STAR WARS: What it Was Like A Long Time Ago…

… 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.

YES!

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.

One just like this.

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.

I got one of these at the theater that weekend.

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.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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2 Comments

  1. I was 17 and saw it with my sister in Israel. I was stunned by how realistic everything was — weathered, dirty spaceships and all. But to this day she laughs at me because of a question I asked after the movie: “What exploded?” The Death Star, of course, but I thought she was talking about something else. So she brings it up again and again and again …

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  2. I tell this story a lot.

    I was ten, about to be eleven the summer Star Wars came out. My Sunday school teacher brought up Star Wars one Sunday morning in what I thought was one of those cool things that adults did to relate to kids. She’d heard this movie was great. What did she know? I had bought the Marvel Comics Star Wars comic book adaptation a few months earlier and quietly and smuggly thought I already knew all about it. Being a true die hard Marvel fan by that time (Stan Lee – the PT Barnum of comics had seen to that) I went to see Star Wars later on after I bought the comic with the the though that I was just supporting good ole’ Marvel.

    I must admit, the comic book itself had underwhelmed me and I really was not the least bit interested in it. I remember thinking, “what’s the big deal?” Of course when I got there the movie blew me away. Swept me away to another universe. I thought of it for weeks afterwards. My summer was very much colored by this new, incredible saga I’d seen. Wow! Life was different.

    As I’ve learned later on, the irony is that Marvel was probably saved from a very real bankruptcy and unfortunate demise due to their partnership Lucas and piggy backing on the coattails of Star Wars success. ( I believe it’s documented in one of the TwoMorrows mags) What started out as seeking desperate help and backing from other sources for his new movie, including dear, early childhood favorites like Marvel comics, turned out to be the thing that saved them in fact. I still think that’s a cool story.

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