Today(May 19th) marks exactly 20 years to the day since Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released in theaters after arguably the greatest buildup of anticipation for a new movie in the history of cinema. And yes, I'm including the excitement leading up to the release of Avengers: Endgame. Two decades ago this very weekend many of us alive at the time were experiencing the first new Star Wars content on the big screen(not counting the Special Edition alterations and additions in 1997) in sixteen years. Whatever one thought of TPM after walking out of their first screening of the film the pop culture avalanche surrounding Episode I from the release of the first teaser trailer in the fall of 1998 until the premiere of the movie itself about six months later may well be the greatest and most intense media circus surrounding one filmed project in the history of entertainment and TPM forever changed the way movies were made and marketed to the audiences of this new century. George Lucas made the movie he wanted. We may love Episode I or think it's the most boring and misguided film of its time(and I'll leave any critiques or defenses of Jar Jar Binks for the responses) but whatever our reaction to TPM in the spring of 1999 and how we feel about it now it was George's vision executed through his own eyes and filter and was not forced(no pun intended) on him by the studio distributing and releasing the movie. 20th Century Fox gave him a wide berth and he gave audiences the Episode I he wanted to make, not a story test screened by studio marketers and executives looking at Powerpoint charts on how to reach each demographic to maximize studio profits. Fox gave George the independence to craft the Prequel Trilogy as he wanted and while some of us may feel that George's Prequel Trilogy was boring, stilted amd wooden with characters designed more to sell toys and other merchandise than to tell good stories we have to concede it was pure George Lucas being the director and producer he wanted and being true to his own creative spirit. Happy 20th Birthday, TPM. You may not have been the greatest movie ever but you weren't and still aren't as bad as many people would have the rest of the world believe.