Today is Star Wars Day – Happy May the 4th

May 25, 1977, Star Wars* opens in 32 theaters nationwide and my friends and I were at the Eric theater in Pennsauken NJ, the closest of those 32 theaters to my home in Cherry Hill.

We were all very familiar with this project, having read numerous articles and speculations in fanzines and having read the book by “George Lucas” (actually Alan Dean Foster) that had been released a few months earlier (still have my copy).

From the fan press, our understanding was that it had originally been called “The Star Wars” and was essentially a “re-make” of the Flash Gordon story.  Fandom was somewhat abuzz, though skeptical of implied promises (greatest SF movie, etc) as we had all been burned numerous times before, though the appearance of Gary Kurtz (producer) and Mark Hamill (lead actor) at the 1976 Worldcon went some way towards supporting the idea that we were in for a treat.

And so it was.  But you wouldn’t know that based on the fact that there were not yet “lines around the block”, at least not in Pennsauken.  We walked right in and were able to take our preferred seats, just below midway down and centered on the screen.  (In fact, attendance was so low that we were able to just stay in our seats for a second showing.)

That opening blare of trumpets riveted our eyes to the screen.  And we all immediately recognized that text crawl as homage to the Flash Gordon serials (which aired in syndication quite frequently in the Philadelphia markets).

One promotional bit that had been bouncing around was the wonder of the “jump to light speed” (the implication being that we would be wowed) and we were.  It was the second time that the film captured everyone’s attention and left jaws dropped to the popcorn-littered theater floor.

I was bowled over.  Sense-of-Wonder over-dosed.  I picked up a copy of the premium promotional program and, shortly thereafter, the soundtrack album (which I wish I did still have) and a bit later some original Star Wars figures and for a time there, my friends (nerds and geeks but not “Fans”) noted that Star Wars had managed to displace Heinlein as my number one SFnal thing.

That group of HS friends and I were members of a group we called “The Neufs”; most of us were members of the AV club at school. Among other things we produced the morning PA announcements which included a character created to announce the day’s lunch offerings – Captain Cafeteria (I voiced the Captain), who acquired his superpowers after consuming irradiated “pineapple tidbits”), and we made amateur films. The first full length feature we did was “2001: A Movie”, which was a parody of 2001 (obviously) in which we emphasized the labeling of everything (“A Movie” – “A Space Odyssey”).

That was followed by Tarzan – a parody of Star Wars, which I scripted and contained one telling scene: our standins for Luke, Leia and Han were trapped in the trash compactor. One of them reaches down and picks up a paperback (most of the “trash” was paperbacks), looks at it and says “Heinlein novels! Ugh!”.

Tarzan has been lost to the mists of time, but a copy was sent to Gary Kurtz, who responded that he had enjoyed it.  (It did, in fact, precede Hardware Wars in the SW parody department.  HW featured hardware as props.  Our Tie Fighters and Death Star were made out of fruit.)

However, over the course of 47 years, numerous sequels, tons of ephemera and almost uncountable spinoffs, I have to say that the shine has  worn off for me.

I’ve become more sophisticated (some may question that word) in my critique of science fiction and no, Star Wars is not.  At best it can be labeled as “Science Fantasy” and any statements to the contrary belies the actual evidence.

I’ve also come to view its premiere as the beginning of an era of filmmaking in which technologies allow filmmakers to “show an audience everything” and really, they shouldn’t.  If nothing else, it stunts viewers ability to make pictures in their own heads. (Note that major praise and commentary surrounding Cloverfield was the fact that the audience was only teased with hints and glimpsed of the monster, which, by the time of its release had become very uncommon.  Previously, whether owing to technological and cost limitations, that kind of thing was fairly common.  Another example is the Outer Limits episode of The Architects of Fear, using sound and shadow rather than showing the creature.)

Not to mention that the changes to the original, and younger fans insistence that what they’ve seen is the way it has always been (not) can rankle from time to time.

The film was never originally titled Star Wars A New Hope.  It was never “Episode IV”.  Han shot first.  The opening crawl never had “Chapter IV A New Hope” at its head.  The Death Star did not explode that way.  The toys weren’t even in the stores yet.

But back in 1977, on a Friday afternoon, all of that was in the future.  Neither we, nor literally everyone else in the entire world, had ever seen anything like this.  We were all so excited by it all that when we left the theater in multiple cars, we all drove down to the famous “Ellisburg (traffic) Circle” and chased each other around it, playing Tie Fighter vs X-Wing, using our highbeams as lasers.

I may not think all that much of the property these days, but I can still access those feelings of excitement, wonder, obsession and joy that I felt upon first seeing the film and nothing diminishes that.


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