May 25, 2012 marks the 35th anniversary of the release of Star Wars. Staffers Mike and Rebecca – both die-hard Star Wars fans – share their memories.
Mike: A long time ago, on May 25, 1977, I was six years old.
Trying to recall my first Star Wars memories isn’t easy. George Lucas’ legendary science fantasy is such a big part of American culture and my own story, it’s like trying to write about my first memories of air or food!
But I do remember my dad taking my brother and me to the theater in the family station wagon to see Star Wars in 1977. I will never forget experiencing the opening title sequence for the first time. “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . . ” Silence . . . then WHAM!
The first notes of John Williams’ score hit me like a hammer! Then the crawling backstory, which I was too young to understand – but I got the gist that whatever was coming was epic stuff, as big as the galaxy of stars on the screen. I blinked with every laser blast as the Star Destroyer fired on the blockade runner. For the next 122 minutes, my senses were overwhelmed by the images, sounds and emotions crashing over me.
Darth Vader’s first appearance shook me to the core. With his all-black armor and menacing mask, he radiated power, mystery and evil. But somehow, Grand Moff Tarkin scared me just as much. Tarkin seemed to be Vader’s equal in rank and his evil struck me as supremely sinister. My heart leapt when he ordered the destruction of Alderaan.
The only other specific memory I have about that night is my brother and me pretending to be Han (him) and Luke (me) on the way home, shooting TIE fighters (the other cars) out the back window with our completely pretend laser canons. I can’t imagine what the other drivers thought of us, but they didn’t crash so we must have been pretty bad shots.
And of course, my Star Wars movie memories are forever linked to the action figures. At school, they were the #1 topic of conversation at recess. It was torture waiting for them through Christmas 1977 (they were delayed thanks to the massive demand that caught Kenner off guard). I tried to wrap my head around the idea that you could buy a box with figures painted on them, but it contained only an “Early Bird Certificate” and no figures at all!
Check out the “Early Bird” television commercial:
When the action figures finally hit stores in 1978, I was in the middle of the feeding frenzy. Back in the days before being bad was cool, I liked the good guys best. (Except for Darth Vader, who was a must-have.) I remember R2D2′s head made a clicking sound when you turned it and Vader had a really odd cape. It was removable, but without it he looked more like an evil yoga instructor than a villain. Luke, Ben and Vader all had retractable lightsabers, with narrow tips that bent easily. Had I known those action figures would be worth $5000 or more someday, I wouldn’t have played with them!
These memories make me proud to be part of the “Star Wars Generation.” We are the pioneers whose childhoods were shaped by an epic battle between good and evil, innocence and corruption, wisdom and greed. And even though our parents couldn’t understand our devotion, we loved the characters, the story, the music. Everything about it was ours.
And if we’re certain of anything, it’s that Han shot first!
Rebecca: The smell of brownies always makes me think of Star Wars.
I wasn’t alive in 1977 and I was too young when the others were released to see them in theaters (and sometimes I curse the fact I wasn’t born earlier). For me, Star Wars was a holiday event – as big a part of Thanksgiving as the turkey, and it just wouldn’t be Christmas without Han Solo opening a tauntaun.
We didn’t have a VCR way, way back in the stone age of the early ’80s. But my rich aunt and uncle, who often hosted holiday gatherings, did. Like clockwork, someone would always toss in one of the Star Wars trilogy to keep the kids entertained while the adults did whatever boring things adults did at holiday parties. My earliest viewings of the trilogy were fragmented – a lightsaber battle or a near-miss with the salivating Rancor sandwiched between trips to the buffet table or unwrapping presents. An early reader, I was sometimes tapped to read the opening credit crawl to the younger kids. But my grasp of the comma wasn’t firm, and thanks to the line “Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people…” for years I thought that Princess Leia’s starship was named the Custodian.
The fact that Star Wars was a constant in my childhood meant that I took parts of it for granted. People often recall how they were blown away by the special effects, but I grew up in the 1980s – an era where special-effects-laden blockbusters were common. What blew me away about Star Wars was the characters. George Lucas created a detailed world unlike anything I’d ever seen. It was the first time I saw characters that were real to me – they had depth and personality – and I cared about them. I cheered when Luke fought Darth Vadar. I was terrified when Darth Vadar went to interrogate Leia with a hypodermic-wielding droid, and when Han Solo was frozen in carbonite (even though I knew we’d see him again in 20 minutes when someone put in Return of the Jedi). Even the minor characters had an impact on me – I always felt bad for the weeping Rancor owner. Luke had killed his pet (a drooling, carnivorous pet, but a pet nonetheless).
To this day I can’t tell you what order I saw the movies in – I suspect it wasn’t the right one, because my most vivid memories are of Empire and Jedi. And even though I should, since I was 5 years old when Return of the Jedi came out, I don’t remember there ever being fewer than three Star Wars films. For me, Star Wars has become enmeshed in nostalgia – a fondly remembered and well beloved constant from my childhood. Even at 34, I can’t watch Return of the Jedi or hear a lightsaber turn on without flashing back to a living room long ago and the smell of brownies.
How about you? Did you see Star Wars when it premiered 35 years ago? If not, what was your first experience? Celebrate the anniversary and share some of your memories with us in the comments!