May 25, 1977
Unless you've been hiding under a rock this week, you're probably aware that today is the thirtieth anniversary of opening day for the original "Star Wars."
Yeah, that makes me feel old, too.
I didn't see the first movie on opening night, but then again, very few people did--20th Century Fox had low expectations for "Star Wars," and it only opened on 32 screens that long ago and far away Memorial Day weekend. The rest, as they say, is history: the movie shattered attendance records at those lucky 32 theaters, and new prints were rushed out to the rest of the country so fast, some of them were still wet from processing when they came out of the cannisters.
Somewhat less long ago, on the eve of the release of 1999's "The Phantom Menace," I wrote up a fairly giddy essay on my own memories and impressions from the original movie, topped off with expectations for what turned out to be a decidedly disappointing "new Star Wars" that was hours away from opening. Most of it still stands up; here's a sample:
A long time ago, in a multiplex far, far away....
To be more precise, it was late May of 1977, at the Mall Garden Twin in Albertville, Alabama. We were visiting my mother's parents, and most of my extended family went out one warm night to catch a movie. I was eight, fresh out of the second grade, and the movie, of course, was Star Wars.
Even at that age, I was already a science fiction fan. My grandfather worked for NASA, my then-teenaged aunt had introduced me to "Star Trek" on television, and my bedroom was filled with all the space paraphernalia that one little boy could amass without getting into serious trouble. The cliche would be to say that none of that prepared me for Star Wars... but the truth would be saying that all of it prepared me for the experience.
That movie was all I'd ever wanted, even before I knew what I wanted out of a movie--it was flash and bang and glorious vistas and scary monsters and fantastic spaceships and grand heroes and diabolical villains and magic and laser swords and a princess and a knight and talking robots, all wrapped up in stirring music and a vast, epic scale. Star Wars hit me, with all its extraordinary, playful velocity at just the right age. I--and most of my contemporaries--have never been the same. In retrospect, we never had a chance.
I should note that the Mall Garden Twin (now closed) was not one of the original 32 theaters, so it's almost certain that I should have said "early June" instead of "late May" above. At any rate, it was quite a time, and lackluster prequels be damned, it was a great time to be a kid discovering that far away galaxy for the first time. We're unlikely to ever see or experience anything quite like it ever again... but you never know. If it could happen once, it could happen again.