MAY THE FOURTH: Childhood in 1977 — When It Was Just Called STAR WARS

Columnist Jim Beard takes you back to that crazy summer when so much was still to come…


I missed out on a lot of manias.

I wasn’t there to wait on the docks for the latest chapter of the new Charles Dickens work. I wasn’t there for the Spiritualism craze. I didn’t get to dance the Lindy or the Charleston. We didn’t build a bomb shelter in the backyard. Beatlemania came and went before I knew it, and the same with Batmania I.

But I was there for Star Wars. The first one. The big one. 1977. In fact, I was smack dab in the middle of it, 12 years old, front row seat. And boy was it a time.

I have a movie called Silver Streak to thank for cluing me into Star Wars. And yeah, it was just Star Wars then, no episode titles. My brother and I went to see Silver Streak in January of ’77 and they showed a trailer for a movie coming out in the spring. From its opening moments, I was hooked right through the brain. If there was a plot or characters in Silver Streak, I couldn’t tell you anything much about them. I only had thoughts of Star Wars.

The months went by excruciatingly slowly and the anticipation grew to a fever pitch in me. Before that trailer, science fiction was reruns of Star Trek and Lost in Space and newer film fare like Logan’s Run. Those were all fine and dandy, but even from a minute or so of a trailer I could tell Star Wars was everything I ever really wanted.

The month of May approached. Star Wars premiered, but I was told my dad would take me to see it after we got back from the family vacation… in July. I had only the new issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland with the huge Star Wars article and cover to keep me over that trip. By the time we got back, the magazine looked like it’d gone through a war.

Then, the day arrived: Aug. 1, 1977. My dad took me and my older brother and sister to the theater on my sister’s birthday to see Star Wars. My brother was indifferent; my sister irked. She later said it was so boring she almost fell asleep. Me, I had chills. Literally. Either the theater’s AC was cranked up that day or I was so freakin’ agitated—nervous, giddy, thrumming—I shivered all the way through the movie.

I loved it, but it would take several more viewings to absorb it all.

Everything was speculation then. There were no sequels, prequels, novels, TV series, or fake YouTube trailers. My friends and I talked incessantly about what we thought everything meant. What were the Clone Wars? What did Darth Vader look like under his mask? How was Obi-Wan Kenobi able to help Luke after he died? Or did he even die?

One thing I never questioned back then was who Princess Leia would end up with. Everybody loved Han Solo back then, but I was a Luke Skywalker fan. There was no doubt in my mind Leia was meant for him and him for her. Why would anyone think Han had any shot at her?’

One other thing I was sure of: I needed more of a Galaxy Far, Far Away and I needed it as soon as possible.

I tried to bide my time as best I could. I drew the characters every chance I could. I made an alphabetical list of every single thing in the movie, with brief descriptions. I thought and thought and thought about Star Wars to the point my near-perfect school grades began spiraling down into the abyss. I will never forget the day my mother came home from a parent-teacher conference and warned me I was about to flunk the seventh grade. True story.

When would a sequel come out? An official 1977 book called The Star Wars Album said, “there is a full-length feature film scheduled, due in fall of 1978.” Fantastic! Not too long to wait! Little did I know then it was probably referencing George Lucas’ scant plans to film a “cheapie” follow-up based on Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye novel.

Speaking of the book, I saw it in a bookstore in April of 1978 and my head nearly exploded. I was reading The Hobbit at the time but threw it over to read the new Star Wars novel. Read it? No, I soaked myself in it, taking it in through my pores and directly into my bloodstream.

Everything was new and exciting then. We had almost nothing and it was glorious. What we had was a film and a few crumbs and we had our own ideas and imaginations. We filled in the blanks of what the Jedi were, and what a Dark Lord of the Sith was, and what sort of chances the Rebel Alliance had. Who was the Emperor? No idea, but it sounded awesome.

Late 1978 came and went and no sequel. We learned the game as we went along. And we speculated. I also started using the internet, which back then was called Starlog.

I’m sitting here writing this as a much-older guy and I can still feel exactly how it felt back in 1977. I can remember how it felt to have Star Wars enter and take over my life, and quite literally. It was the best mania ever, and it was all mine.

And how cool is it that here now in the present day, they decided to make my birthday, May the Fourth, officially Star Wars Day? Pretty cool. Pretty damn cool.


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JIM BEARD has pounded out adventure fiction since he sold a story to DC Comics in 2002. He’s gone on to write official Star Wars and Ghostbusters comics stories and contributed articles and essays to several volumes of comic book history. His prose work includes his own creations, but also licensed properties such as Planet of the Apes, X-Files, Spider-Man, Kolchak the Night Stalker and Captain Action. In addition, Jim provided regular content for, the official Marvel Comics website, for 17 years.

Check out his latest releases: a Green Hornet novella How Sweet the Sting, his first epic fantasy novel The Nine Nations Book One: The Sliding World, Running Home to Shadows about Dark Shadows, and the most recent Batman ’66 books of essays he’s edited: Zlonk! Zok! Zowie! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Essays on Batman ’66 – Season One, Biff! Bam! Ee-Yow! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Essays on Batman ’66 – Season Two and Oooff! Boff! Splatt! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Guide to Batman ’66 – Season Three.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Yeah, it’s still just Star Wars to me as well

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  2. Having been 10 at the time, I can relate to what you have written. I had to wait until October to see it (Yes, it was still playing in our theater then) My interest was piqued by the Star Wars trading cards found in loaves of Wonder bread. In September a “Making of Star Wars” special was shown on TV. If you have ever seen it you know it starts with the movie’s opening scene. I found it in mid-scene while casually flipping the channel (by hand, of course) and naively beiieved the actual movie was being shown. It was still pretty cool.

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    • Thank you, d. I only got one of those Wonder Bread cards back then, but it was Princess Leia, and since I’ve carried a Carrie Crush since the moment I saw her eon screen, I was good with that.

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  3. Happy birthday to you, Mr. Beard. It’s awesome that even most celebrities share the same birthday as “Star Wars.”

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  4. Great article Jim! I missed out on the Star Wars crazed by just a few years. My Mom thought it might scare me. Then she took me to our downtown premiere to meet “Darth Vader”, who was her boss in a Vader costume. Somehow THAT wasn’t supposed to be traumatizing!

    I feel you on the “slipping grades” thing. I had that same problem with the Nintendo Entertainment System in the late 80s.

    And Happy Birthday!

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  5. Thanks for the journey back in time! My recollection was somewhat similar, if a tad more muted than yours. I do recall poring over the Time magazine in 1980 that had The Empire Strikes Back on the cover. Couldn’t wait to see that movie. Great stuff!

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  6. Back in elementary school, a couple of my friends got the action figure early bird special and I remember when they came in a few months later we were all looking over the four-figure set on the playground like the kids on South Park oohing and ahhing over the latest John Elway news. And yeah…I also remember picking up everything Star Wars related. The book…actually a few months before the movie came out. The soundtrack…played to death. Also remember mentally converting my Star Trek phaser into a Han Solo blaster, since waiting for the Kenner products to come out would be way too long to wait to play Star Wars in the back yard. Good memories!

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  7. 1. Hope you had a very Happy Birthday! 2. The entire Jedi Council was wrong; you WERE the chosen one by your birth date! 3. While I can enjoy the flood of “Star Wars” material we have these days, I think this article reminded me of the times where getting ANYTHING SW related in the dry spells felt magical! The closest I had to that… since I can remember seeing ROTJ in the theaters, and that’s about it… was living through the “Shadows of the Empire” promotional period!

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  8. Summer 77, we drove into NYC from Long Island to see the movie. I don’t recall too much of my reactions other than having a great time, and then as we were driving home, we saw the entire city black out, so I was glad we caught the early show. A wild night.

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  9. I was working in a comic book shop at the time and the boss took us down the street to the theatre for a new movie called “Star Wars.” I am not sure but I think my jaw fell when the Darth Vader’s ship filled the screen and kept filling it and filling it. I became a huge fan before I left the theatre. And, yes, this was before they renamed it (what a silly thing to do).

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  10. I saw Star Wars on the big screen, too. For me, it was at age 7. It was either in 1977, just after I turned 7; or, I suspect, it was actually during its re-release in 1978, just before I turned 8.

    But what else really rocked my world was The Star Wars Album, the book mentioned in this article. As I recall, I had my parents buy it for me while we were on a trip. I devoured that thing, not only for Star Wars, but also for all the sci-fi history in its first section. It was there that I first learned about Metropolis, Forbidden Planet, This Island Earth, and Buster Crabbe’s Flash Gordon. I was in absolute awe. That book set me off searching for ways to see those films and more, and I was a sci-fi geek for life. I shall always treasure that book, my gateway into the broader sci-fi film universe.

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  11. Everything you said resonated with me Jim. It’s exactly how I felt seeing it when I was 7 years old. I don’t think there’s ever been such an exciting time in my life.

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