Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Memory Bank: Star Wars Episode I Widescreen Video Collector's Edition

In just two months, a new Star Wars movie premieres.

The Force Awakens is the first new Star Wars film in a decade, and simultaneously the first beginning of a Star Wars trilogy since 1999.

That last fact got me thinking about The Phantom Menace (1999), and the premiere of that film in the early Internet Age.

It really was a different time, for a lot of reasons. 

For one thing, we were at least one generation back in terms of home entertainment options.

In 1999, when the film came out, I had not yet turned thirty, and was deep into the laserdisc phenomenon.  I was married, but had no children yet, so an (expensive) collection of films on laserdisc was my child, in a way.

After the film’s release, however, I remember buying the movie in what seemed the best and most affordable option at the time: The Widescreen Video Collector’s Edition. 

This Episode I item came in a nice, over-sized collectible case, and the back was adorned with a photo of Darth Maul. When you opened it up, there was a lovely photo inside of Naboo on the side opposite the tape.

The set itself was described in this fashion: “The ultimate Episode I video experience includes a widescreen version of The Phantom Menace with an exclusive behind-the-scenes documentary, plus specially created keepsake memorabilia.

The film itself was on VHS in “original theatrical letterbox format,” and “digitally mastered by THX.”  But of more interest, even today, this set came with a 4- page collector’s book: The Art of Star Wars: Episode I. 

This is still a fascinating read, 16 years later.

The set also came with a 35mm film strip consisting of “five consecutive frames from an actual theatrical print, specially-mounted for two-sided viewing on a collectible card.”

I owned this set for many years, but ultimately decided that -- though I enjoyed the movie fine -- my passions really ran towards 1970s and 1980s science fiction (think: Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Space: 1999, etc.). Don't mistake this mean to I think the movie is without merit, or that I am a prequel hater. I just sort of realized that I didn't feel the kind of intense passion for the new Star Wars that I did for some older productions, from my childhood.

Thus I gave the vast majority of my Phantom Menace collection to my son, Joel, and sold off what he didn’t want.

And I sold my Widescreen Collector’s Edition. 

But then, this July 4th, I visited my mother-in-law in Virginia, and she surprised me with another one she had found at a yard sale.  It’s in good shape, unopened, and complete…and it reminded me that there are some collectibles you are just destined to own, I guess.

I can’t get rid of this bloody thing. 

When The Force Awakens is released, I suppose it will be streamed in high-def, and released on Blu-Ray and DVD. 

No VHS release, I’m sure is slated. 

But I’d sure love a 48 page book about the making of the film to accompany at least one of those 21st century releases.


  1. Hi John, actually that release is the only home video release of the theatrical version of Episode I, I believe. The DVD has additional scenes.

  2. Ha. The Phantom Menace collectibles were so abundant they could have been the gift to regift at Christmas. Great little story.

    And it's funny to hear you mention your changing tastes. I can't tell you how guilty I feel about not loving Star Wars.

    In fact, I simply don't have a passion for it at all anymore. I may be even a bit surprised by that.

    And I'm not speaking for you at all here---I've read your praise for the prequels.

    The warmth and affection I feel when I think of Star Wars the original doesn't compare to the generally repulsed reaction I have to Phantom Menace and Jar Jar. The whole thing is really tough to stomach and the prequels are just wildly bloated and cold and inhuman. Anyway, just not a fan of the series as much today.

    I'll see the new film eventually but I have nice low expectations that I will see a pleasant, well-assembled action film of good versus evil but generally lacking in the qualities that made the original so life altering.

    That's not to say The Force Awakens won't awaken a new kid somewhere to the wonders of science fiction or film. Cheers.

  3. That's really cool. I actually ran into this very same VHS in a box when we moved back in May. It brought back a whole bunch of memories of our first apartment and watching the movie on the crappy television set we borrowed from my parents. Like you, I'm not a bit fan of the film, but the memories this VHS brought back were pretty intense. I decided to keep it (along with THX black boxset Laserdics of the original trilogy, even though I don't have a Laserdisc player any more).