Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Episode IV: A New Kind of Movie

The Blog notes... After a couple of false starts, this post is part one of a short series, in honor of last weekend's "Star Wars Day."

It was the summer of 1977.

My family was on an epic road trip from Ohio to California and points between. And while we were traveling, the very nature of the summer movie business was radically changing.

That change was called "Star Wars."

As a sci-fi nerd, I knew it was coming. Famous Monsters of Filmland had devoted a number of articles to the relatively low budget (as all science fiction was, in those days) film by a writer-director whose only other movie was the nostalgia-fest "American Graffiti."

During our trip, I passed the time traveling the more mundane miles of the country's flatlands by reading the paperback novelization of the movie and getting to know Luke and Leia, Han and Chewie, R2D2 and C3PO and of course, the evil Darth Vader.


My spell-check did not recognize the names "Darth" or "Vader." Just what kind of nerds do they have working at Apple?

*End Note*

With any luck, Star Wars would be successful enough that it would still be in theaters when I returned home.

The trip was major and probably worth a reminiscence at some other time.

Let's jump to my return home.

I went straight to one of my friend's houses, where I knew I would find all of my friends. (It was the 1970s, when "social networks" met in their parent's basements, in person.) I was all ready to regale my friends with tales of my recent adventures on The Left Coast.

"Welcome home! Did you have a good trip? Great! You can tell us about it later. Right now, we have to get you to the movie theater. NOW!"

And so, we went. In fact, my friends were so anxious for me to see this thing they had already seen that they bought my ticket.

The lights went down and the 20th Century Fox fanfare played. Not the short version that opened most of their movies. The full length, 23 second version. An indicator that something big was about to happen.

And if that wasn't enough...

Another fanfare. This time, the opening bars of John Williams' Wagnerian "Star Wars" theme.

I'm not gonna lie to you. To this day, that sound gives me goosebumps.

And, when combined with the 20th Century fanfare, double goosebumps.


This was not the first time I had heard the Star Wars theme. That happened two weeks earlier in a Sacramento, CA roller skating rink. A Neoclassical bombast sandwiched between something by K.C. and the Sunshine Band and The BeeGees.

*End Digression*

And the movie began. A rebel Blockade Runner zipped across the star field on the screen.

I was aware that my friends weren't watching the screen. They were watching me. Waiting to see my reaction to what was coming next.

Just a month earlier, I had laid my own eyes on The Grand Canyon.

That did not prepare me for this.

An Imperial Empire battleship entered the frame, in pursuit of the rebel ship.

And it kept coming.

And coming.

And, HOLY CRAP! it was still coming.

My friends, observing my chin dropping to my chest as my eyes popped out like a Tex Avery cartoon character, sat back, satisfied, and we proceeded to take in 125 minutes of cinematic awesomeness.

*Another Digression*

The I.E. ship's appearance was the first part of a cinematic "one, two punch." Six months later, George Lucas' contemporary and partner in crime, Steven Spielberg, would deliver the second punch late in his film, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," when, after teasing us through the whole movie with cute little UFOs, sucker punched us when "The Mother Ship" rose from behind "The Devil's Tower."


The first Star Wars movie, (which would later be titled, "Episode IV: A New Hope" but for the time being was just "Star Wars,") was so successful that it ran in my town's theater from it's opening day in June until sometime around April of the following year. And my friends and I went to see it at least once every weekend until it closed.

My town's theater took those profits, shut down for remodeling for three months, and reopened with a second screen. They would not see such a phenomenon again until 1982-83, when Spielberg's "E.T." broke "Star Wars" record.

During it's original run, (and not counting re-releases and home video,) I saw the first Star Wars movie somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 times.


Three Oh.

Which reminds me of a famous story.

A woman, with a small boy in tow, accosted Sir Alec (Obi-Wan Kenobi) Guinness in an airport.

"My little Timmy (or whatever) has seen Star Wars 28 times!" She gushed.

Sir Alec got down on one knee and looked the kid straight in the eye and said...

"Dear lad, you have seen it enough."

This story may be apocryphal, I don't know.

But, I have a sort of parallel story about Mark (Luke Skywalker) Hamill, that I witnessed, many years later, with my own eyes and ears.

But, you will have to come back tomorrow or the next night for that one.

Tomorrow... My thoughts about Star Wars movies past and future.

And, Star Wars fans.

Maybe I will call it...

Episode V: The Fans Strike Back

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