Back in 1999, the world was a more innocent place. Bill Clinton ruled over a peaceful, united nation; kids played with N64s instead of staring at smartphones all day; and no one knew that Star Wars: Episode I was going to be Star Wars: Episode I. No one except Newsweek reporter Seth Stevenson, that is, who, in a piece published before The Phantom Menace’s release, tried to warn an excited populace that the movie might actually be bad. Now Stevenson, writing at Slate, remembers how his story earned him an angry letter from Ron Howard, who took issue with the magazine reporting rumors that little Jake Lloyd had been dubbed “Mannequin Skywalker” for his wooden acting.
“While your ‘Buzz Wars, Episode One’ piece was generally snide and insipid,” Howard wrote, “the pot shot at nine year old Jake Lloyd was down right irresponsible,” adding that it was “shameful” for the magazine to attack a child like that: “As someone who was acting professionally at an early age, I can assure you that nine-year-old Jake is quite capable of reading, understanding, and feeling the full humiliation of a piece like that.”
Howard’s plea for more sensitivity toward child actors has aged well; his review of Episode I, somewhat less so. Elsewhere in the letter, he offered a ringing endorsement of the film: “I seriously doubt these ‘insiders’ are inside enough to have seen an edited version of the new Star Wars, because I have and in my opinion, Jake Lloyd is terrific in the film (which, by the way, is truly amazing).” And that’s why you never write a letter to the editor.