the fact that many of the older fans were put off by the boring plot, stupid characters like Jar Jar Binks and an overuse of CGI versus practical effects. To this day it remains one of the most divisive blockbusters around.

Will we wind up seeing equal excitement levels in theaters this Friday when the first Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer drops? We'll have to wait and find out.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.