Thursday, May 25, 2017

Happy 40th Anniversary, Star Wars (May 25, 1977)


I will always remember the summer of 1977 and the coming of Star Wars.  It is difficult for me to reckon that it happened forty long years ago.

Where has the time gone?

I was in second grade in 1977, and a friend who lived up the block from me in Glen Ridge, N.J. came to school one morning clutching a Star Wars movie booklet; one that featured imagery of Dewbacks, Banthas, Tusken Raiders, Jawas, C3PO, Chewbacca, Darth Vader and other characters of seemingly impossible and unbelievable imagination. 

I had never seen so many strange creatures assembled between two covers, and I so listened in awe as Stephen, my friend, described the film to me in some detail. I still didn't quite understand why robots were co-existing with monsters and other creatures. 

It seemed...weird.

At this point, I should add, I was still high on King Kong (1976), and could not quite believe that any movie might possibly surpass that particular viewing experience.  

So sue me.  I was seven.

Soon after my introduction via Stephen to Star Wars, my parents took me and my sister to see the film at a movie theater in Paramus N.J., and I couldn’t wait to see what I would make of the movie.

Only -- in actuality -- I could wait. 

In line. 

For close to three hours. 

The line at the theater stretched around the large rectangular building -- around three corners -- and then led out into the huge parking lot. And the line moved at a snail’s pace.

Finally, of course, we got into the auditorium, and it was absolutely packed. Everyone in my family had to squeeze past other patrons to find four seats together. For awhile, it looked like that might not even be a possibility.

And then the movie started, and my life changed.  The movie swept me away into another world; nay another reality. My father remembers to this day, that he actually felt breathless during the final Death Star attack scene, it was so exciting.

That's how I felt too.

That night -- before I went to bed -- my mother asked me if I had liked the movie. My mind was still reeling, and I said that I did.  But I suppose I was a little reserved in my answer. 

She then absolved me of my guilt: “It’s okay, John if you liked it better than King Kong,” she said, apparently sensing my loyalty and allegiance to the big ape.  

My façade cracked quickly at that point and I was glad and relieved to admit the truth.

I had liked Star Wars a whole lot better than King Kong.  It truly was…amazing, like nothing I had ever imagined.  

But at that point, I could not imagine what Star Wars would one day become, or how it would change our world.

I did not imagine, at age seven, that the film would open up the floodgates for other space movies that I would come to love and cherish, like Alien (1979), The Black Hole (1979), and Moonraker (1979).

I did not imagine that George Lucas's vision would change the shape of television, a medium which would soon bring us Battlestar Galactica (1978-1981), and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1982).

I did not understand that Star Wars' success would be the impetus to finally bring back the long-on-hiatus Star Trek franchise.

Nor did I understand that the film would shape science fiction and fantasy cinema for decades to come.

And finally, I could not imagine that one day I would be taking my very own nine year old son out of school early to catch an afternoon show of a Star Wars sequel (The Force Awakens) or prequel (Rogue One).  

Star Wars has, finally, become something that I share with a different family; with my wife and son.

At seven -- way back in 1977 -- I suppose, I was just thinking about my favorite character, Han Solo, and how cool it would be to play Star Wars (1977) on the playground at school with my friends.

Forty years have now passed, and I am, a middle-aged man. That school playground is back, quite a distance, in my rear-view mirror. There is more white than red in my beard now. 

But Star Wars endures, evergreen, -- a veritable cinematic fountain of youth.  

It is a story, and represents a kind of storytelling that -- across the generations -- possesses the power to make each one of us feel young again. It is a call to adventure of an innocent and joyful type.  It evokes childhood, and yet is not childish.

Where were you, and how old were you, when you first saw Star Wars?  

Let me know in the comments section below.  And happy fortieth birthday to Star Wars.


  1. Anonymous9:25 AM

    Star Wars completely occupied my 11-year-old imagination after seeing it upon its initial release. At my insistence, my mom bought me the Alan Dean Foster novelization from the mass-market rack at the supermarket check-out line, and I read that increasingly worn copy endless times trying to recapture the fleeting film images. I remember reading it cover to cover--twice--on a Saturday afternoon.

  2. John, I was also 7 years old and living in NJ. I saw the movie in Harrison as I was born and raised in Newark just across the Passaic River. I loved the movie so much I didn't want to leave without a copy of the poster but they ran out. So I ended up collecting the Star Wars Kenner action figures, baseball cards, the Burger King glasses, Starlog magazines, bed blanket, etc. I think we both went to the same model toy shop you've described previously on Bloomfield Ave. too!

    It was a great time for sci-fi. Later that year I would become obsessed with the Logan's Run TV series. Thanks for recently reviewing all those episodes incidentally. It's great to read about someone who writes about similar memories and interests with intelligence. Can't believe it's been 40 years and now we are getting new Star Wars movies again. I'm excited for The Last Jedi. Thanks again for your great blog!

  3. Because movies tended to be rolled out more slowly back then, Star Wars didn't premiere in Baltimore until June 17th. I guess we were pretty provincial back then because hardly anyone was talking about it. My dad took me to the first showing at a funky old theater in the city and we just walked right in. There was probably only about a dozen people in the whole place. I was 12 and already a big science fiction fan so, to me, I saw Star Wars as a big budget version of Flash Gordon. Not really serious science fiction, but a fun popcorn movie for a Friday afternoon.

    By the next week, however, the word got around and soon there were lines around the block and everyone was raving about it. I was a little perplexed so a couple months later, I went back with my whole family to give it a second look. I enjoyed it more the second time with a larger audience, but I still wasn't awestruck the way so many others were. What I was happy about was that now Hollywood might take science fiction seriously and we would get some big budget science fiction films rather than Doug McClure fighting men in rubber suits. It took awhile, but they started trickling in by the end of the decade. I still don't consider myself a big Star Wars fan, but I will always be appreciative for all the science fiction movies and tv shows that it paved the way for.

  4. Summer of 1977, Space:1999 second and final season was over. Star Wars was a wonderful surprise to my siblings, my friends and to me as a boy. I can not believe it has been forty years, extremely sobering.


  5. Exec 1-"Well, Damnation Alley won't be ready in time. We have the slot open, and have promised the exhibitors a film with a sci fi bent to it. What are we going to do?"

    Exec 2-"What's that thing Lucas just finished, Star Warriors, Space Warriors? Put that in. We'll take the loss, because Damnation Alley will make up for it when it goes big."

    And history was made.

  6. Sheri6:47 PM

    Star Wars was an example of movies being given time back then for word of mouth to build: it was biggish enough to show box office potential early, but my memory is that it took a little bit of time for it to show that it would break records. Then the lines developed around the block! These days, if a movie isn't a blockbuster in the first 10 minutes by fake Hollywood accounting, it's all over.

    I went with all my junior high school friends and the line wasn't that long at the time. One guy had seen it about a week earlier and wouldn't shut up about it (he was a real weirdo, not just a nerd), so we all went. Then the same stupid weirdo SOB blurted out during the lightsaber fight that Kenobi was about to sacrifice himself. Another girl and I beat the snot out of him and poured the ice from our drinks down his pants. He ran to the lobby and whined to the usher--good God, we still had ushers in those days!--who, when we explained what happened, whacked him in the butt with his Maglite and threw HIM out. Unforgettable evening.

  7. I was seven when I first saw it too, back in 1977. I was the last person in my class to go see it so I had been hearing all the other kids rave about it but, aside from the TV ads, I had no specific information about what I was about to see - I had no book about the film as you did. It blew me away. One aspect of my experience was probably a little unusual: my dad was an aviation buff and so was I. We had watched many WWII movies together so when I saw Star Wars I remember realizing that some of the scenes were heavily inspired by films such as The Dam Busters, The Battle of Britain, The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress etc.

  8. I was 14 when Star Wars came out but there were no theaters within reasonable driving distance of northern Rhode Island to see the movie. It was at least mid-July before my brother and his friends decided they wanted to see the movie at the closest theater in Massachusetts and I tagged along, eager to finally see the film.

    Strange but I remember the car trip we took to see the film more than I remember that first viewing. My brother and his friends stopped along the way to get high because they wanted to experience the movie in an "enlightened" state of mind. I can still remember their collective "whoa!" when the opening crawl finished and the camera panned down to Tatooine. The Rebel Blockade Runner and Star Destroyer hadn't even appeared yet and they were all whispering about how "deep" outer space looked and how crystal clear all the star appeared! Crazy...

    My actual recollection of the film is somewhat mixed. I had read so much about Star Wars prior to its release and had even read the paperback. Finally seeing the movie ended up being a somewhat underwhelming experience since most of the surprises had been "spoiled".

    I do remember thinking how well made the movie was and I was completely taken aback by the quality of the sets, costumes and special effects. Later that Fall, my best friend's older brother gave me the Cinefantastique double issue about Star Wars which I read cover to cover multiple times. I was now completely hooked and looked forward eagerly to news of the coming sequel as well as all the new shows and movies that were soon following like Buck Rogers, BattleStar Galactica, the Star Trek movie and so on.

    Ultimately, films like Star Wars convinced me, as well as so many other people, to pursue a film career. By the time we arrived for our freshman year, many of my best friends had already completed their Super 8 Star Wars-inspired epics. Magazines like Starlog, Fantastic Films, Cinefex, Cinemagic, Cinefantastique and others fueled our desire to be like George Lucas and make our own films.

    While I eventually fell out of the film industry, I know so many people whose careers exist because of that first Star Wars film and it's enormous effect on an entire generation.

  9. As I wrote about on my own blog ( my life didn't become all about "Star "Wars" after seeing the film, but I did enjoy it very much.

    The reason there were so few prints ready to unfurl on May 25th, 1977, was because Fox had so little faith in "Star Wars" to perform. After the first few days of SW's release the labs went into overdrive to get addional prints made.

    What a great story that is....

  10. Here is my own personal "Story of Star Wars":
    My Dad took my two brothers and I to see the film, shortly after my 12th birthday. I had already read the Starlog magazine article regarding the film, which didn't really prepare me for actually seeing those pictures in motion. I was somewhat skeptical for whatever reason, although the Ralph McQuarrie painting of Luke and Darth Vader fighting using "laser swords" was pretty cool.
    In the opening moments of the film, I recall cynically sitting in my theater seat thinking about how cheap the spaceships looked. I'd already seen models like these on Space:1999. I wondered if I was about to watch a two-hour version of Space, which was fine for tv but not for a feature film.
    Then Darth Vader showed up, and everything changed.
    I was fully committed the moment that then-mysterious perfect movie villain appeared on screen. That was the moment the movie had me. He picked up that guy like he was nothing! His voice...that breathing...How could he be stopped?
    I also identified strongly with Luke. That moment he watches the suns set on Tatooine was forever engraved in my memory. It seemed to capture so much.
    Needless to say, I loved the film. The Death Star battle was like nothing I'd ever seen. The video game element to shooting TIE fighters appealed to my younger self. All of the aliens and creatures in the Mos Eisley cantina were incredible, as well. I knew I'd be seeing this movie again, and I did, at least a few more times.
    For Christmas I received a record, "The Story of Star Wars," and I listened to that album repeatedly.
    Several years later, 1981-ish, our family had its first VCR player/recorder, and one of my brother's friends had secured bootleg copies of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, all before they were available commercially! That summer, I watched each of those films over and over, memorizing the dialogue and story beats.
    In fact, it was at that time that I learned that the original Star Wars had several audio tracks spread across several releases. Most notably, the sound effects of C3PO's gears and Aunt Beru's dialogue readings were markedly different when the movie was finally released on VHS (which we all rented because the film was too expensive to buy). I thought it must have been my imagination, although I could swear there were pronounced differences.
    As it turns out, I was correct! The Star Wars Wikipedia page confirms that different markets of the country received varying cuts of the film as it was rushed to get it to distributors who were clamoring for more copies of Star Wars due to its unexpected popularity. Some versions had differing line readings and sound effects from others, as copies were cobbled together and George Lucas began tinkering with the film even back then, "fixing" elements which he felt needed adjusting.
    What stands out most to me as I look back through the years and remember seeing Star Wars for the first time was seeing it with my Dad, how much he enjoyed it. It was such a good time for my brothers and I, and that to me is the true power of Star Wars.