A Long Time Ago In A Movie Theater Far, Far Away….

Thirty-Five years ago, an adventure began.

It was thirty-five years ago yesterday that Star Wars first hit movie screens:

Where were you 35 years ago today? Wherever you were, just about now you were probably starting to hear stirrings about a certain movie that was zooming into theaters and about to change everything.

“Star Wars” hit theaters for the very first time 35 years ago today, on May 25, 1977.

When that day dawned, not only did we have no idea who Luke and Leia were, but we hadn’t heard of Admiral “It’s a TRAP!” Ackbar, no one cared whether or not Greedo shot first, and thankfully, weesa no hearda of Jar Jar Binks.

Maybe you weren’t among those first to discover the film and see it early. But if you went near a movietheater at all that May and June, you probably saw the lines winding around your local multiplex, and very soon you likely wanted to know what was going on in a galaxy far, far away.

If you were a kid, “Star Wars” merchandise soon filled your room, and your school. Action figures, pajamas, wastebaskets, bedsheets — nothing existed that George Lucas couldn’t put a Wookiee face on.

Indeed, you did. I wasn’t even seven years old when the movie came out and, while I don’t think I went to see it that first weekend, I know it wasn’t too long after that. And of course you had to go see at least one more time, right? And then there was all the merchandise, perfectly marketed for kids to beg their parents for just in time for birthdays and Christmas. It was really the first mass-marketed movie blockbuster, which is kind of interesting only because, going into the deal the studio was so unsure that it would succeed that they signed over the merchandising rights to Lucas himself, foolishly one would think.

Star Wars was also the beginning of something we’ve become very used to from Hollywood, the summer action blockbuster. To some degree, Jaws had started the phenomenon when it was released two years earlier, but with Star Wars, and the merchandising that came with it, Hollywood learned a lesson about how to make the really big money making movies, and every summer since then it seems like one studio or the other tries to out-do what’s been done before. Just this year, for example, we have The Avengers, which has been a massive success in the theaters and, in a few weeks, The Dark Knight Rises. For nearly every summer for the past 35 years, these kinds of movies have brought millions of people theaters, put millions of dollars in studio’s pockets, and changed the way movies are made and marketed.

The other thing that the success heralded was the return of science fiction to Hollywood. The last real Sci-Fi epic to hit the big screen had been 2001 back in 1969, and that’s still a movie that some people have problems wrapping their brain around. After Star Wars, Hollywood picked up on the idea that this was a genre that would succeed on the big screen, so before long we saw Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Blade Runner, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, and the return of the Star Trek franchise ten years after the television show had gone off the air.

Looking back, one can find things to criticize about Star Wars, and the many changes that Lucas had made over the years are frustrating to those of us who fell in love with the story the way it was supposed to be told (Han shot first!). Some would argue that the movie was surpassed when its sequel was released four years later, and they’d have a pretty good argument to make there. However, even after 35 years there are few things more fun than sitting down and watching Episode IV again and remembering what it was like to see it for the first time.

It started out, you’ll remember, like this:

FILED UNDER: Entertainment, Popular Culture
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    I’m embarrassed to admit it, but, I’ve not seen a single Star Wars movie. I was in my mid-twenties when it came out, and that genre just held no appeal for me. Come to think of it, I generally avoided the Star Trek television series too. Maybe it has something to do with “star”?

    It surely has become a worldwide classic.

  2. Budgie93 says:

    I’ll never forget when my dad showed me Star Wars for the first time – truly one of the greatest films (and film franchise) of all time.

  3. JKB says:

    I see the youngsters here don’t appreciate just what a breath of fresh air ‘Star Wars’ was when it came out. You cannot appreciate that unless you endured the swill that came out of Hollywood in the 1970s. Every movie had the whiny, pre-metrosexual tortured hero. Star Wars did not. They couldn’t even let Dirty Harry be a real man, he had to be the bad guy even as he was right.

    Hollywood should kneel before George Lucas for saving their collect jobs. For showing them that people want heros, want men, want decisive action without a lot of crying about it later. The damage of the franchise has been the introduction of whiny tortured soul aspects to the once great characters.

  4. al-Ameda says:

    @JKB:

    They couldn’t even let Dirty Harry be a real man, he had to be the bad guy even as he was right.

    You’re kidding, right? “Harry Callahan” was a tough man, a real man, a great anti-hero hero.
    I loved those movies – 1970s San Francisco, Lalo Schifrin soundtrack, plus great, great sly humor. I almost consider the Dirty Harry movies to be comedy (dark comedy to be sure).

  5. Ron Beasley says:

    @ Doug:

    I wasn’t even seven years old when the movie came out

    I took my 7 year old son to see it.

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    @Ron Beasley: And speaking of 7 year olds the thing I remember more than the movie is a house full of Star Wars toys.

  7. ernieyeball says:

    @Budgie93: truly one of the greatest films…of all time.

    Maybe. Chinatown (1974) gets my vote. John Houston’s portrayal of pure evil as Noah Cross is light years beyond the fictional Darth Vader.

  8. Gustopher says:

    I’m celebrating the anniversary with Star Wars Legos, and then watching the original (with Han shooting first, no Jabba scene, and the award winning special effects)

  9. grumpy realist says:

    I remember seeing Star Wars just before I went to Japan the first time. Loved it, convinced my father to go see it with one of his friends. They were chortling their way through the entire movie, ticking off all the cliches they remembered from WWII movies.

    Given our love for explosions and space ships, I’m surprised that no one has tried to make a movie out of the Lensman series. Maybe because too much of it has actually turned into reality? (the military swiped a lot of ideas from it–the Tank, AWACS, etc. )

    Also interesting to note that E.E.”Doc” Smith came up with the idea of a planet-destroying space station before Lucas did (“Lord Tedric and the Black Sphere.”)

  10. WR says:

    @JKB: Wow. I didn’t know it was possible for one man to be wrong about absolutely everything, but you’ve proven it can be done. Congratulations!

  11. WR says:

    @grumpy realist: I think one reason for not doing the Lensman series is simply that so much of it has been absorbed into other works. It’s the John Carter effect — although Burroughs’ stories were original at the time of their writing, they’ve been ripped off so much over the ensuing century that when the film finally was made it felt tired and stale…

  12. G.A. says:

    Wow. I didn’t know it was possible for one man to be wrong about absolutely everything, but you’ve proven it can be done. Congratulations!

    Dirty Harry, was a learning moment for society and how liberal politicians **** it up, we learned nothing!!!!

  13. G.A. says:

    Ya, I remember lol, I tried to build a RDD2 for a long time after that movie, dint pan out…

  14. anjin-san says:

    You cannot appreciate that unless you endured the swill that came out of Hollywood in the 1970s

    Actually, the 70s is now viewed as a very strong era for Hollywood, though apparently not by Fox & Friends.

    They couldn’t even let Dirty Harry be a real man

    You have to be kidding. I grew up watching these movies in the most liberal part of the country. EVERYONE loved Harry Callahan.

    My own little connection to Star Wars – Lucas’ pre-ranch editing studio was on the corner of my street in San Anselmo, the original Star Wars edit was done there.

  15. Dave Schuler says:

    Where were you 35 years ago today?

    Two friends of mine and I, guys I had been in grad school with, were standing in line in one of the few places in Chicago where the movie opened.

  16. Woody says:

    My father had to drag me to the theater, as I was convinced that my 13-year-old self was far too sophisticated for some stupid kiddie movie.
    Ah, that opening sequence with the camera underneath Leia’s ship, then followed by that enormous Imperial cruiser . . . never got old, even after the eighth time I went.
    My 4-year old son is now obsessed with Star Wars – and he’s only seen “the fun ones” (episodes one/two/three have some merits, but aren’t terribly fun, imho).
    Couldn’t disagree more about 1970s movies – look at the schlock being pumped out by a gassed studio system in the early-to-mid sixties for perspective (if you haven’t read Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders Raging Bulls, you have a rockin’ summer book in your future).

  17. grumpy realist says:

    @WR: I’m still planning to see the John Carter movie when it comes out on DVD. Loved the original books.

    The great fun about E.E. “Doc” Smith’s effervescence about science and what it will lead to. There is no doubt in his mind that at some point Mankind will go out to the stars and meet a whole lot of interesting aliens. I think he said his “Spacemen of IPC” was the one he tried to keep as realistic as possible and that he thought might happen at some point. And there’s a heck of a lot of good management advice in “First Lensman.” Some of the episodes ring as if coming from his own experience (minus the rocketships, spacesuits, etc.) Somewhat like Keith Laumer’s Retief series rings painfully true–Laumer supposedly used to be in the U.S. diplomatic service in Burma and was drawing on his own experiences of how effed up diplomacy gets.

  18. anjin-san says:

    E.E. “Doc” Smith

    Just had a major “Skylark of Space” flashback…