Thursday, May 25, 2017

Star Wars Plus 40 Years

A Long Time Ago indeed!

Today marks forty (40!) years since "Star Wars" (also known as "Star Wars: Episode IV -- A New Hope", but it'll always be "Star Wars" to me) was released.  Forty years...  That might not be that much time in relation to how long ago the events in that Galaxy Far, Far Away took place, but to me it's a long time.  I was seven years old when "Star Wars" came out, and to be honest I had no real idea about it for some time afterward.  I remember going to see it well after the release date.  It was a small local theater (which is now a parking lot for a bank) and the line for tickets stretched out the door and around the block (obviously Star Wars mania had really sunk in!).  I also remember it being very cold outside.  It may not have been the winter of 1977-78, but was probably close (maybe November?).  For years (decades even) I thought I had seen "Star Wars" at our little town's drive-in during the summer of 1977.  But years later, while I was researching the topic for another blog entry, I realized that it never even played at our drive-in in 1977.  It turns out that I didn't see it there until it was re-released for the summer of 1978!  I remember sitting in the back of my dad's truck and playing with my little R2-D2 and C3PO action figures while watching the film.

Local drive-in's newspaper ad from July 1978

It's kind of hard to fathom in this era of mega-blockbusters constantly churning out of Hollywood (like the continuous flow of superhero films of the past decade or so), but there was a time when the idea of a summer blockbuster was a new idea.  When "Star Wars" came out it had only been two years since "Jaws" pretty much invented the idea of a summer blockbuster upon its release in 1975.  Nowadays we breathlessly await new teaser trailers and "leaked" information for months (even years it seems) before hotly anticipated movies are released.  But I don't think anyone really knew back in May of 1977 just what "Star Wars" would ultimately mean to the world.  It didn't take too long for it to catch fire, but in the beginning it really was kind of an unknown film by a relatively little-known director.  The film was pretty different for its time, and of course, for many years afterward we were treated to all kinds of movies that were either direct rip-offs of "Star Wars", or at least borrowed liberally from it or were obviously inspired by it.  I am extremely happy to have been a little kid at that time, and to have experienced everything that "Star Wars" was and everything that it would become right from the beginning.

Could anyone have guessed that forty years later we would be about six months away from the release of the eighth film in the nine-part series?  And that there would have been another film outside of the "official" line released in 2016 ("Rogue One") that bridged the time between the third and fourth parts ("Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith" and "Episode IV -- A New Hope")?  And how about the fact that Star Wars had become such a "force" in the world that it would end up being owned by Disney?  Probably not, but it didn't take the world (and this seven-year-old) too long to realize it had something special on its hands.

I didn't really know a ton about science-fiction at that time.  I liked it, but wouldn't say I was a real "fan" of it yet.  I had grown up (well, actually, I was STILL growing up) watching all kinds of monster/horror/science fiction films on a Saturday afternoon show broadcast from Boston's WLVI Channel 56 called Creature Double Feature.  Syndicated episodes of the original "Star Trek" series was also a staple of my childhood TV viewing.  I was certainly primed for what "Star Wars" would show me.  But I wasn't really anticipating it.  It just happened.  And I just happened to be the perfect age to soak it all in.  It certainly didn't hurt that "Star Wars" really redefined the idea of movie merchandising not long after its release.  By the time "The Empire Strikes Back" came out in 1980 I was a full-on Star Wars fan!  I had a number (but certainly not ALL) of the action figures and toys, and was a regular collector of all those different colored series of "Star Wars" trading cards.  Actually, I remember a shocking moment from my youth that was caused by those trading cards.  I was collecting the "Empire Strikes Back" cards before ever getting a chance ot see the film, and I didn't really know much about the story line at the time.  When I saw the card of Han Solo frozen in carbonite I was convinced that he was actually dead!  I couldn't believe it.  Strange that some 35+ years later we would have to deal with the death of Han Solo for real...  Oh well, I digress.  We're here to talk about what happened in 1977.

Empire Strikes Back card no.97

To be honest, I don't think I can really add a lot to what has already been written about the Star Wars universe in the past forty years (can you imagine just how much HAS been written--including scripts, film reviews, interviews, comic book adaptations, book adaptations, new series of books taking the characters to all sorts of new adventures, magazine articles, blog posts...  It boggles the mind!), but I really couldn't let this milestone pass without recognizing it.  I'm not really sure what the world at large thinks of this anniversary.  It doesn't seem to be as big of a deal as I was expecting it to be.  And I've been waiting for a few weeks for it too--ever since I mistakenly thought that May 4th (better known as Star Wars Day) was the date of the anniversary instead of today.  I was shocked and dismayed to not see ANY promotion of the fact that Star Wars was turning 40.  Once I realized my mistake (and written about it) I started preparing for today.  I was expecting to see a wonderful and imaginative Google doodle, but was disappointed to see this instead:

Now, I'm certainly not saying that there isn't ANYTHING out there about the 40th anniversary.  Obviously old people like me want to remember the world of 1977 and their introduction to "Star Wars", and many websites and companies want to take advantage of the opportunity to commemorate the event.  Of course had a ton of coverage, and I'm sure all the fan forums and blogs have been busy with anniversary stuff.  But it just doesn't feel like as big of a celebration as I had expected.  Maybe, just maybe (not to start a conspiracy theory or anything), could Disney itself actually want to downplay the fact that its prized franchise has hit middle age so as to not allow it to seem "old" or "dated" in some way?  Star Wars will always appeal to young people (I would imagine) and there's no reason to make kids of today aware of the fact that their parents (maybe even grandparents) were going to see the original "Star Wars" FORTY YEARS AGO!  Okay, I'm sure that has nothing to do with anything, but it's an interesting idea.  I can't deny the fact that saying "Star Wars" premiered forty years ago not only makes me feel nostalgic, but it also makes me feel a bit old.


Either way, it DID indeed happen forty years ago.  A lot has changed in the world over that time, and Star Wars has managed to remain a vital and relevant part of pop culture.  Despite the fact that there was a long dry spell in the Star Wars film universe between the release of "Return of the Jedi" and "The Phantom Menace" (1983-1999) and then another long wait between "Revenge of the Sith" and "The Force Awakens" (2005-2015), Star Wars has managed to stay in the public's eye all these years.   Once "The Last Jedi" is released in December there will have been eight films released over these forty years.  I know they haven't been released on a regular schedule, but still, that's an average of one movie every five years!  And that's not even including "Rogue One"!  Not a bad output at all.  Of course I'm only talking about the official movies from the nine-part saga that George Lucas supposedly envisioned from the beginning.  That leaves out not only "Rogue One", but also myriad other stuff in the media like the re-releases, special editions of the films, multiple home video releases (first on VHS, then DVD, Blu-ray and digital formats), all the novels and other books, the comics and graphic novels, waves upon waves of toys and other official merchandise, animated series like "Droids" and "The Clone Wars", and even..."The Star Wars Holiday Special"!  It would seem that Star Wars has been with us constantly in one form or another for the past forty years.  And it all started with that one little unknown space movie that was released on May 25, 1977.

Let's finish up with a few relevant images related to this auspicious day...

Here's a story from today at

Here's one of the MANY articles at today

My old Stormtrooper from when I was a kid...

...Which accompanied me to "Rogue One" last December

Facebook reminded me today that I posted this on this day back in 2011

 The above image was taken at Star Wars Day at the Higgins Armory in Worcester, MA on May 25, 2011.  We were able to meet and greet a bunch of Star Wars characters there.  Here's the post I wrote back then about that special day:


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