"Celebrating 40 Years of 'Star Wars.'"
What 9-year-old wouldn't go crazy over this film?
I’ve discussed a lot of anniversaries over this blog’s history such as Dark Shadows, Star Trek, and The Fugitive’s epic finale. However, one I almost forgot to mention was the 40th anniversary of the release of Star Wars. With Disney’s release of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, I felt it appropriate to discuss a time when Star Wars meant more than just a cash grab, when it was about telling a good story rather than selling everything from cars to cologne.
Although I was only nine years old, I have very clear memories of going to see the first Star Wars film. The film premiered on May 25, 1977, but I know my family didn’t see it right away. There was no Internet buzz and I don’t remember a lot of kids in school discussing the film initially. Like any film at that time, we saw an ad in the paper and decided to give it a try. There weren’t many science fiction films or TV series at the time so this looked interesting. When we got to the theatre, I saw my first sign the film was something special.
I’d never seen a line so long to get into a movie. I don’t remember if the show we went to see had sold out, or what the circumstances were. All I remember was going to see Star Wars and walking in 10-15 minutes into the film. I was enthralled as soon as I started watching it. As my brother and I discussed the film, we both agreed it was the greatest film we’d ever seen. There were so many great characters, awesome effects, and a few laughs as well. Best of all, there were no boring parts. My young cinematic mind decided this film was the best because you didn’t have to wait until the end for the good parts. Little did I know, but I was watching the blockbuster taking shape.
Like many kids (and a few adults), I got caught up in the Star Wars phenomenon. Star Trek was cool, but Star Wars was even better. I bought an issue of Marvel’s Star Wars comic on the way back from the movie. Normally, I could only buy one comic on my weekly allowance so buying a non-superhero comic was a big deal. However, I wanted to learn more about Star Wars. That’s how much I wanted to learn about Star Wars.
I don’t remember how many times I saw Star Wars, but it was the first movie I saw more than once (at the theatre) was Star Wars. Fortunately, the film stayed in the theatres for a long time so I got to see it (keep in mind this was before VHS so there was no chance of watching it at home—although I don’t remember if HBO eventually aired it). There were also re-releases before Empire to keep the fans’ appetite going (and make a few bucks as well).
In addition to the film was the merchandise. I didn’t get carried away with the merchandise simply because I didn’t have the disposable income necessary to purchase more than an occasional figure. In hindsight, I think I had less than a handful of figures. I had a Death Star Guard, Chewbacca, and C-3PO (obviously a gift as there was no way I’d want him before anyone else). I drooled with envy when my best friend showed me all the Star Wars presents he got for Christmas, everything from ships to action figures to the holiest of holies—the Death Star playset. I did get a land speeder and a Luke Skywalker action figure from my grandparents so I didn’t do too badly. I also added the Star Wars comics to my reading list as they provided continued adventures until the sequel (when was it coming out???) and unknown to me, it reportedly kept Marvel Comics in business.
Marvel's Star Wars comic book adaptation reportedly saved the company from bankruptcy.
Yes, George Lucas was ahead of his time in gaining the merchandising rights to his Star Wars film, but the tail didn’t wave the dog. The film was made to entertain people and the onslaught of merchandise provided a way for him to film his sequel. Yes, there was the Star Wars Holiday Special, but Lucas learned from this disaster and focused on quality control for all future projects.
The Empire Strikes Back is an example of putting the film first and the merchandise second. Personally, I wouldn’t care about the current Star Wars films having so much hype (although it’s excessive to me) if the films delivered. Episode VII was awful (no need to rehash it, just read my review) and worse than any of the prequels.
George Lucas’ Star Wars films provided me with many great memories and continue to do so today. While you can argue about his additions in the originals (The “Han Shot First” controversy being the biggest example of Lucas losing his mind) or the quality of the prequels, his original films were magical. Adaptations such as the Star Wars comics and the novels provided some good stories as well, giving fans an idea of what happened after the credits rolled at the end of Return of the Jedi. Not every adaptation was good, but there were a surprising number of good stories, particularly when Lucasfilm paid more attention beginning with the Thrawn trilogy (although I don’t know how the creatures known as the Ysalamiri were allowed into the Expanded Universe).
Star Wars will always remain a cherished memory despite Disney’s best efforts to harvest the original trilogy’s body in order to make a cash-eating zombie out of it.