STAR WARS AT 30: My Beloved Memories

Yes, yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the film that changed an industry forever... but I don't celebrate it on its launch day. My celebration begins right on Memorial Day this week.

Because that's when, 30 years ago, my future wife and my youngest brother shared that most significant event in the best possible surroundings at the time.

Now, prior to the premiere date, I had already seen some stuff on Star Wars... I picked up the paperback real cheap (with the early concept paintings by Ralph McQuarrie on the cover), saw the tralier the winter before at a showing of Silver Streak, and the first issue of the Marvel comic in April. The comic, sadly, was sloppily thrown together, with some of the worst art I'd ever seen by Howard Chaykin, and I had this feeling that, like with Logan's Run and several of the Edgar Rice Burrough movie adaptations, this was gonna be another crap sci-fi movie that Marvel had licensed out for a quick buck.

Then on Friday May 25th, gossip columnist Rona Barrett reviewed the movie on Good Morning America, and declared that this film would stand alongside the Wizard of Oz as a beloved fantasy classic. It really got me wondering what this film was all about.

Saturday evening, I got a call from my friend Mike, who told me he and my gang had just gotten back from the Eastwood Theater, the only theater in Indianapolis running the film. The enthusiasm in his voice was nothing like I'd ever heard. "You've got to go see this, Mark! It's a Marvel comic book come to life!"

"I know it is, I bought it... and it stunk!"

Nevertheless, my curiosity was way up for this film now, but with the station wagon not really up for more than a trip around town, I'd have to drive out to where my grandparents would be camping with our camping club over the holiday weekend to borrow the pick-up for a couple of hours. So I called Deena and had her folks drop her off and talked my youngest brother Kenny into coming also. We drove out to the campgrounds that morning and talked Grandpa into loaning us the pick-up.

About an hour later, we arrived at the Eastwood, a single theater building sitting in the parking lot of an Ayr-Way shopping center. We went over to the Dairy Queen just a short stride from the front of the theater and got a bite to eat, as we were fairly early for the 12:30PM show.

We weren't ten minutes into our meal when cars started pulling into the parking lot and a line was quickly forming at the front of the building. We wrapped up our lunch, rushed over and found ourselves in a line that eventually wrapped around the building and spilled out deep into the south side of the parking lot.

When we got into the theater, the auditorium was huge, with Dolby stereo speakers lined along the walls, two huge speakers behind the screen. And what a screen! I'd never seen a curved cinemascope screen, and I couldn't help but wonder what the hell kinda movie I'm walking into.

Well, we were lucky to find a good spot right in the middle of the theater, because soon the place was packed with humanity. The lights went down, the 20th Century logo and fanfare sounded, and with the opening of "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...", the Star Wars fanfare exploded from the giant speakers, nearly numbing us in surprise, and for the next two hours, Dee, Kenny, myself, and over five hundred people watched history being made.

The Star Wars theme just reverberated in my head as we sped down 65, heading back to the campgrounds. We were all so jazzed by this amazing tribute to all the things I so dearly loved in pop culture, we couldn't even really believe what we just saw.

When I got home, I called Mike and told him, "Mike, it's the greatest movie ever made! And it ain't gonna make a dime!"

Now, I had a lot of reasons that backed that statement up. Most every sci-fi movie that had come out over the past year bombed so bad it wasn't funny. The awful ERB movies by American International were almost laughable. Logan's Run was horribly disappointing, having read the book before going to the film. King Kong in 1976... God, do you even need to ask? I almost broke into the projection room to burn the print, so no one would ever have to suffer again.

So sci-fi had a pretty poor track record up to this point at the movies. I'm not sure how it happened. Maybe the stars were finally aligned just right, maybe the public, after having suffered through so much garbage going into the 70's (the Watergate scandals, our less-than-stellar performance in Vietnam, the cynacism that pervaded filmmaking at the time), was just ripe for a good ol' high adventure, a return to innocence.

And suddenly here was this youngster George Lucas, ready to blaze the trail and create a motion picture dynasty not seen since the heyday of Walt Disney.

And by the end of the summer of 1977, I was eating crow burgers, and learning to like it.

The Eastwood still sits abandoned, now just an obtrusive building in the middle of the lumberyard of a Menard's supercenter, long forgotten by the public, who now swarm to multiplexes and IMAX theaters for spectacular entertainments. But a long time ago, it was a place of powerful magic that launched a thousand dreams for science-fiction fans all over Indiana.

It had such a profound effect on me in that now I not only wanted to enjoy movies, I wanted to know how they were made, what it took to make them and get them on the screen. Star Wars changed my entire perspective on film, as it did for so many others.

May 28th, 1977, remains in my heart the single greatest experience I've ever had as a lifelong fan.

May the Force be with you all.