Happy National Star Wars Day!
Today is May 4 which I have just discovered is National Star Wars Day. Why May 4th? So you can say the pun-tastic “May the Fourth Be With You!” of course.
I’ve never dressed up like a Stormtrooper and marched with the 501st Legion or anything, but I am an old school Star Wars fan from way back. To celebrate National Star Wars Day, I thought I’d post the oft-told and somewhat unusual story of how I saw Star Wars for the first time.
I was 6 years old on May 25, 1977 when Star Wars was originally released. In other words, I was ripe to become a Star Wars fan. But my road to Star Wars fandom was a bit more complicated than most.
I was also the oldest of 3 children. My dad was in law school and my mom was a stay-at-home mom with her hands full. We were a family of five living on no income. Movies weren’t in the picture.
This isn’t to say we did without. Somehow, my parents managed to take us to Walt Disney World. And I remember getting Star Wars action figures for Christmas that year. But with a limited budget and even less time, we just didn’t go out to the movies.
Every so often, plans were made to go see Star Wars, but somehow they never came to fruition. The most heart breaking near-brush with Star Wars in 1977 came that fall. Back then, a successful movie would run for months instead of weeks.
My first grade teacher was very fond of me and apparently felt bad that I was only kid in the class who had not seen Star Wars. So when she took her kids (or maybe it was her grandkids) to see it for the umpteenth time, she called my parents to see if she could take me as well. Unfortunately, we weren’t home. And there was no such thing as an answering machine in 1977. So we missed the call and my best chance to see Star Wars in 1977.
Everything I knew about Star Wars, I got second hand. I remember looking at a trading card of C-3PO and thinking it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. In my mind, this gold plated robot had to be the coolest thing in the galaxy. I didn’t imagine him as the fussy guy he turned out to be in the movies.
I read Star Wars story books. I wore Star Wars T-shirts. I had a few Star Wars action figures which I shared with my brother. My little sister (2-years-old at the time) had a Princess Leia action figure which we would rescue from Darth Vader daily.
Even though I had never seen the movie, Star Wars had become my first obsession. The only thing that remained was to, you know, see what all the fuss was about. Fortunately, I finally got my chance one year later.
Back in the 70s, there was no home video market. There was no HBO or even OnTV (the forerunner to HBO). It took a movie years to find its way on to network television. But, if a movie was a big hit they would be rereleased in theaters. And since Star Wars was the biggest box office hit of all times in 1977, it was rereleased in the summer of 1978.
By 1978, my dad had finished law school and was gainfully employed. When news of Star Wars re-release hit my young ears, there was no question about it. We were going!
This is where my story takes a tragic turn. As I stated before, we didn’t go to the movies very often. Almost never. My parents were novices. It never occurred to them that the re-release of Star Wars would sell out.
Of course the lines were around the block. I waited patiently. It didn’t matter to me if we waited there all night. I was finally going to see Star Wars! I had waited for approximately one seventh of my time on earth and my moment had finally arrived.
And then the news came that sent chills down my spine. The movie had sold out. We were going home. Well, it was more than I could take. I burst into tears on the spot. The truth is, I’m a little choked up writing about it even today 33 years later.
When my parents got home, my dad started calling every theater in town. (No cell phones in 1978 either.) Every single showing of Star Wars was sold out for the night. And yet, there was hope…
It turns out Star Wars was showing at the local drive in. (We didn’t have much in 1978, but we still had drive-in movies.) This was way past my bed time at 7 years old. But missing Star Wars again was simply not an option. So, my parents packed us all up in the gigantic station wagon and off we went.
You might suspect that after a year of fantasizing about Star Wars, that I would be disappointed to finally see the thing. But nothing could be further from the truth. I was positively blown away by the images on the screen. The story books, trading cards and action figures had failed to fully capture what it meant to see Star Wars for the first time in the late 1970s.
My parents fully expected that I would fall asleep before the end of the movie. I remember my dad stretching out on the hood of the car and falling asleep. 2 years later, he would sleep through the Empire Strikes Back as well. But I never even considered going to sleep that night. It was one of those rare moments in life where the realization of a long-held dream is even more fulfilling than you had imagined.
Thirty-three years, 3 terrible prequels and 1 Christmas Special later, I no longer consider myself a die-hard Star Wars fan. But I do recognize the power of the original films to transport me back to those days when I was 6 or seven years old and the adventures of Luke Skywalker were the most important thing in my world.
Happy National Star Wars Day and May the Force Be With You!