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Darth closeup

Oh, is there a new Star Wars movie due out?

I’ve got lots to say about Star Wars. It feels like it’s in my DNA. Not everything in one’s DNA is good, of course…

Here’s something I wrote about Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. It was just kicking around my computer. There’s a lot of it, so I’ll make it a series.

It can be read as a warning as The Force Awakens approaches… And perhaps, a wee celebration, too. It’s Star Wars, for Zuckuss’ sake! 

None of us had mobile phones. The organisation had to be done in a way which must seem like smoke signals to today’s 15-year-olds. Our data travelled by landline, and our social lives were marshalled by making note of times and dates, and sticking to them.

Roughly speaking.

We had to memorise whole telephone numbers. Sometimes we even resorted to putting coins in public phone boxes. None of us turned into Superman in these booths, though the thought did cross my mind from time to time.

One of my friends, the biggest sci-fi fan I know, was especially tense a couple of days beforehand. “We’re doing this by the numbers,” he said, finger pointed, glaring. “If anyone’s late, we’re not waiting.”

The rest of us sneered at this, in that way only lads in their early 20s can, but he was on the right lines. Time was a critical factor.

It was exceptionally difficult to get tickets for The Phantom Menace in the first few days of its release. When the movie finally arrived, on Wednesday May 19th 1999, it was sold out at most evening screenings the length of the city – and all its satellites. I know; I checked. We could only get tickets for a showing on the Tuesday night afterwards in the cinema nearest our home town, a situation which even now seems ludicrous.

I cannot think of any other film that was more hyped in my lifetime.

As the release date came and went, it became tortuous, waiting at our workplaces or places of study, knowing that the movie was being screened everywhere; that millions of people had already seen it… and yet, we had to wait.

The internet was already around and spewing spoilers, of course, but I wasn’t yet well versed in the world of movie websites like aintitcool.com and CHUD. I was on a dial-up internet connection at my dad’s house on a computer I had paid £1,000 for, and AOL hadn’t yet started charging a one-off monthly fee for internet use. After the first eye-watering phone bill, I’d restricted my time online accordingly.

Work for me was still a wall-to-wall grind from 8am to 4pm, with little time spare for screwing around online – something we take for granted now, but a novelty back then, and seen as a real risk to your job if you got caught. My personal email of choice was Excite. There are teenagers on the internet now who will not know what Excite was. Sometimes I wonder if my account is still out there, collecting spam in cyberspace much as junk slowly accrues in orbit around the Earth.

One benefit to this old-school network set-up was that I’d managed to stay relatively spoiler-free. That was, until a well-meaning but goofy lad in my office blundered in on Saturday May 22nd, cheeks bright red with spring sunshine, and maybe something else.

“Oh, Star Wars – it’s great, absolutely brilliant. Have you seen it yet?”

“No, mate.”

“You’ll love it, absolutely love it. There’s some great lightsabre fights in it.”

“Ah, great. I’m going on Tuesday. Looking forward to it.”

He paused. I thought he had digested this information. But then he licked his lips, and continued: “There’s this one bit, right, where Obi-Wan and Darth Maul are fighting, and Obi-Wan chops…”

I was literally out of my seat, hand held out as if to Force-clamp his fat trap; or perhaps simply to strangle him the analogue way.

“For fuck’s sake!” I bellowed, snapping up heads all around the office. “Aren’t you listening? I said I haven’t seen it yet!”

Even I had to admit I was starting to take this Star Wars business a bit seriously. But then, Star Wars has always been a serious business.

Episode two? It’s right here.