Columnist Jim Beard takes you back to that crazy summer when so much was still to come…
By JIM BEARD
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 Marvel.com, 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.