On Wednesday, May 19, 1999, movie theatres around the United States began showing the first of the new Star Wars movies, "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace." Expectations for this particular film were probably the highest for any film in history. The original three Star Wars movies had come out in 1977, 1980, and 1983 respectively, and so there had not been a new film in the saga for 16 years. During that time, Star Wars merchandise had continued to be quite popular, and, in fact, a 1997 re-release of the three movies for their 20th anniversary had lines going around the block. Clearly the story continued to strike a chord with the American public.
In the weeks before "Episode I" was released, moviegoers scrambled for tickets. No longer were people required to buy tickets at a theatre on the day of the movie; tickets for films were now available for sale in advance over the telephone and on the Internet. The demand for "Episode I" tickets was so great that many people found themselves unable to get through to the automated phone lines or webpages necessary to order tickets for hours on end.
The result of all this anticipation was something of a letdown. The greatest film in the universe could not have lived up to all the hype, and most critics and fans ended up feeling that "Episode I" was not as good a film as its predecessors. At the Oscars, the film lost the award for visual effects to "The Matrix," the first time ever that a Star Wars movie failed to win in that category. Three years later, "Episode II -- Attack of the Clones" seemed to do little to assauge the more critical fans. In fact, the Bursteins, who had made a point of attending "Episode I" on its opening day, waited until its third day of release to see "Episode II."
Today, on the sixth anniversary of "Episode I," "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith" is being released in theatres. Expectations are once again high, but early reviews have been more promising. And the Bursteins have their tickets for a showing tonight.
For more information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars_Episode_I:_The_Phantom_Menace.