The same summer that Elvis died, a pop culture phenomenon first gripped my generation. When Star Wars hit theaters on May 25, 1977, I was 2-years-old. Though I was actually too young to go see the movie, Star Wars was everywhere.
My first chance to experience Star Wars beyond television commercials was when my family watched The Making of Star Wars on TV that fall. The special, hosted by C-3PO and R2-D2, featured many segments from the movie as well as behind-the-scenes footage. My love of both movie-making documentaries and Star Wars might thus be traced back to one little TV special.
I am pretty sure the first time I saw the 1977 Star Wars movie in full was at a friend’s house on a TV screen around 1982. His family had this electronic device that amazed me. Hooked up to your television set, it allowed you to play movies at home whenever you wanted.
I have some vague memories suggesting I might have seen Star Wars in a theater prior to this in a re-release, around 1980. As I can vividly remember watching other movies around that time, I am doubtful.
In the summer of 1980, though, I definitely saw the new sequel in a movie theater, The Empire Strikes Back.
Luke Skywalker, R2-D2, C-3PO, snowspeeders, AT-AT walkers, the Millennium Falcon, an X-Wing fighter, Dagobah, Yoda, Cloud City, Darth Vader, carbonite, and lightsabers – all on the big screen. This was movie magic, and The Empire Strikes Back officially blew my mind.
Somehow, though, I missed one of the key lines of the film – Vader’s revelation to Luke. My guess is that I was still focused on Luke having just lost his hand in the battle or, for some reason, that piece of dialogue did not jump out as being significant to a 5-year-old.
In any event, I know I missed it because I remember disbelieving older kids on the school playground over the next couple of years when they tried to say that Vader was Luke’s father. What kind of nonsense was this? What movie had they seen?
When we arrived home from The Empire Strikes Back, my 16-year-old brother agreed to play Star Wars with me.
We ran through the house blasting each other. At one point, when he was apparently tired of playing, he had me get on the floor and pretend I was frozen in carbonite.
After a few seconds of lying on my back with my cupped hands near my shoulders, I asked, “How long do I have to stay here?”
“Until the next movie comes out,” he said, leaving the room. My brother, such a kidder.
I did try to stay frozen, though, just to spite him. I did not quite make it until Return of the Jedi three years later, but I did last another minute or two.
That Christmas, I received my first Star Wars men (known as “action figures” today). My first figures were: Luke Skywalker (X-Wing Pilot), R5-D4 (who I subbed for R2), C-3PO, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Vader. Over the next five or six years, I would collect dozens more of the Kenner toys.
My obsession for a galaxy far, far away had begun.