Charlie Camosy asks on his Facebook page what it was like to experience Star Wars in 1977. He was two years old, and (obviously) has no memory of it. I was 10, and I do.
I had been hearing about the Star Wars phenomenon for a few weeks, I guess. I really don’t remember, but back then, it was kind of a big deal to drive from our place into Baton Rouge, 30 miles away, and we didn’t do it often. Being a nerd, I would have watched the TV coverage of the Star Wars phenomenon obsessively, and aggravated my parents incessantly to take me to Baton Rouge to see the movie. And they would have put it off until they couldn’t stand it anymore.
My father dropped me off one afternoon at the University 4 theater just north of the LSU campus. He hated sci-fi, and wasn’t going to endure the thing. I was on my own. I remember being so excited I hardly knew what to do with myself. There wasn’t a line, which tells me that the film had to have been out for a while. I walked into the lobby, smelled the popcorn, looked nervously around at the movie posters on the wall, spotted the particular theater showing Star Wars (it was on the right side of the lobby, to the left), and hustled in. If you were 10 years old, and you were me, sitting in the darkness waiting for the movie to start was like being strapped into the top of an Apollo rocket waiting for ignition.
As I write this, I have a chill run down my back recalling the STAR WARS logo appearing on the big screen. Liftoff! As far as I was concerned, the crawl setting the stage for the drama (“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire…”) may as well have been unfurled from the summit of Sinai.
And then Princess Leia’s ship shot across the screen, pursued by the Imperial star destroyer. The wedge of its prow appeared at the screen’s corner … and the thing kept coming. It was massive, just massive! The vastness of the thing! I remember shivers racing through my body. That had never happened to me in a movie before, at least not that at that degree of intensity.
I don’t need to recount the plot for you, of course. For our purposes here, the important thing is to say that the experience was so overwhelming, so hyperrealistic, that I lost myself in the story. The climactic assault on the Death Star was so anxiety-producing that it’s a wonder my heart didn’t burst. I can see it in my mind’s eye now. And then, the medal ceremony brought it all to an end. I didn’t want it to end. Did not. How could something so unutterably great exist in the world?!
I walked out of the theater into the brightness of the lobby. Nothing looked the same. Nothing. It was as if I had come down the mountain with my face shining from having seen God. I walked like a pudgy little zombie out of the theater and to my dad sitting in his pickup in the parking lot.
“How was it?” he must have asked. I can’t remember. I’m sure I had no words that could have conveyed the sublimity of the experience. I still don’t. I only have the memory of how it felt.
All summer long, all I thought about was Star Wars. Riding the lawn tractor mowing our big yard, I was Darth Vader hurtling through the galaxy in my special TIE fighter, with the crimped wings. (Yes, I loved Vader, who was so scary and mysterious; Luke was a bland, whiny punk.) Of the Star Wars narratives I invented for myself that summer, there was no end. And this lasted with me far, far past that summer. It dominated the conversation of us boys at school that fall, and even for a year after that. It occupied nearly all of my thoughts for a very long time. I bought the John Williams soundtrack, put the vinyl disc on my cheapo GE stereo, and listened to the theme constantly. Constantly.
I also listened to this monster radio hit. Remember, Star Wars debuted smack dab in the middle of the disco craze:
Even that was good. Hell, it was great! Because Star Wars, that’s why.
My room and my life filled up with Star Wars junk. I even had this:
I remember standing with my mother in the corner of our living room late one Saturday night, begging her to iron a couple of these onto my Hanes t-shirts. I remember the way the overhead light was as I waited impatiently for her to quit pressing the fabric with the hot iron. I don’t think it worked very well.
I feel sorry for 10 year old kids today, who can never, ever have that experience, with any movie. There was never anything like Star Wars, not in terms of special effects. Just today, my kids watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Blu-ray, and were like, meh. They had seen it before. Even if they had not seen this particular film before, they still had seen it before, if you take my meaning. Because Star Wars changed everything. Is it over the top to call it the Woodstock of my generation?
Were you there? What was it like for you?