Everyone’s parents tell stories of how their world was different from ours. When it came to media, my parents told me how they only had a handful of TV channels. Their parents told them they didn’t even have TV. For me, I’ll tell kids that I truly discovered not just the internet, but myself, because of Star Wars. And, more specifically, The Phantom Menace.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was released 25 years ago this week and you’ve certainly heard a lot about it in the last few days. It’s back in theaters, we’ve re-examined it, all sorts of stuff. But for me, The Phantom Menace is something else. It was something that so encompassed my being that it changed who I was. I didn’t know it was happening at the time but now, a quarter century later, I’m older, heavier, balder, and much wiser to how hugely impactful the lead-up to, and release of, The Phantom Menace was to who I am.

The story starts with first logging onto the internet. This happened sometime in 1997. And, at that time, the first website I ever remember visiting was Ain’t It Cool News. I heard about it after reading a magazine article and thought, “Wait, this guy makes money writing about movies on the internet? Let’s check this out.” So I did and the first time I visited the site I read a rumor that the first trailer for Star Wars: Episode I was going to be attached to The X-Files movie. Now, that rumor didn’t end up being true, but the possibility set my mind into overdrive: “Holy shit, that’s right. The new Star Wars movie is going to have a trailer.”

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace – Trailer

At that time, I was still in high school on dial-up internet. It wasn’t until a year or so later that I had my first ethernet connection as a student at New York University. I could leave my computer on all day, the internet was readily available, and downloads were super fast. Shout out to AOL Instant Messenger and Away Messages.

That’s when I thought, “Ain’t It Cool can’t be the only other site like this.” So I found Corona Coming Attractions. I found Dark Horizons. Then I found the motherload: Star Wars sites. The Force.net, Rebelscum.com, Yakface.com, and then even sites like Countingdown.com that were organizing lines to get tickets to see Episode I when it was released. I was able to read different opinions on the films, theories, minor news updates, tons of rumors, see photos of the toys, speculation on when we’d see a trailer, you name it.

And so that’s what I did. I went to classes, I went to movies, and I surfed the internet looking for information about The Phantom Menace, a title I learned about around this time. Anticipation for the film consumed every cell in my body and these websites were my fix. My desktop wallpaper was an image from the podrace scene. I traveled to Toys R’ Us to get the first toys released and went around the corner to buy magazines with the stars on the cover.

Image for article titled How The Phantom Menace Made Me Who I Am Today

Image: Lucasfilm

Now, at the time, did I realize this pattern—being incredibly excited for a movie and scouring the internet to learn everything about it—would become my entire life? Of course not. It was all new. But it of course continued on from there, to the other Star Wars sequels, the fourth Indiana Jones movie, Lord of the Rings, Quentin Tarantino, etc.—drawing a straight line to this very webpage, where on a daily basis I provide to you the same service that I once needed in my life.

Beyond that, all that anticipation and hype leading into The Phantom Menace also taught me about long-lasting memories and crushing disappointment. After years and months of anticipation, I waited in line outside my local movie theater (Destinta Theaters in New Windsor, NY) to buy tickets to the very first Phantom Menace showtime: 10 a.m. on May 19. I also scooped up tickets for the 7 p.m. show the same day. I wasn’t messing around. The theater, however, was messing around and added a midnight show a few days later. I decided not to go to that since I had tickets for the next day, but some people did.

Once I was seated for that first show, one of those people who’d already seen the movie at midnight, the first person I’d ever talked to who’d already seen the movie, came up to me and whispered, “This movie is off the chain.” Now, 25 years later, I realize that kid was a total stoner and did not watch this movie sober but my excitement seemed warranted. The lights dimmed, the trailers played, and finally, The Phantom Menace began.

Image for article titled How The Phantom Menace Made Me Who I Am Today

Image: Lucasfilm

Thirteen minutes and 23 seconds later, I felt it. I know the time because that’s the exact time stamp of when Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi swim underwater, and it was the precise moment I remember—and will never forget— that sinking feeling that this movie wasn’t great and I wasn’t enjoying it. Quickly though, I buried it that deep down, finished it out, and exited the theater somewhat happy.

In fact, I repressed those initial thoughts so much that not only did I go to the 7 p.m. show, but I saw The Phantom Menace eight more times in theaters, at various locations, and even some different formats. By about viewing four or five I’d come to peace with the fact the first 90 minutes or so of the movie kind of stinks, but once the Jedi go back to Naboo, I loved every second.

I was still in college when Attack of the Clones was getting ready to release, so three years later, I followed the same basic pattern of scouring all these sites for every bit of information. By by this time, I was even deeper. I’d become such a mainstay of the community that one of those sites gave me a chance to do some film junkets. I was in New York, studying Cinema Studies, so who better? That’s how I came to cover the junket for the Keanu Reeves/Charlize Theron movie Sweet November for Countingdown.com. After that I did Swordfish, Catch Me If You Can, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and others. I was on the path to my whole life, and I didn’t even know it. But The Phantom Menace led the way.

Image for article titled How The Phantom Menace Made Me Who I Am Today

Image: Lucasfilm

In the 25 years since, Star Wars always seems to pop up at the biggest moments in my life. Attack of the Clones was released the day I graduated college. Its love theme, “Across the Stars,” was playing on the radio when I first kissed my eventual wife (It was XM Radio’s “Cinemagic”). By the time Revenge of the Sith was released, I was being paid to write reviews, and did just that. And, of course, since Star Wars came back in 2015, I’ve been there every step of the way with magical moment after magical moment.

So happy 25th anniversary, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Your existence is a huge part of why I am who I am. I still don’t think you’re great but I’ll always be thankful for being such an important Force in my life.

Watch The Phantom Menace on Disney+ now.

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.

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