70s Rewind: STAR WARS Memories, What Are Yours?

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, USA (@peteramartin)
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70s Rewind: STAR WARS Memories, What Are Yours?

Frankly, this is a slow news day, even on the international front, so I'm bowing to the Force and sharing my 'first time watching Star Wars experience,' in the hopes that you'll have something better to share in the comments section.

As I've written before, I was a science-fiction devotee in the 1970s and read as many cheap paperbacks as I could afford to buy at a wonderful local used bookstore, checked out as many hardcover books as I could find at our local libray, and watched as many movies and episodic series as I could find on television -- I loved watching re-runs of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits -- and, naturally, as many movies as I could attend in theaters (not many).

So I was primed for the opening of Star Wars on May 25, 1977, especially with the publicity blitz that accompanied it. But that was a Wednesday, a school day, and I couldn't possibly go until that Saturday, May 28. (Of course, my friend R. cut school on Wednesday to go and reported to us on Thursday his supreme disappointment at the 'unresolved' ending. Small wonder that he ended up as an extremely accomplished engineer.)

Anyway, my other friend S. and I boarded a bus from the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles and headed to Westwood, a neighborhood about 10 miles aways that surrounded the U.C.L.A. campus and was a hotbed of movie theaters and restaurants back in the day. The movie was only playing, as I recall, in Hollywood and Westwood, so we went to the Avco Cinema Center and joined the amazingly long line that snaked through a parking lot.

We waited more than three hours, not talking much, just bubbling with excitement. When we were finally granted access to the theater, it was already jam-packed, but somehow we found two seats together at the back of the auditorium. Moments later, the presentation began.

John Williams' opening theme sounded amazing in Dolby Stero, better than anything we'd ever heard before. S. and I exchanged proper looks of shock. Then a small spaceship appeared, chased by another ship that went on forever. We'd heard about this shot already, but still ... we exchanged raised eyebrows and then our eyes were glued to the screen.

Sure, we recognized the story from the 'space operas' we'd forced ourselves to read earlier in our teenage fandom, the line between heroes and villains was very, very broad, and the dialogue was very, very stiff, and we knew that in space, no one can hear your ship zoom by or stuff explode, but still ... we were enthralled, and very, very happy on the bus ride home.

When I returned hom late that afternoon, filled with excitement, my father looked up from the living room chair where he sat reading the newspaper. "How much did it cost?" he asked. I told him: $3.50. (Admittedly, a new high price in movie ticket costs.) My father made a face. "For one movie? In my day, we could see two movies, and a newsreel, and a cartoon, for 5 cents!"

But I didn't care. I'd seen Star Wars and it was very, very good.

Now, what was your first experience? Or have you managed to avoid seeing any of the Star Wars movies to date?

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cjohnstonMay 25, 2017 3:29 PM

Well. ....
~
Awesome fire-starter of a question here..
- - -
..a couple topics about and surrounding Star Wars come to mind for me... (many are undeniably subjective as well.)
Firstly - i haven't seen the verymostrecent Star Wars outing; but -- prior to that film (and aside for the Lovely Daisy Ridley) they have seemed to get more and more muttled over the years and as time goes on, imo.....
...I'm a Staunch fan of the "triumvirate" as i like to call them.. ...Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.

That being said though. ..i am often slightly perplexed and amused however by those individuals who adore The Empire Strikes Back.. ......call me a rebel.. ha.
..but that one has always struck me as an overlong "soap-opera" of sorts full of bickering...

......i am a HUGE WACKO-HUGE Aficionado fan of The Return of the Jedi though.. Still is one of my all time favorite sci-fi forays.
- -
As a bit of a caveat to my written wanderings and ambling about (above); ...i was FLOORED to learn/discover many years ago - that Princess Leia was the daughter of none other than Kathy Selden.. .! O.O

.....small world..

Ben UmsteadMay 25, 2017 5:28 PM

Despite my childhood being near completely consumed by Star Wars from the age of 8 on, I do not have a concrete memory of how I first watched the original film. This is partly because I grew up in the heyday of the VHS and many discoveries of mine were made on the small screen, and could often blur together. But I do have a very clear memory of almost watching the original...

Late in 1991, or very early in 1992, shortly after moving from rural Georgia to the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, I became good friends with Antoine, the son of Belgium-Luxembourg civil servants working and living aboard. Upon a sleepover at his house, an evening that saw us with little supervision, we wandered into his family's common room. We were done eating dinner and had no interest in building with LEGO that night. The house was strangely quiet. I remember finding that odd. At my home, my parents were readily around and available. We talked about watching a movie. He presented to me the only three films they owned: the original trilogy on VHS. This was the 1990 box release. Rather than saying outright we'd watch Star Wars, Antoine made the mistake of asking me to choose which one to watch. Because the art was the most photo-realistic, I picked Jedi and away we went. I was thrust into the last act of the trilogy, but could not have been happier.

Jordan C MorrisMay 26, 2017 9:39 AM

Firstly, one of my favourite Star Wars memories was not about a personal experience so much as the massive impact the movie had on local culture in the city where I live in Ontario Canada. Knowing that films often come and go in a matter of a few weeks now, it's hard to believe that Star Wars (I'm still not keen on A New Hope as the new title) played for well over a year in the same theatre. And I will never forget the full page newspaper ad featuring a cake that read "Happy Birthday Star Wars" and "join in the celebration" or something similar. There was a huge party and it was encouraged to show up in costume; which at that point were all hand-made. In the ad, where there would be candles on a normal cake there were Star Wars action figures. Of course that theatre doesn't even exist anymore, but the image of that ad will always be in my memories.
Later, I also remember joining the official fan club and waiting for months to get my first issue. The contest to name the newsletter had just resolved and "Bantha Tracks" was chosen. In one of those first issues was a breakdown of Boba Fett and at that point in history he was described as wearing "Shock Trooper" armour. In the write-up they stated Shock Troopers were the predecessors of the Storm Troopers and were famous for being much deadlier, but that they had all but been wiped out during the clone wars with the Jedi. The article asked "is Boba Fett the last of the Shock Troopers, or did he simply steal/inherit the armour from someone else? I could not be more excited to read all about him and all of the equipment built into his armour. Knee darts!!?? Flame Thrower!!?? Wookie Scalps hanging from his belt!!?? (all of this was documented in the article) I was in awe.
And finally, I recall reading in a magazine - I think it was Starlog - (way before the internet) the exact date that Return of the Jedi was being released. After school I walked home and confidently told my mother I was taking that day off school to be first in line and INCREDIBLY she accepted this without any resistance! I went early with a friend, proudly wearing my most recent Birthday present; a Yoda hat with the big green ears from California's now defunct Thinking Cap Company and was furious to discover someone else had beaten us there, putting us at only third and fourth in line! That screening remains one of the best experiences I have ever had in a theatre. As the Falcon narrowly escaped the Death Star, chased out of an access tube by the exploding fireball, the entire theatre got on its feet and cheered! I may be an old fossil now, but I really miss that kind of experience.

Peter MartinMay 26, 2017 11:17 AM

You are certainly within your rights to be a 'wacko-huge' fan of RETURN OF THE JEDI -- I remember debating it with a friend after my 3rd viewing (within 4 days)!!

Peter MartinMay 26, 2017 11:19 AM

Thanks for sharing, Ben. Always fascinating to hear about people who came to the series in a different time and place, so appreciate the lovely, scene-setting context as well!

PFerrariMay 27, 2017 5:48 AM

I came to Star Wars via classmates from CalArts who had just gotten jobs at John Dykstra’s then-new ILM, which was situated in an industrial area next to the Van Nuys airport in the San Fernando valley just north of Los Angeles.

I graduated CalArts in 1974, and had several friends in the film and animation schools who had learned how to use the optical printer for artistic expression under noted experimental filmmaker Pat O’Neil (still going strong). One of these students was Adam Beckett (tragically deceased in 1979) whose optical printer animated films (some used hand-drawn animation, others featured pure manipulated light) were groundbreaking and still current. (I thought they replicated the LSD visual experience in ways never seen before, or since.)

As an adept with the optical printer, Beckett was hired by Dykstra to head up ILM's animation and rotoscope department. At the time they were working on for a small science fiction film called Star Wars, by the THX1138 guy. I didn’t know Beckett personally (he was a big deal around school), but was good friends with several CalArts grads that he hired to fill out his crew, such as animators Chris Casaday and Jon Seay who worked on motion control photography, and artist Byron Werner who did roto.

I visited the ILM shop several times during production (I was not living in Los Angeles at the time) and saw the Death Star trench model, sat in a land speeder, and attended dailies of the cockpit space jump effect. Another friend of mine, Larry Cuba, did the original wire frame computer graphics of the Death Star, which were seen in the mission briefing sequence. It was all pretty casual back then; no security or anything, and the crew were all long-haired artistic types, happy to have jobs that didn’t involve outdoor work or require a suit and tie. I always visited at night, and it was always busy..

One day George Lucas came through the ILM shop to meet the crew and give out copies of the Star Wars novelization (a paperback original that had the original poster art on the cover). This was the book that Alan Dean Foster wrote but had George’s name on it (as was the custom back then). Jon Seay sent me two copies, one signed by Lucas himself. (I recently donated that copy to a well-known soundtrack composer who has a massive Star Wars collection.)

Naturally I read the unsigned copy, and so when the film came out was already very familiar with Luke’s adventures. At that time I was into reading genre film novelization prior to seeing the films because they often had extra scenes and information not found the finished film. (A prime example is the novelization of Alien, had the famous Dallas cocoon scene.)

Back in those days films used to open on Wednesdays, not Fridays like now. I was living in Santa Cruz at the time, and convinced some friends that we had to Star Wars on the day it opened, in fact, the very first screening. And in the best venue possible, which meant the Syufy Theatres in San Jose. Part of a regional chain that later become Century Theaters, these particular screens were near the Winchester Mystery House, and were originally intended to show Cinerama, even being built like the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. They were biggest screens around, really huge rooms with massive sound systems, especially for the time. Well worth the hour-drive over the deadly Highway 17 to get to them.

So we went to the first matinee showing. No line. Walked right in and got our tubs of popcorn, large Cokes, and center row seats (which were raked, another rarity back then). Then we sat back, buzzing on caffeinated sugar-water, to have our minds blown. And they were. Even though I knew the story, it was still a revelation, and one of the best movie-going experiences I’ve ever had. After that first show, there were lines around the block as the word got out. We went back to see it again a few weeks later, and I think we might have enjoyed just a bit more.

As for my ILM pals, Jon Seay went on to work on Star Trek and Blade Runner (and Ice Pirates) before becoming a music
video director and running his own editing shop. Chris Casady started a boutique animation company for the special effects industry. Byron Werner later did roto for Digital Domain. (He’s actually best-known an an early advocate for the
exotica and lounge music scene, coining the phrase “space-age bachelor pad music.”)

And that’s my Star Wars experience.

PFerrariMay 27, 2017 12:54 PM

I came to Star Wars via classmates from CalArts who worked for John Dykstra’s then-new ILM, which was situated in an industrial area next to the Van Nuys airport in the San Fernando valley jus north of Los Angeles. I had graduated from CalArts in 1974, and had several friends in the film and animation schools who had learned how to use the optical printer for artistic expression under noted experimental filmmaker Pat O’Neil (still going strong). One of these students was Adam Beckett (tragically deceased in 1979) whose optical printer animated films (some used hand-drawn animation, others featured pure manipulated light) were groundbreaking and still current. (I thought they replicated LSD experience in ways never seen before or since.)

As an ace optical printer jockey, Beckett was hired by Dykstra to head up the animation and rotoscope department for a small science fiction film called Star Wars, by the THX1138 guy. I didn’t know Beckett personally (he was a big deal
around school), but was good friends with several CalArts grads that he hired to fill out his crew, such as animators Chris Casaday and Jon Seay who worked on motion control photography, and artist Byron Werner who did roto.

I visited the ILM shop several times during production (I was not living in Los Angeles at the time) and saw the Death Star trench model, sat in a land speeder, and attended dailies of the cockpit space jump effect. Another friend of mine,
Larry Cuba, did the original wire frame computer graphics of the Death Star, which were seen in the mission briefing sequence. It was all pretty casual back then; no security or anything, and the crew were all long-haired artistic types,
happy to have jobs that didn’t involve outdoor work or require a suit and tie.I always visited at night, and it was always busy.

One day George Lucas came through the shop to meet the crew and give out copies of the Star War novelization, the one that Alan Dean Foster wrote but has George’s name on it (as was the custom back then). Jon Seay sent me two copies, one signed by Lucas (which I recently donated to a well-known soundtrack composer who has a massive Star Wars collection). Naturally I read the unsigned copy, so when the film came out, I was already very familiar with Luke’s adventures. (I was into reading film novelization prior to seeing the films so I could concentrate on the visuals and not have to think about the plot, and because the novelizations often had extra scenes and information not found the finished film. (A prime example is the novelization of Alien, had the famous Dallas cocoon scene.)

Back in those days films used to open on Wednesdays, not Fridays like now (with Thursday evening sneaks). I was living in Santa Cruz at the time, and convinced some friends that we had to Star Wars on the day it opened, in fact, the very first screening. And in the best theatre possible, which meant the Syufy Theatres in San Jose. Part of a regional chain that later become Century Theaters, these particular screens were near the Winchester Mystery House, and were originally intended to show Cinerama, even being built like the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. They were biggest screens
around, really huge rooms with massive sound systems, especially for the time. Well worth the hour-drive over the deadly Highway 17 to get to them.

So we went to the first matinee showing. No line. Walked right in. Got our tubs of popcorn and large Cokes, center row seats (which were raked, another rarity back then) and sat back to have our minds blown. And they were. Even though I knew the story, it was still a revelation, and one of the best movie-going experiences I’ve ever had. After that first show, there were lines around the block as the word got out. We went back to see it again a few weeks later, and I think we might have enjoyed just a bit more.

As for my ILM pals, Jon Seay went on to work on Star Trek and Blade Runner (and Ice Pirates) before becoming a music
video director and running his own editing shop. Chris Casady started a boutique animation company for the special effects industry. Byron Werner later did roto for Digital Domain. (He’s actually best-known an an early advocate for the
exotica and lounge music scene, coining the phrase “space-age bachelor pad music.”)

And that’s my Star Wars experience.

stripeyMay 31, 2017 6:57 AM

Me Mam and Da putting me to bed and explaining when i asked where they were going that they were off to see a 'Star War', and my first Kenner toy turning up a week later in the form of R2-D2. I remember being dumbstruck by it.

cjohnstonJune 8, 2017 12:17 PM

Jedi Return has actually "morphed" (a bit) into one of my more unusual "must see" fare over the Christmas and New Year's Holidays....
- - -
The Rocketeer, The Princess Bride; along with The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet are also up there for me..