Star Wars was an experience. Not just a movie. So much of what I remember about Star Wars happened before and after the movie, as much as the movie itself. I was 10 when this came out. My older brother really wanted to see it. His friends had already seen it, some were counting how many times… 10, 15… I had never heard of a movie so good, you’d see it more than once. So, when my mother offered to take us, I was excited.
To give context to how unique just going to any movie theatre was—most movies I saw were on our black and white TV that had 13 channels. Movies were only shown on TV long after they were in the theatre and were edited and had commercials. If we didn’t see a movie when it was in the theatre, we’d have to wait a while for it to get to TV. We went more often to movies at the local drive-in which were less expensive but the movies we saw there were not memorable to me in a good way. Think Godzilla vs. Megalon – two giant monsters endlessly fighting each other while emitting horribly loud and scary sounds. And the sound system, a single, metal speaker hanging on your partially rolled-down car window. So actually going to a movie theatre and seeing any movie in color on a big screen with a good sound system was always a special occasion. But this movie was extra special. So, I’ll share with you what was most memorable about it, starting before I even stepped into the theatre.
1. The Hype of Star Wars
All the merchandise tied to the movie and advertised on TV. All the toys. The posters. The movie reviews. The word of mouth. This was my first experience with merchandise connected to a movie.
We made special trips to Burger King for the Star Wars glasses they sold. We didn’t really eat out much, but these were collector’s items. We went back each week that a new one was issued in the 4 glass collection. We kept them safely stored away, afraid to break them if we actually used them. We thought they’d be worth something.
2. Getting into the Theatre
Very long lines that wrapped in loops around the theatre building. There was no pre-paying for tickets. You got there early and hoped that all the day’s tickets were not sold out by the time you got to the window. You’d be lucky if you could get a ticket for a showing several hours away. This was a new experience for me—hoping we’d get in to see a movie. We didn’t go when the movie first opened, thinking that the initial rush of people would fade away. But the interest didn’t seem to be waning and so we just went and were lucky to get in on our first try after a long wait.
Lots of ushers helping people find seats as they poured in, because the available seats were scattered throughout the theatre by the time we got in. It was chaotic with people streaming in non-stop and rushing to get the seats, so the ushers tried to take control, so people didn’t fight over seats. An usher pointed to a seat and told you to take it. You could say no, but didn’t. No seats were empty by the time the lights went out. A sold-out movie was a new experience.
3. The Special Effects in Star Wars
Unlike anything I’d seen before or could have imagined. Before Star Wars, the movies I saw were specifically for children, like Escape to Witch Mountain (1976) and The Shaggy D.A. (1976) and the effects were not special. But after Star Wars, people left the theatre saying, “That was amazing,” and “How did they do that?” Later, my brother talked about how cool the scenes were …. the space battle scenes, the light sabers, the landspeeder that moved without wheels, the alien band playing in the cantina. My only other memory of stories in space at that time really didn’t interest me– repeats of TV shows like Lost in Space and the original Star Trek show, but in those shows, the visuals were not amazing.
“A hell of a lot of fun…brims with adventure, charm and marvels. I loved it.”Jack Kroll, Newsweek Magazine
4. The Memorable Characters
The heroic non-human characters were the most memorable to me: Chewbacca, and the robots, C-3PO and R2-D2.My only memory of robots helping humans at that time was Robot, a character in Lost in Space, but I don’t recall being emotionally attached to him. R2-D2 was my favorite non-human characters in the Star Wars movie. He seemed to be a new type of robot, at least to my child’s eyes.
5. Having to Leave the Theatre the When Movie Ended
Back in the 70s if you went to a matinee…you could stay seated in the theatre and rewatch the same movie multiple times. So, if you came in late, it wasn’t a big deal, you’d catch the beginning at the next showing. I don’t know when that stopped, but I definitely know everyone had to leave when this movie ended. We were credit watchers. And the ushers came in and asked us to leave as soon as the credits stopped so they could clean before the next showing.
6.The Unforgettable Music in Star Wars
Darth Vadar’s theme song—so menacing. The main theme song- so hopeful. The Cantina song-so unusual. The music really set the tone for each scene. And it didn’t stop in the theatre. I remember hearing that music a lot at home. We had the Star Wars soundtrack album, and the only record player was in the living room. And the Top 40 radio station played Star Wars music as well, but a slightly altered version, called Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band by Meco. It was a dance, disco version of the most memorable songs, complete with laser effects and R2-D2 sounds.
7. Excitement After the Movie
I remember leaving the theatre almost stunned into the reality of Earth with the cold, fresh air outside. I was so engrossed in the film. It was true escapism, although I didn’t have the words to explain my feelings then. I’m sure that when my mom asked me what I thought, all I said was, “I liked it.” But my imagination was wild thinking about a future traveling to other planets, seeing strange new life forms, developing unimaginable technology, including some amazing robots. And the spiritual element of the force drew me in as well. I also hadn’t seen a strong, and memorable female character like Princess Leia in movies before.
At that time, I knew very little about science fiction and my only interest in space came from the school trips to the planetarium, which were always over too quickly. But excitement about the movie was contagious and long-lasting. Especially many times later, listening to my brother with his friends when they were all at our house and they talked about the characters, the plot and how the visual effects were done. And looking at all their Star Wars merchandise – books, magazines, toys, posters. It was all part of the continued fun and excitement of the movie. No other movie in my childhood was as memorable as this one.
I also remember the long gone human phenomena once referred to as ‘movie ushers’.
Yes, I worked in a movie theatre in the mid-80s and managers didn’t want us to help seat people in the theatre. We were told to push refreshment purchases and report any “outside food” coming in.
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