FEATURE ARTICLE: Programs & Credit Sheets

Every Theatrical Era Has a Beginning…

Every Theatrical Era Has a Beginning…

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”I am fully aware of the fact that some of the older fans have gotten themselves into a situation,” says Lucas. ”The film is really for young people. They have these amazing expectations the film can’t possibly meet.” — George Lucas, Entertainment Weekly (May 19th, 1999)

20 years later, one could argue that Star Wars has never escaped that “situation.” It’s been perpetual and will continue to be, so long as the promise of a new movie or television show or theme park is on the horizon. Episode I: The Phantom Menace ushered in that state of unavoidably hyperbolic anticipation, partly by design and partly by destiny.

For 16 years, fans could only imagine the ways in which this prequel tale would unfold, what it would look like…how it would feel. 16 years of building expectations is dangerous. Disappointment was in this film’s destiny. On the other hand, those 16 years of pent up enthusiasm made for one of the most exciting periods in the franchise’s history. The build-up to this movie’s release was a hype machine by design, and a pioneering one at that.

Heading back to the late ‘90s, here’s a retrospective look at the promotional journey to the saga’s “beginning” along with a selection of theatrical artifacts collectors have procured from the film’s debut around the globe.

June 13th, 1997 and March 26th, 1999 Cover Stories - Source: Entertainment Weekly

With limited Internet access in the mid to late ‘90s, my window into the goings-on of the movie world was mainly through my mom’s subscription to Entertainment Weekly. It was the June 13th, 1997 issue that established the reality of a new Star Wars for me. Seeing faces of actual actors and reading hints about what was to come (including speculative titles for the Trilogy being The Balance of the Force, The Rise of the Empire, and The Fall of the Jedi) got my gears going, as I’m sure it did for many. I also remember pouring through the March 26th, 1999 issue with the badass image of young Obi-Wan on the cover and cutting out the photos to stick on my bedroom wall.

Episode I Teaser One Sheet - Source: The Escapist

Iconic imagery is one of the film’s virtues, and it all began with the stark one sheet teaser poster and banner by Art Department artist Ellen Lee that were unveiled on StarWars.com on November 10th, 1998 and appeared in theaters and on billboards around the country later that week. Lucasfilm’s Director of Marketing Jim Ward stated that "Episode I reveals events that will cast a long shadow in the Star Wars saga, clearly something that comes through in the banner and one sheet design."

Soon thereafter, the infamous teaser trailer entered theaters with special pre-release sneak previews taking place on Tuesday, November 17th. Lucasfilm had suggested the early-in-the-week release as something really meant for the fans, and the stunt had a marked impact on the box office returns for the movies it was attached to. At a theater in Westwood, CA, ticket sales for The Siege went from $1,000 on Monday night to $13,000 on the next night when the trailer arrived. Grosses for Meet Joe Black were bumped from $6,300 to $10,800 overnight at a cinema in New York. Meet Joe Black and The Phantom Menace — two cinematic gems forever linked.

By November 20th, the teaser had entered general release throughout North America, truly galvanizing fandom and reducing modest expectations to a forgone conclusion. Looking back at it now, it seems to be much more forthcoming than the teaser trailer of today. The trailer’s editor Mark Mrnka recognized this when it was first released in 1998, noting that it ”may look like this trailer gives away a lot, but it's only scratching the surface.”

Now commonplace, making the trailer available on the Web was another integral marketing move. I appreciate that StarWars.com still advocated for viewing it in a movie theater:

“We encourage anyone interested in the trailer to go see it at a theater, because unless you have a THX-certified web browser, you won't be seeing [it] with top-quality audio and visual presentation quality. We hope you'll see the trailer first as it was made to be seen, in a theater. But if you'd like to see it again, we want to offer you the best quality delivery that the Internet can provide.”

Across the pond, lucky cinema patrons in London were invited to an exclusive premiere screening of the teaser on December 16th, 1998 at the Odeon Leicester Square. This teaser trailer was a legitimate event in and of itself.

From the Collection of Erik Janniche

By March of 1999, the movie’s campaign was blitzing toward the release date and publicity intensified. Drew Struzan’s theatrical one sheet (and to me, his best Star Wars poster) was unveiled online on March 10th and made its way into North American cinemas on Friday, March 12th.

The Phantom Menace U.S. Theatrical One Sheet - Source: Wookieepedia

La Menace Fantôme Theatrical French One Sheet - Courtesy of Stéphane Faucourt

The poster’s invasion of movie theaters coincided with the release of the film’s full theatrical trailer, which was initially exclusively available as a QuickTime download on StarWars.com. At the time, LFL’s Director of Marketing Jim Ward said that they “wanted something that would both blow the fans away and sustain them during the last stretch before the movie opens.”

May 3rd was another key date in the lead-up to the premiere. John Williams’ music video for “Duel of the Fates” was showcased on MTV’s Total Request Live, and what will forever be known as “Midnight Madness” ensued at toy stores.

Even Leo got his - Source: ET Online


With this film representing such a momentous occasion, a substantial range of promotional materials and theatrical ephemera was produced to support its release. Press kits and pressbooks came in several varieties. The folders below would contain typical press kit contents, including a written brief on the film, color slides, and black-and-white still photos. They’ve also been found without any contents, and could have been used to house or disseminate other promotional materials as well.

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins

Pressbooks of considerable quality were distributed in European countries, such as these examples from France and Germany.

French Pressbook - From the Collection of Stéphane Faucourt

German Pressbook - From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins

Early screenings yielded a number of interesting souvenirs. On Saturday, May 15th, cast, crew, and their families were invited to a number of Bay Area screenings that started at 9:30am, followed up by a buffet luncheon for all at the Marin Civic Center.

From the Collection of Gus Lopez

This extravagantly ornate invitation based on one of Queen Amidala’s gowns was sent out to collect RSVPs for the May 15th Lucas Companies private advance screening.

Each theater location had its own pair of regally designed tickets (one for adults and one for children) inspired by the noble Naboo. They have a distinctly Disneyland Fantasyland feel to them. Screening locations included the former AMC 1000, Cinema 21 (now Marina Theatre), and the classic yet sadly demolished Coronet Theatre in San Francisco, the still operational ‘60s shopping mall Cinema 1 (now Century Cinema) in Corte Madera, the Regency Cinema in San Rafael, and the Rowland Plaza Cinema in Novato.

From the Collection of Gus Lopez

A number of 11:00am Pepsi-sponsored preview screenings took place in theaters throughout North America that same day. A standardized 4x9” screening pass featuring the one sheet artwork on the front was issued for these early showings, with individual theater information printed on the back.

Notice the prominent placement of logos for corporate partners and PepsiCo subsidiaries Lays, Pepsi, Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell (more on them later) on these examples from Las Vegas, NV and Burnaby, British Columbia.

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins - Star Wars Collectors Archive

This stylish program was created by Canada based Tribute Publishing and was also available in the United Kingdom.

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins

Two variations for the program can be found. The first printing has a photo of Queen Amidala in her stately appearance, while the second shows her “hidden” identity as the handmaiden Padmé.

Gold sealed copies of the souvenir magazine were sent to certain cast members at the request of George Lucas, along with an extra copy for their “reading pleasure.” For those that discarded them, collectors happily turned their trash into treasure.

From the Collection of Erik Janniche

Several charity benefit premieres were held throughout the country on May 16th, 1999 such as that for the San Francisco Boys & Girls Club at the now demolished Galaxy Theater that once stood along the Van Ness Avenue corridor.

From the Collection of Erik Janniche

Rosie O’Donnell hosted a May 16th charity premiere in Chicago, IL for the For All Kids Foundation which had its own unique program.

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins

Always two there are… Rosie and actor Chris O’Donnell at the Chicago Charity Premiere - Source: Getty Images

Members of the press were present at a number of pre-release screenings and were given their own credentials, some of which have made their way into collectors’ hands.

From the Collection of Erik Janniche

The badge example to the left for an advance screening of Episode I on May 16th is from a photographer who worked for the DMI photo company in the mid to late ‘90s. DMI was founded by David McGough in 1980 and covered the entertainment industry and celebrity scene in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and Washington, DC.

This particular photographer was often assigned to shoot stills at Hollywood red carpet events such as the Oscars, Golden Globes, Emmys, and Grammys as well as movie premieres and charity events. The reverse side of the badge is lacking the “naked” C-3PO sticker, whose meaning or purpose may remain a mystery.

Another mystery is whether or not the screening pass below for MTV’s May 17th private screening at Skywalker Ranch is actually signed by George Lucas. Regardless, this came from what may have been one of the most publicized (and most ‘90s) moments associated with the movie’s release. With the likes of Korn, Seth Green, Katie Holmes, Hanson, Alyssa Milano, Usher, and Limp Bizkit himself in attendance, The Phantom Menace has likely never been less cool to an audience at any other point in its history. But one question lingers: was it better than Fred Durst’s “movie” that he was apparently getting ready to put out at the time? What movie was that? The “Break Stuff” music video?

From the Collection of Erik Janniche

The film was unleashed to the public at large with 12:01am screenings in the U.S. and Canada on May 19th. Smaller theater chains and independent cinemas often printed up their own special tickets for their engagements, such as the following examples from Missouri-based B&B Theatres, the Star Theatre in Oceanside, CA, and Senator Theatre in Baltimore, MD.

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins - Star Wars Collectors Archive

From the Collection of Erik Janniche

From the Collection of Erik Janniche

Large, organized camp outs for advance ticket sales and the film’s opening night showings took place in major metropolitan cities such as Grauman’s Chinese in Los Angeles and New York’s Ziegfeld Theatre. Another effort played out at the historic Uptown Theatre in Washington, DC. Erik Janniche (who contributed significantly to this post) helped organize the line-ups for tickets and the premiere. The former can be seen in a documentary made by a local filmmaker named Meredith Bragg entitled Waiting for Jar Jar, which went on to win the Lucasfilm Fan Film Award for Best Documentary at Celebration II.

From the Collection of Erik Janniche

Star Wars has always led the way in terms of establishing trends in film technology. Well, The Phantom Menace can be thanked/blamed for the official beginning of the end for film projection at the multiplex.

From the Collection of John Alvarez - Star Wars Collectors Archive

Menace was “the first fully digital movie shown to the public” at special screenings in the San Fernando Valley (Burbank and Chatsworth, CA) and New Jersey (Secaucus and Paramus) beginning on June 18th, 1999. Texas Instruments and their DLP projector faced off against competitor Cinecomm Digital Cinema, and while some were more enthusiastic about the digital presentation than others, it was nonetheless a historic moment in theatrical exhibition.

From the Collection of Erik Janniche

As summer went into full swing, so did the film’s worldwide proliferation. Episode I opened in Australia on June 3rd, 1999. The advance ticket sales flyer below from the Birch Carroll & Coyle cinemas in North Rockhampton, Queensland announced that like theaters in the U.S., no discounts, passes, or vouchers could be applied and there would be a limit of 6 tickets per customer (it was 12 in many stateside chains).

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins

Some early showings were held, such as this June 2nd example from the Hoyts Cinema Center in Melbourne which had screening passes that varied from the standard design used in North America.

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins - Star Wars Collectors Archive

Our Episode I favorites donned the cover of Hoyts’ June/July 1999 Movie Update, which also advertised an opportunity to win a Sony Digital Home Theatre (presumably bringing entertainment to the MAXX in one lucky Aussie’s living room).

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins

Menace had a special premiere in Malaysia on May 30th, going into wider release in the country on June 3rd. The ticket below appears to be for an early showing at Golden Screen Cinemas (GSC).

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins - Star Wars Collectors Archive

Though the movie didn’t have a wide release in the United Kingdom until July 15th, there were special advance screenings such as the one hosted by the Odeon Leicester Square on June 27th. This event had an especially menacing Darth Maul ticket design.

From the Collection of Erik Janniche

Continuing the tradition of Star Wars Royal Film Performances, The Phantom Menace returned to the Odeon Leicester Square on July 14th for a Royal Premiere on the eve of its general release. The assemblage of items below originally belonged to a cast member and documents the evening quite well, including instructions on the ever important Royal Protocol (ladies bob, men bow!).

From the Collection of Erik Janniche

The VIP pass for the black tie event is adorned with a fancy metallic oval tag that has a laser-cut image of Darth Maul. Guests were also offered a sleek silver souvenir program with a finely embossed cover.

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins

On June 18th, Episode I reached screens in Thailand, where a number of 5.75 x 8.5” handbills were circulated. One features the theatrical poster artwork on the front with a word puzzle on the reverse.

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins - Star Wars Collectors Archive

Another series has the six principal characters on the front paired with “deep thoughts” phrases that are meant to represent their inner essence. There’s some decent character development on paper, here.

The reverse of the handbills are identical, with what looks to be a synopsis (and a misspelled title).

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins

The same character images were also available as 3-pack sets of promotional cards sponsored by Pepsi which had the slogan “Ask for More.” With hopes as high as they were from the outset, I’d bet many disappointed moviegoers found themselves asking for more while exciting the theater.

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins - Star Wars Collectors Archive

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins - Star Wars Collectors Archive

Episode I landed in Japan on July 10th. Its nearly $110 million performance at the Japanese box office was far ahead of returns from any other overseas market. Another high quality program was published for the film’s release there. The Star Wars logo on the cover comes in holographic and non-holographic versions.

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins

7x10" Chirashi handbills promoting the movie's release were distributed in cinemas with the teaser poster and theatrical one sheet artwork on the fronts and information about the film printed on the backs.

La Menace Fantôme premiered in France on October 13th, 1999, as announced on this commemorative ticket from prominent European exhibitor UGC Cinemas (which originally stood for Union Générale Cinématographique when the company was founded in France).

From the Collection of Erik Janniche

French executives and salesmen from Hasbro Toys were offered this special screening invitation as well.

From the Collection of Stéphane Faucourt

Returning stateside, this set of ad slicks featuring the film's one sheet was printed May 5th, 1999, two weeks ahead of the domestic release. Theaters would incorporate their information and showtimes for the ads to be run in local newspapers.

Whereas international print campaigns for the Original Trilogy would often display a variety of imagery and layouts, things were much more strictly regimented and uniform for Episode I, as is expressed in these newspaper ads from New Zealand (where the film opened on June 10th).

New Zealand Theater Ads - Source: Star Wars New Zealand

The one sheet style is again used in the following U.K. ad from opening day, though the ad on the right is a bit more fun with sensational review quotes and young Obi-Wan as the sole image.

From the Collection of Craig Stevens

Having seen the film 5 times in the theater that summer, I was kind of excited to see this set of 35mm slides surface for sale recently, as I remember regularly seeing them projected before showings in Metropolitan Theatres in Santa Barbara, as I’d imagine they were in many theaters nationwide.

I suppose the above slide could be considered the very first Episode II theatrical collectible? Though after this exercise with The Phantom Menace, it’s probably best for a three year hiatus before revisiting the Prequels.

Well, one more thing…if there was a right time to celebrate the gifts that Episode I bore, that time is now.

Another installment of Episode I’s fast food trinity advertising saga can be viewed at the start of this video here (though the quality isn’t great, the content is bombad).

How do such brilliant creations come into existence? There are also several movie theater-related ads from the PepsiCo Empire that are well worth a revisit.

These ads sort of represent the idyllic version of reality filled with excitement and joy that The Phantom Menace aspired to exist in when it came into the world. With all of the backlash over the last 20 years, they’ve become quiet poetic.

We’ll never see anything like Episode I again. In that sense, it should be mui mui celebrated.


Special thanks to John Alvarez, Stéphane Faucourt, Erik Janniche, Duncan Jenkins, Gus Lopez, and Craig Stevens for their contributions to this post.

Going Far Out with George

Going Far Out with George