Taking my son, Alex, to the new Star Wars taught me a hard lesson about how critics don't matter when it comes to The Phantom Menace. The hard sell that I found so oppressive, Alex shrugged off with ease. Buying Yoda bath bubbles was never in the picture for this teenager, born a year after Return of the Jedi, the last episode in the first Star Wars trilogy, debuted in 1983. At a hush-hush advance screening in Manhattan, I bristled at the security checks: tickets with codes authenticated by an infared light; branding in the form of having our hands stamped with the 20th Century Fox logo and then checked at a later point for stamp counterfeiting. Even the location of the screening was kept secret until a few hours before the event. Third World countries can be entered with greater ease. Pissed I was, to paraphrase Yoda. Alex, a rabid James Bond fan – Sean Connery, not just Pierce Brosnan – viewed the cloak-and-dagger stuff as an adventure. During the film, while I groaned at the bad dialogue, he headed for the junk-food concession and returned to cheer cool stuff like the Podrace, the light-saber duel and the comic jabbering of Jar Jar Binks. He even picked up on the Gungan's lingo. "Me-sa liken this," he said, "even the bombad parts." Coolest of all, according to Alex, were the bragging rights at school - he'd seen the sucker first. He'd even catch it again with friends. That's right: My son would hop on line with the Jedi junkies from generations past, eager to debate the merits of The Phantom Menace against the first Star Wars trilogy, which he'd seen only on video. No wonder the Force sticks with George Lucas. He knows his audience.
This story is from the June 24th, 1999 issue of Rolling Stone.