… in a cinema kinda far away…
I don’t remember the first time I heard about Star Wars — which opened 40 years ago today — or even saw the commercial, but I do know that in the weeks leading up to its premiere that I desperately wanted to see it. Big surprise there, I know.
My Dad planned to take me on Sunday the weekend it opened — my folks were split and that was a visitation day — but then I got a call from my friend Paul Kessin. He and his father were planning on going Friday night and wanted to know if I wanted to come along.
So that night, we pulled up to the Menlo Park Twin Cinema in Edison, N.J., to the longest lines I’d ever seen. I still don’t know how we got tickets but we did. As we went in, they were handing out large buttons emblazoned with “May the Force Be With You” on a blue star field. I didn’t know what that meant but I took one anyway.
Within a few hours, I was transformed. Star Wars wasn’t just fun — it was seismic. It was a world I didn’t know could exist in movies. 2001: A Space Odyssey is the pinnacle of gorgeous space spectacle — and remains near the top of my list of all-time favorite movies — but Star Wars was whiz-bang exciting besides.
From the opening crawl to the underbelly of the Imperial Cruiser that went on forever, from the Cantina to the lacquered halls of the Death Star, this was unmatched cinematic world-building. Luke Skywalker joined Batman, James Bond and Col. George Taylor in my personal pantheon of childhood heroes.
For me and millions of others that summer, there was Before Star Wars and there was After Star Wars. (For years, I believed that I saw it the night it opened. But when I checked, I saw that May 25, 1977, was a Wednesday. I’m guessing that, at 10, going was a nonstarter because it was a school night.)
I’ve seen all the sequels and prequels and there is nothing that compares to that night in May when, like that kid on Tatooine, I learned that there was this magnificent universe of imagination and discovery out there.
I remember calling my Dad and telling him that I saw the movie and he was disappointed that I didn’t wait for him. In retrospect, as a father myself, I can understand that. But I excitedly explained to him, “No, Dad, you don’t understand — I want to see it AGAIN!”
And again and again.
For 40 years.