Summer is the time for blockbusters. I remember the summer the quintessential blockbuster opened in theaters. This movie spawned five sequels, an animated series, millions of product tie-ins, and a Christmas special. (The producers would like to forget the Christmas special.) Of course, I’m talking of Star Wars. Why, even minor characters, like Boba Fett, had action figures that showed up in other movies, i.e. E.T.
High School & Star Wars
The summer of ’77 and I was between my junior and senior year of high school. (Yes, I’m that old.) Nixon was gone, so was Ford. Carter had the White House and inflation reached for the stars. I drove my ’69 Nova to the theater to see science fiction flick called Star Wars.
From the opening credits, everyone knew this movie was different. First off, the music – that glorious, heart-running music. Then the title along with Episode 4. Had I missed something? Never mind. Words rolled across the screen about a galaxy already in the midst of a story. These were good words to a teenager, exciting words, words like spaceships, Galactic Empire, space station, and planet. Even the mention of a princess in distress. Groovy!
The words faded into space, the strings swelled, died away, then crescendo again. A planet appeared. No! Merely a moon over a gigantic horizon – awesome! A spaceship flew in, pummeled by energy blasts – more awesome!
But wait… into the theater and over our heads flew an unimaginably large spaceship. It went on and on, seemingly endless. Star Trek’s Enterprise was a mere pipsqueak in comparison.
I along with every other American teenager was absolutely blown away. There had never been a movie like it. O, there was 2001: A Space Odyssey, but that was incomprehensible and unapproachable, as most Stanley Kubrick films.
Transfixed, I watched a parade of beautiful adventure. A gold robot. A squatty trashcan on wheels. More blasters. The imposing presence of a dude with a breathing problem.
Ah… He was dressed in black. I knew the Westerns. This guy was a bad ‘un. But his cruelty was no match for that princess in distress with cinnamon rolls over her ears. By the way, this was as good as any other ‘70’s hairdo.
Enter the common man’s hero. Every guy became Luke, even if you didn’t feel cool enough to be Han Solo. As Luke, I could save the princess. Give me a good blaster. Or better yet – what’s that – a light saber! Yeah, I’ll take one of those. America had found science fiction heaven.
I left the theater and returned to my gold ’69 Nova. Ever after that, it was easy to imagine the Nova as my X-wing fighter.
College & The Empire Strikes Back
Three stinkin’ years we had to wait. But that was okay. Before The Empire Strikes Back the vast majority of sequels were terrible. I never understood why they bothered making them. Why would anyone hold much hope for the next Star Wars movie?
George Lucas proved the conventional wisdom wrong. Sequels could be as good if not better. A good proof this, as we still had Toy Story 2 and The Return of the King to go.
Then: The revelation. What!?! Son!
Any thoughts of Christian parallels were dashed forthwith. Just as well. Star Wars consistently espoused Eastern thought: a mystic atmosphere, dualism, a need for balance between good and evil (see C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity for a discussion on this), an impersonal force. Anyway, where would Yoda fit? He was no Apostle Paul.
Just as with Star Wars, it wasn’t if you had seen The Empire Strikes Back, it was how many times. Anything in single digits was falderal. Back then – before DVDs and Netflix – a successful movie could enjoy a long run, not mere weeks but months. A blockbuster could run over a year.
The summer passed, college term started. I went to see Empire again, this time with Wade at the Starlight Twin across from the dorms. Out of habit, we got in the long line. But why was everyone dressed so weird?
“Is this line for The Empire Strikes Back?”
“No, man, this is for Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
Good grief. Of course. It was the weekend and for months the Starlight had been showing the cult classic each Saturday night. Wade and I bypassed the festival and headed straight up the stairs and into our movie without the fuss of something we didn’t even want to understand.
We’d stick to figuring out who Yoda referred to as ‘the other’.
Honeymoon & The Return of the Jedi
We had heard that Revenge of the Jedi was due out. A good thing, too, since Empire had ended on a down note, like the middle movement of a symphony. Then before release the producers changed the title, and all who already had posters were storing them up like bonds waiting to appreciate.
But still I didn’t see it right away. Wedding plans, you know. After the rehearsal dinner, Dona went to the condo, I went to my apartment, and Beth, Kim, and Jim took in a late night showing of The Return of the Jedi. The three stopped by to give Wade and me a review – glowing. The real event of their evening was Jim sneaking M&Ms into the theater under his cap. Beth demonstrated: “He put them under his hat like this,” and she slapped her head.
You would’ve had to been there.
Dona had seen it with Charlie Ann, but of course she’d see it again. Dona and I stopped in San Antonio on the way back from our beach honeymoon. We decided to take in the show. But our story was not the obscene grossness of Jabba or the sugary cuteness of the Ewoks, but the fact that we saw the picture in a cinema that had eight screens.
Eight, mind you! An indecent amount of screens!
At that time, a twin was a multiple screen. Oklahoma City had a new cinema four. That was pushing it. But eight? Really, how many screens does a body need?
Now you can find 40.
Graduate School & the Trilogy Marathon
While I was in dental school, the invention of the video tape player was released to us masses. You could view your favorite films at leisure rather than wait for the rare re-release or the late show. Before, one would have to buy the soundtrack and remember the pictures. But with video, all a human had to do was decide Beta or VHS.
O, and rent a tape player.
But Larry and Margaret owned their very own Beta-Max. Cool!
They invited us over for a Star Wars Trilogy marathon.
Let me tell you, Darth Vader says, “It is your destiny,” quite a bit.
There’s my summer reminiscence of the theatrical phenomena of Star Wars. The movies are fun, but you know that. More than entertainment, the movies got caught up in stories of our real life.
If you have a story about Star Wars summertime, post a comment below. May the blog be with you.