"Phantom Menace": All Right. How Was It?

A light saber duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Darth Maul (Ray Park) in "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace." Lucasfilm

Following a meteor shower of hype, the new "Star Wars" movie, "The Phantom Menace," has made its debut in theaters across the U.S. Thousands of fans stood on long lines to see the highly anticipated prequel Tuesday night, reports CBS News correspondent Bobbi Harley, who joined the vigil outside the Ziegfeld Theater in New York City.

The crowds that went into the theater at 6:30 a.m. were behind hundreds of others who started seeing the movie just after midnight. It was rainy and misty, but despite the bad weather and the long lines, those who have seen the movie say it is worth the wait.

For the very first showing, at midnight, more than 1,000 moviegoers lined up outside the Ziegfeld.

"If you're here at opening night, you're part of history," said one fan.

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Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala/Padme in "The Phantom Menace."
Lucasfilm
"It is something that everyone can get into, good versus evil. It is just the whole saga," said a fan who was dressed up like Darth Maul, the newest "Star Wars" villain.

Those lucky enough to get their hands on some tickets showed off their prize possessions as they streamed into the theater. Once inside, fans couldn't contain their excitement, which goes to show that, so far, the hype is winning out over mixed reviews.

"The Phantom Menace" is expected to earn more than $100 million by Sunday. Then again, we are talking about a movie already considered one of the biggest films of all time even before it made one dime at the box office.

"I think the hype will last for at least 10 or 12 weeks. We'll be playing this right into the summer," estimates Bud Mayo, president of Clearview Cinemas.

But the big question: How is the movie?

"I think it was great, and I have tickets for 12:00 and another one at 8:00 tomorrow, and I'm going to see it twice," said a starry-eyed fan.

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The pod race in "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace."
Lucasfilm

Another chimed in, "I want to know what happens next, you know? I'm ready for the next episode."

But, for that, we have to wait till 2002, when the next "Star Wars" installment is due.

The professional reviews, which dribbled out early and flooded in Tuesday, have been, with some notable exceptions, somewhere between negative and vicious.

The harshest had to be The New Yorker's Anthony Lane who likened "The Phantom Menace" to excrement.

More typical was Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, who called "The Phantom Menace" a "considerable letdown," a "ponderous and plodding" film that is "noticeably lacking in warmth and humor."

Those who liked film focused on the visual spectacle, and it did have its supporters. Roger Ebert, perhaps the nation's most famous critic, wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times that the movie was "an astonishing achievement in imaginative filmmaking."

Produced, directed and written by Lucas, who also bankrolled the entire $115 million-plus budget, "The Phantom Menace" begins the back story of "Star Wars," set a generation earlier, when Darth Vader was still a cute blond kid named Anakin Skywalker, who would grow up to become Luke's absentee father.

As anyone who hasn't been living in a swamp knows by now, "The Phantom Menace" has already been packaged as the Big Movie You Have To See, and then some.

The merchandising campaign is so far-reaching that it includes not just the usual action figures and video games but special Pepsi cans that you can collect for reasons beyond recycling.

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