May 25, 1977

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock this week, you’re probably aware that today is the thirtieth anniversary of opening day for the original “Star Wars.”

Yeah, that makes me feel old, too.

I didn’t see the first movie on opening night, but then again, very few people did–20th Century Fox had low expectations for “Star Wars,” and it only opened on 32 screens that long ago and far away Memorial Day weekend. The rest, as they say, is history: the movie shattered attendance records at those lucky 32 theaters, and new prints were rushed out to the rest of the country so fast, some of them were still wet from processing when they came out of the cannisters.

Somewhat less long ago, on the eve of the release of 1999’s “The Phantom Menace,” I wrote up a fairly giddy essay on my own memories and impressions from the original movie, topped off with expectations for what turned out to be a decidedly disappointing “new Star Wars” that was hours away from opening. Most of it still stands up; here’s a sample:

A long time ago, in a multiplex far, far away….

To be more precise, it was late May of 1977, at the Mall Garden Twin in Albertville, Alabama. We were visiting my mother’s parents, and most of my extended family went out one warm night to catch a movie. I was eight, fresh out of the second grade, and the movie, of course, was Star Wars.

Even at that age, I was already a science fiction fan. My grandfather worked for NASA, my then-teenaged aunt had introduced me to “Star Trek” on television, and my bedroom was filled with all the space paraphernalia that one little boy could amass without getting into serious trouble. The cliche would be to say that none of that prepared me for Star Wars… but the truth would be saying that all of it prepared me for the experience.

That movie was all I’d ever wanted, even before I knew what I wanted out of a movie–it was flash and bang and glorious vistas and scary monsters and fantastic spaceships and grand heroes and diabolical villains and magic and laser swords and a princess and a knight and talking robots, all wrapped up in stirring music and a vast, epic scale. Star Wars hit me, with all its extraordinary, playful velocity at just the right age. I–and most of my contemporaries–have never been the same. In retrospect, we never had a chance.

I should note that the Mall Garden Twin (now closed) was not one of the original 32 theaters, so it’s almost certain that I should have said “early June” instead of “late May” above. At any rate, it was quite a time, and lackluster prequels be damned, it was a great time to be a kid discovering that far away galaxy for the first time. We’re unlikely to ever see or experience anything quite like it ever again… but you never know. If it could happen once, it could happen again.

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9 Responses to “May 25, 1977”

  1. frank martin Says:

    1977. Age 16. Saw it on the saturday after it opened. Stood in line that snaked across the parking lot for 10 hours, made it into the last screening of the day.

    It changed everything. The studios had no idea what hit them. See a movie more than once? merchandisimg? happy uplifting feel good movies sell? kids as the prime market? Summer release? who knew?

    The lines lasted well into christmas, when Im sure it was the Star Wars christmas special that took some of the wind out its sails. I paid cash, stood in line atleast ten times to see it. Little did I know that I would pay to see it again in 1992 with all new graphics and I would pay for the VHS version, the special edition VHS the DVD, the special edition DVD, and so on and so on.

    Later, I got a job as an usher at the theater and saw Empire 72 times. It was the last time I got one over on Mr. Lucas’ money making machine.

    I love star wars, and I loved the experience of seeing it new, but I hate measuring the tree rings of my life against the anniversary of its release.

  2. Captain Ned Says:

    I was 13 and away at summer camp in 1977. I didn’t get the chance to see it until I came home from camp in August. Before then, those of us who were there for the whole summer had to listen to the 2-week kids rave about the movie while playing Luke vs. the Stormtroopers.

    Those kids who stayed all summer got a special outing during the last week of camp. We all pleaded with the camp director to bring us into Burlington (VT) to go see Star Wars, but to no avail. Instead, we were carted up to Montreal’s Olympic Stadium to sit with 5000 other people and watch a lackluster game between the Phillies and the Expos. The worst part is that this took place on August 16, 1977, which somewhat constrained the radio listening choices on the way back to camp.

  3. Robert Bidinotto Says:

    Will, I was one of THE first people to see it.

    On the morning of that fateful day, I’d been working the 12-8 am shift as a young security guard in Boston — I think it was in a guard booth at an air freight firm at Logan Airport. Around 4 a.m., the Boston Globe driver came by, and as was his custom, he dropped off a copy of the paper. Inside, I saw the film review, and to this day I still remember the title:

    “Star Wars” a Blockbuster

    It sounded great, and I noticed that the Sack 57 theater in downtown Boston was scheduling ’round the clock showings, starting that morning.

    After knocking off work that morning, I went home, grabbed some breakfast, then wandered over to the theater for what I recall as being a 1 p.m. show.

    There were, like, 6 people in the theater.

    After the lights went down, suddenly there was this enormous crash of the now-famous John Williams trumpet fanfare, and the 70mm Dolby presentation began with the now-famous roll of the words STAR WARS up the screen, followed by that hokey historical explanation of the beginning of the rebellion against the Empire.

    Then the words crawled off the screen. Suddenly there were these shooting noises, and this small space craft shot from overhead and receded away into the distance, shooting laser beams backwards…

    Then, suddenly, the entire theater began to shake, and my seat began to quake. The prow of this gi-normous battle cruiser began to slowly emerge from the top of the screen, pursuing and blasting at the little space craft.

    And it kept coming…

    and coming…

    and coming, until it filled the entire screen, looking to be, oh, about a mile long…

    My mouth fell open. I slid back in my seat.

    I said: “Whoaaaaa.”

    Now, you’ve got to remember that the previous standard for sci-fi special effects was Logan’s Run. Jesus, THIS was like nothing anybody had ever seen.

    I mean, EVER.

    For the next two hours and twenty minutes or so, I was totally blown away. The climactic battle of the fighters in the trench had me clawing my fingernails into the arm rests.

    When the thing ended with that awards celebration and John Williams did that Elgar knockoff stuff at the end, I was simultaneously stunned, drained, floating, and coming right out of my skin.

    I rushed home and began to dial every friend I knew in the surrounding area, screaming into the phone that this was the greatest damned movie I’d ever seen in my life and I was going to go see it again RIGHT AWAY and dammit they HAD to come down to the Sack 57 right NOW and see it for themselves or else they would hate themselves forever.

    A whole gang of us showed up for the 5 p.m. show. By now, the theater was half-filled.

    Their reaction was the same as mine.

    When we left the theater, the lobby was absolutely mobbed. Lines were out the door and down the sidewalk and around the block.

    The word had gotten out.

    For the next couple of weeks, you couldn’t get close to that theater with an armored personnel carrier. It was the biggest blockbuster response to a film in history.

    And I was there on opening day.

    I remember it all like it was yesterday.

    I guess I can die, now.

  4. Luke Says:

    I was 15 and I remember it didn’t come to my town until school had resumed in the fall, and people were berserk over it (or over waiting for it to finally arrive). Nobody had ever seen a line more than four or five people long outside the b.o. of the town theater.

  5. buddy Says:

    Lansing, Michigan is not a movie hotspot. On Memorial Day 1977 I’d gotten a phone call from my friend in Chicago that was short and to the point: Star Wars – it’s a movie. See it. Click.

    Well, OK.

    It opened in Lansing on June 20th. I know that because my first son was born at 1:30 that morning. All the family celebrations had settled down, the wife needed her rest after lunch and I wasn’t expected back until dinner time. I was too charged up to sleep so I caught the 2:30 show – the very first local screening for Star Wars. There were only me and maybe a dozen other people at that seating – a handful of people who were only a few minutes away from changing their standards regarding “that was a good movie” forever. I was 15 rows back, dead center, and it was like I had my own private screening. I had already spent a pretty intense 24 hours, and perhaps you might wonder if I had the energy for this incredible movie? Sure I did. Twice. And I was only a little late for dinner.

    Eleven year olds weren’t the only ones to fall hard for a grand space opera, magically crafted. It was my best movie experience ever.

  6. Sandy P Says:

    Didn’t make opening day of now #4, but made opening day of 5, 6, and 1 – 1 killed it, I’ll see II and III later.

  7. rbj Says:

    What’s this “Star Wars” moving picture I hear tell about? Is it one of them new-fangled “talking pictures”?

  8. Deacon Blues Says:

    I saw it in the Summer of 1977 while at Auburn University. Few of my Architectural School buddies were interested but the War Eagle Theater was packed.

  9. LissaKay Says:

    They should have fudged a little and held the celebrations earlier this month.

    Like on May the 4th … Be With You.

    Heh.

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