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Star Wars Fan Explains What He Was Thinking in His ‘Phantom Menace’ TV Interview

The night the “Phantom Menace” premiered, as the lights went down, John said he and everyone there cheered. And then the movie happened.

While wandering YouTube in anticipation of the premiere of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," I found the above video of superfans after a midnight premiere of "The Phantom Menace."

I saw something written in the face of these fans, something inherent to the nature of true believers. Below is the face of a man unable to accept the awfulness that is "The Phantom Menace":

It's a fear common to every fan, and it's a fear that extends to the upcoming premiere of "The Force Awakens," albeit in different ways. So to get some perspective on how to prepare ourselves for the next chapter in Star Wars, I reached out.

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The man with the mic in the video is John Rotan, a cinematographer from North Carolina. In 1999, he and his friends attended a midnight screening of "Star Wars: the Phantom Menace." Just hours later, a local TV station interviewed them, filmed their downcast eyes and listless responses, captured these men in a daze as their faces radiated both disappointment and denial.

"I love the film," Rotan said then. "It's going to do incredibly well, to say the least."

John did not love the film. He told me recently that he looks back and cringes a bit, although his words felt true at the time.

After all, it's easy to forget how intense the anticipation was for the opening of "The Phantom Menace." There was no social media, no endless stream of leaks and tweets about the movie, just whispers. John and his brother would set their VCRs to record whenever George Lucas would appear on talk shows, just to see if he said anything about the new films. There was a vacuum of information, and hype rushed inward to fill it.

The night the "Phantom Menace" premiered, as the lights went down, John said he and everyone there cheered.

And then the movie happened.

Later that night, John and his friends staggered home in a daze. They tried to make sense of a world where, after so much anticipation, there were were no longer three Star Wars movies, but four, and one of them really sucked.

"We were all just mostly like, 'what the hell was that?'" John said. "We were just stunned."

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"All this stuff about the senate and senators and trade routes, who even cares about all that gobbley gook?" John continued. He added that they also took issue with the acting, and with Jar Jar Binks.

And yet something happened just a few hours later, as John and his friends were interviewed on live television.

They began to doubt their feelings. They began to doubt themselves. Perhaps, were they the ones in the wrong? "We wanted to see it again, just to make sure what we saw, just to double check," John said.

Only one person was willing to describe how they really felt about the movie. For the rest of them, their faces were drawn in shades of denial, mixed with dabs of disappointment, as if they were cultists eager for the end of the world who had just found George Lucas was a false prophet, and who now had to reconcile their beliefs after the long-awaited day had passed without their cherished apocalypse.

The term cognitive dissonance was coined for these true believers, who are capable of amazing rationalizations, and such cognitive dissonance is also a feature of fandom in another arena: sports.

It's almost as if Rotan and his friends had become Cleveland Browns fans. It's something somewhat nuts: there's the buildup of hope in some sort of communal glory, the investment of faith and emotional energy into something one has absolutely no control over, and then after all that, at the end of the movie or game, sometimes you're just left in the parking lot in a dumb costume, wondering where it all went wrong.

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Image: GIPHY

John already has his tickets for the premiere of new Star Wars. That said, he said he simply cannot be as disappointed as he was when the prequels came out. He is older and more cautious now. Two and a half failed prequels will do that to a person.

And yet, like any true believer, he's already talking himself into a new hope, a new prophet: J.J. Abrams. Who knows what will happen when the lights dim and the Force Awakens finally begins?

Either way, there is something beautiful and inherently human in the hype. After all, irrationality, as Kurt Vonnegut once said, is what makes people fascinating.