My mother and aunt took me and my brother to see it two days after it was released. No one wanted to stand in line on the first day. We sat there, popcorn and soda in hand, farther away from the screen than I would have liked (it was a packed house and I couldn’t get the coveted first row seats) and waited.
Now I would like to describe to you what happened next, although I won’t do it justice. It was a moment while watching a movie that I never had before or since. It was…perfect.
The 20th Century Fox logo comes up with a roll of drums and fanfare. That got our attention. Then blue words, silent on a black background…a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. This set the stage. It was a fantasy, a fairy tale, something we had never seen before. Then the burst of energy that is the John Williams score, that triumphant theme as the scroll of words fading away to nothing tells us where we are as if we just walked in on an ongoing story; then a small ship coming in from top frame followed by an immense ship that swallows it up; followed by an attack as the white armored villains invade and a dark, calm evil man in an angular mask surveys the dead, his breath loud and ominous heard throughout the corridors…
Honestly I think the first ten minutes of Star Wars is one of the best openings in movie history. It is absolutely brilliant. I was hooked.
After the film all I wanted to do was go over every scene in great detail with anyone who would listen at the Pizza Hut across from the theater. Luckily there were other kids there whose parents were more than obliging when asked to be released from the constant twittering of over-excited children. There had to be at least 10 of us just gibbering on and on about the best character, the best moment, the coolest part; all the while shoving peperoni pizza and Sprite down our throats. It was the start of something big.
Now when I say that Star Wars was everything I really mean it. Apart from seeing the movie every week with friends for months (not an exaggeration) we also had the merchandise associated with it. I had a poster in my room and a sheet and comforter set. I had a copy of the novelization that I read twice. Of course I read the comic that started not long after as well. I had the soundtrack as well as the movie audio albums. The movie audio was just that, the entire movie on two LPs so I could listen over and over to the film when not able to see it. I had a light saber; just a flashlight with an expandable plastic tube over it, still awesome. I dressed as Darth Vader for Halloween. It was just the plastic mask and printed plastic overalls that you got at Woolworth’s, but still cool. And I had the action figures.
The action figures deserve a post to themselves and there are several websites devoted to them, but suffice to say they were great and terrible and loved every one.
Still, this does not convey how the culture was changed by this movie. Yes the kids had toys to buy and the box office was breaking records, but that wasn’t it at all.
Every program had to have a Star Wars theme or parody. Saturday Night Live did it, Johnny Carson did it, the Today show did it, local news and PBS did it. I remember voluntarily watching an episode of Donahue because he had people dressed as jawas and sandpeople on it. And when Star Wars lost to Annie Hall at the Oscars that year I was convinced that it was a corrupt organization. To be fair I haven’t quite lost that feeling.
Star Wars references and imagery were used in fast food and retail outlets and milk cartons and cereal boxes and sneakers and soda cans and car commercials and late night TV and daytime TV and mid-day TV and plumbers and electricians and school curriculum and a thousand things I can’t recall. Star Wars was everywhere.
But that was not really the greatest impact. More than the toys or the advertising and the publicity it was how that movie made us imagine. It changed our play.
I remember my grandmother, who hated the film, say once, “It’s just cowboys and Indians in space suits.” She meant it as an insult, I took it as profound. Because yes, of course that’s what it was. And it was King Arthur in space. And it was Dracula in space and Sam Spade. It was clichéd ideas done fresh and it was every genre done different.
And I saw myself and my friends who once pretended to be knights in shining armor with broadswords become Jedi with light sabers. We once were cowboys with six guns but we became space pirates with blasters. We were young heroes that could still get the princess, except now the princess was an alien. Our games changed. Our imaginations changed. Everything changed.
I would like another 8 year old out there to have that too.
So ultimately that is my problem with the prequels, they were too calculated to sell rather than inspire. And ultimately my hope for the next series of films is that they just tell an adventure story, not so beholden to continuity and the whims of old men. Just tickle the imagination of a kid and tell a good story.
That will be a force to awaken.
This article originally appeared Dec 1, 2014