'Star Wars' Flashback: When No Theater Wanted to Show the Movie in 1977
May 25, 2017 3:10 AM   Subscribe

40 years ago. Star Wars. May 25, 1977. It only opened on 42 screens. Basically everyone who tells you they were there on opening day are lying to you. Five veteran distribution execs who were there when George Lucas' first installment of the space saga was set to premiere look back on the challenges that came with being part of movie history.
posted by hippybear (83 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
I can understand. In 1977, most theaters had one screen, so when you showed a movie, you couldn't show any other movie. It was the middle of the summer before Star Wars came to any theater near me, and I hadn't even heard of it until then. Besides, the original trailer was not impressive. Once you actually saw the movie, though, everything changed.
posted by Miss Cellania at 3:17 AM on May 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


I seem to remember it hit my small city in southern NM sometime in mid-June? Maybe it had two-week roll-out gaps? I dunno. I spent hours standing in line to even buy a ticket to get in to see it the weekend it opened in my hometown. And then I spent the summer mowing lawns to earn money to go see Star Wars again. The movie theater was a bicycle ride from my house (hey, 1977... things were different then), and I could get into the movies for 50 cents. 59 times before the summer ended.

I was its target audience. Its "P1" audience. 9 years old in a small town in a desert feeling like life had to offer me something more. I was utterly helpless before it. And I'm okay with that.
posted by hippybear at 3:24 AM on May 25, 2017 [31 favorites]


My eldest brother saw it seven times when it came to the UK.
posted by dowcrag at 4:24 AM on May 25, 2017


Yeah, my recollection is that by the time it got to London, which must have been months later, there was a huge fuss and it was already more or less compulsory to see it.
posted by Segundus at 4:31 AM on May 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


42 was a small number but movies were slow to roll out back then. I remember having to take the train into New York to see Empire because it wasn't playing in New Jersey yet and I wasn't going to wait.
posted by octothorpe at 4:36 AM on May 25, 2017


I definitely remember being seven when I saw it in the theater, and my birthday is in September. I must have seen it the next year, or maybe in the winter of '77. My much older brothers assure me that we all saw it in the theater together and it was A Big Deal.
posted by cooker girl at 4:39 AM on May 25, 2017


Basically everyone who tells you they were there on opening day are lying to you.

I don't think it's necessary to exaggerate that much to make your point. If 42 theaters showed it opening day, and I think it's safe to assume they were mostly full, then thousands of people saw the opening. You've just called thousands of people liars, who are not.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:48 AM on May 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


I wish I could tell a story about when Star Wars came out, but I'm coming up empty.

I remember literally falling out of my seat laughing in 1974 when the Blazing Saddles campfire scene hit. I was 7.
posted by mikelieman at 5:05 AM on May 25, 2017 [4 favorites]


It opened in my hometown in Maine some time in late July at a theater with two screens. The buzz about the film had not caught on quite yet at that point, and my brother, our friend Marc, and I shared the entire theater with about five other people. By the end of the month, every screening was sold out, and when the first run ended at that theater at the end of August, it moved to a one-screen second-run theater and played there exclusively for over a year.
posted by briank at 5:08 AM on May 25, 2017


Kirth, a lack of agreement separates us. Hippybear is right beyond reason to imply that thousands of people are liars, because people are always using their very fancy theory of mind powers to misrepresent reality to themselves and others for the purposes of deceit or self-aggrandizement. That's just how we apes roll.

Many people who enjoy the Star Wars were children at the time of its theatrical début. Children are short and stupid. They make mistakes about reality at an even higher rate than adults, especially when that reality is assessed via time-mutated memory engram simulation rather than direct recent experience. Accounts of childhood events are immediately suspect -- not just because the past is ephemeral but also because it is far away.

People who were not children at the time also seem to enjoy remoulding their memories to fit present expectations, permutating their self-narrative with each retelling until -- with a mix of incremental gradualism and insecurity-fired bouts of punctuated equilibrium -- they're recounting a fiction.

If all the people who claim to have been there opening night really were there, I've personally met every one of them -- which seems statistically improbable on its face. Too few screens, too many claims. The maths won't sum.

On the other hand, Kirth, I salute your willingness to stand up and defend those potentially maligned by a broad-strokes implication of fabrication. If I'm ever lying about something to myself, I'd sure want you there to fight back against Metafilter snipe on my behalf.

Fortunately I am immune to self-deception, because I read all the right magazines.
posted by Construction Concern at 5:08 AM on May 25, 2017 [23 favorites]


I saw it with the 'rents at the first showing on the opening day in my town. When we left the theater, the line stretched around the block and the buzz was palpable. Up to that point, the only movie--er, "picture," as most reviewers called them--to attract that degree of attention was "Jaws" from two years earlier, originator of the usage "blockbuster" in connection with movies as per Wikipedia. Nobody really lined up for films. With only three or four movies opened at a time, and most of them crapfests, there was hardly a point to waiting in line.

In an era of sleek, anally white spaceships and space colonies, Star Wars' well-worn, rust-bucket vision of the future was revolutionary, and repeat viewings were common. Until Star Wars, people would usually take in a second showing of a movie they liked a few months later, shrug their shoulders, and wait for literally years to see it again at a college revival or on TV. But Star Wars was addictive, and I knew people who saw it seven or eight times. The papers ran a story about an audience member who paid to see Star Wars dozens of times, eventually being invited to view it without an admissions charge.

Part of the repeat business of Star Wars was due to pacing. Compare the movie to other Sci Fi epics of the era such as "Logan's Run," a film which--like most actioners of the pre-SW period--is languidly paced to the point of soul-crushing boredom. Star Wars broke the rules on pacing, cramming thousands of plot twists and minute details into small chunks of celluloid. Your brain couldn't handle it; couldn't keep up. The effect was overwhelming, and you felt compelled to return again and again and again to absorb everything.

Now, heck. Thanks to the quick pacing of modern movies, even "The Empire Strikes Back" drags in places, and some of the Dagobah sequences seem appallingly slow. In a good way, of course.
posted by Gordion Knott at 5:19 AM on May 25, 2017 [9 favorites]


I remember first hearing about Star Wars at Boy Scouts summer camp. One of the other kids there saw it before coming to camp and was raving about it for days. I don't recall when I first saw the movie, though it was undoubtedly sometime shortly after, but I do remember finding it a vivid film, clean and sleek, with a simple clearly delineated story. (I didn't think in those precise terms of course, being 12 or so, but that's how I would express my thoughts in hindsight.)

My friends loved it, and I enjoyed it enough, but found too many other movies even more pleasing, so soon came to rather desperately wish Star Wars would disappear so I could also find some comradeship over the movies I enjoyed. Sadly though that wasn't to be. All summer and winter and spring and summer and so on Star Wars was unavoidable. The local library had a selection of super eight movie excerpts and shorts they would play for kids to keep them entertained. We could request which selections we wanted, but it was pretty much the Star Wars clips or Hardware Wars when that arrived late the next year.

Eventually I came to terms with the, to me, inexplicable love people have for Star Wars and its popularity doesn't really bother me any more, but for some of us way back when, Star Wars was less a cause for celebration and building a community of interest as it was something that distanced us from those that were so enthralled by its spectacle.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:28 AM on May 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


A movie producer I know was managing the movie theatre across from Harvard when it came out. After the first night, he tried to get the movie for a long run. His counterpart at the studio pooh-poohed his enthusiasm, "We're just going to dump this thing."

He went out and put all his spare money into Fox stock. Did rather well when the film blew up!
posted by musofire at 5:34 AM on May 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


Stephen Colbert, of course, was there before opening day.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:54 AM on May 25, 2017 [5 favorites]


In an era of sleek, anally white spaceships

I thought they were pinkish
posted by thelonius at 5:54 AM on May 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


My friends loved it, and I enjoyed it enough, but found too many other movies even more pleasing, so soon came to rather desperately wish Star Wars would disappear so I could also find some comradeship over the movies I enjoyed.

Okay, I'll bite. What else were you watching in 1977 at the tender age of 12 that made Star Wars seem like a bothersome pretender to the throne? Looking at the top 10 films of that year, I see some worthy contenders for a tween's attention, like Close Encounters, The Spy Who Loved Me, or even Smokey & the Bandit. Other than those, it's a lot of comparatively "dull" movies for grown-ups. I'm not disputing taste, but I'm curious to see your work here: What were you trying to get your friends excited about in 1977 that was overshadowed by Star Wars?
posted by Strange Interlude at 5:56 AM on May 25, 2017 [6 favorites]


HA! So I really, really DID see it on the real opening day, at the glorious Eastwood Theater in Indy! There were about 15 people in the theater that afternoon, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:08 AM on May 25, 2017 [10 favorites]


I recall something different. I saw the trailer for "Star Wars" and was mightily impressed and there was a palpable buzz in the theater as well. So impressed that when I saw the 1976 novelization in the book store I bought it and read it in one sitting even before the movie was released. Even as a fifteen year old, I remember the dialogue being a bit clunky and wondered how some scenes would come off on film. On opening night all the theaters around me (San Fernando Valley) were sold out and I had to have my mom take me to the Drive-in to watch a dim washed out version - still pretty amazing!
posted by Standeck at 6:11 AM on May 25, 2017


Hippybear is right beyond reason to imply that thousands of people are liars,...

Not what he's doing. The quote "Basically everyone who tells you they were there on opening day are lying to you" is not an implication; it's an indictment, and he's not right. Nor are you, with your extended and irrelevant speculation about children's memories.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:12 AM on May 25, 2017


A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

I put my birthdate into one of those calculators that supposedly pinpoints the date of one's conception. My conception date was May 25th, 1977. Being a nerd, I knew what that date meant.

"Cool!" I thought. "I was probably conceived post-Star Wars, after two teenagers got all hot and bothered by the romantic subtext between Luke and Leia." There are worse ways to come into existence, I suppose? But almost none as delightfully nerdy.

But now that I know that pretty much nobody saw it on opening night (and it certainly wasn't playing in a theater in northern Minnesota that first night)...well, I guess it's more likely that my existence can be blamed on booze. Oh well.
posted by Elly Vortex at 6:17 AM on May 25, 2017 [4 favorites]


We lived in a pretty small town at the time, ~20k people. It wouldn't have come to us probably until late in the run into '78 when buzz had picked up, or in the re-release in '79. So I would have been either three or four.

Regardless, it was my first movie and one of my first (very faint) memories. We saw it at the local drive-in. We had a small shitty import hatchback, and I remember mom made a bed in the hatch out of sleeping bags and blankets so I could crawl back there and go to sleep if I got tired.

I did not get tired.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:20 AM on May 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the framing is really not generous, since for most people in the pre-internet era who didn't read the trades, "opening day" is "when it came to my town." A lot of people, myself included, thought of a movie theater as the sort of one-screen storefront establishment that seems comically small by modern standards. And, since the movie had premiered somewhere else and immediately gotten glowing reviews (Time magazine called it the best movie of the year) and the merchandising caught up (I saw the Marvel comic adaptation--which, incidentally, saved the company--before the movie), the impression that I and probably most people had was that the movie was well-promoted before it "opened" locally.

It is pretty funny to read about what Fox thought was going to be their big science fiction film of the year: Damnation Alley.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:42 AM on May 25, 2017 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: children are short and stupid.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 6:59 AM on May 25, 2017 [4 favorites]


Our family was way too poor to go to the movies on a regular basis, and we bugged and bugged and bugged my Dad until he'd finally take us, well after everyone in the country had already seen it at least once and, for many kids, twice or more. It was a rare treat to go to an actual movie theater as opposed to seeing 2-3 movies in a row at the drive-in with popcorn and snacks/drinks we brought from home in the car.
posted by xingcat at 7:01 AM on May 25, 2017


What were you trying to get your friends excited about in 1977 that was overshadowed by Star Wars?.

In terms of pre-opening excitement (which Star Wars fanned to the hilt, thanks to its media campaign), for many people, the I-gotta-see-this movie of 1977 was a certain film called Cross of Iron (IMDB). It got lost in a Star Wars haze; most people have forgotten about it; it's only available on Netflix as a grainy DVD print. But Jesus, what a film. It was Sam Penkinpah's first outing in the WWII genre, starred James Coburn, was packed with on-location photography and huge, non-CGI tanks slopping through the mud, and was incredibly violent and gory for a mainstream film in this period. It released before Star Wars, and if you saw it, it was the perfect bookend for a year of two brilliant war movies--one set in Germany, the other in space.
posted by Gordion Knott at 7:09 AM on May 25, 2017 [4 favorites]


I saw it first in '78 in the back of my parent's station wagon at the Trenton Drive-In. I fell asleep for part of it, but I remember the beginning, mos eisley, the trash compactor, Ben getting struck down, and the trench scene (specifically locking target by the tie pilot and destroying the x-wings in the trench).

I did not remember Darth Vader on my first viewing - seriously...

I was also.... two and a quarter at best. it is my earliest clear memory.

We also brought our dogs and sleeping bags.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:14 AM on May 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


My parents heard some buzz and did see it very early on, which looking at the article makes sense since it opened in Minneapolis and we lived in St. Paul. They enjoyed it, so they took my sister and I, and then all the kids in the neighborhood were seeing it and it seems like all we talked about that summer, which was the summer I turned nine.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:20 AM on May 25, 2017


I remember as a kid hearing nothing about Star Wars until TIME magazine ran a big story in their May 30th, 1977 issue, which would have run after it opened. It did not open locally around were we lived in central PA. (Maybe they got it in swanky Hershey.) Didn't get to see it when it did open a month or two later because I was packed off to summer camp.

It was a running joke that the local theater in my home town had a "coming soon" Star Wars poster in their window for years before they actually managed to get it.
posted by lagomorphius at 7:26 AM on May 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure when I first saw Star Wars. I was 3 when it originally released, but it was re-released in 1978 and again in 1979. I most likely saw it somewhere in between, because I recall being on the playground of my kindergarten and talking about the upcoming The Empire Strikes Back. One kid had brought the mail-order Boba Fett figure to show off.
posted by Fleebnork at 7:48 AM on May 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


I don't recall it being marketed to kids at all back in 1977. My parents had heard some of the buzz and went to see it themselves before coming back and telling us "you'll like this movie, but the monsters in the bar scene might be a bit scary". The toys showed up shortly afterward in the stores, though.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:04 AM on May 25, 2017


for many people, the I-gotta-see-this movie of 1977 was a certain film called Cross of Iron

But going back to my point, were 12-year-olds particularly into gritty WWII movies at that time? I'm just wondering what movies were actually competing with Star Wars for pre-teen eyeballs during its original release. My feeling is that Star Wars didn't actually displace anything, it just recognized an underserved and underappreciated market for adolescent power fantasies.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:08 AM on May 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


I was 18 that summer, and actually drank a bit too much that night and fell asleep during Star Wars. Made for a good story to tell for 40 years, though.
posted by Miss Cellania at 8:15 AM on May 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


What else were you watching in 1977 at the tender age of 12 that made Star Wars seem like a bothersome pretender to the throne?

Oh, Eraserhead, Rabid, Suspiria, you know, typical kid stuff from any normal year...

Nah, actually while I did like Capricorn One more than Star Wars from around the same time, and stuff like High Anxiety, The Goodbye Girl, Telefon, White Buffalo, Shock Waves, Oh God!, and of course Close Encounters too among the big films of 1977, it was more that I was really into all sorts of movies that played on TV that weren't always a great match for my age group. I was a movie junkie as a kid, even planning sick days around what movies would play on TV during the noon movie matinees. Horror movies were big, things like The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Deadly Mantis, even Monolith Monsters, Errol Flynn movies like Adventures of Robin Hood and Captain Blood, Jerry Lewis movies and eventually pretty much old movies of any sort. I was more into old movies than the new stuff and vividly remember one exciting day when a friend unexpectedly happened to watch Imitation of Life and wanted to talk about it over lunch hour.

It wasn't that I disliked Star Wars or thought people were wrong to enjoy it, I was just put off by how fixated people were with the movie when it seemed not all that much more interesting to me than so many other movies that were out there to see. Obviously I was the odd one, but it took Star Wars and some few other major trend movies among kids to make me realize that. Something that wasn't a thrill to find out and took some time getting used to, but isn't mentioned as a badge of honor or anything, just a signal of difference that caused me some problems for a while.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:19 AM on May 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm about the furthest thing from a Star Wars fan. In my ideal world, Star Wars tanked and Robert Altman's 3 Women was the highest grossing movie of 1977. (Oh, the movies we'd be seeing today!)

That said, I believe I did see Star Wars before most other people--at the very least before opening day in Canada. I know for sure I saw it alone, the only audience member in the 1300-seat University Theatre in Toronto. My uncle was the projectionist there and it was one of the country's greatest theatres, and I believe Canada's largest.

In those pre-digital days, the projectionist would run the print upon receiving it to ensure quality, make adjustments to focus, know the changeovers, etc. Uncle David used to bring me into the theater for many of these test runs and I saw a large number of the greatest movies of the seventies and eighties this way.

I was 9 in 1977 and I hated Star Wars, but I remember the day fondly because one of the men in my family took the time to make sure I spent my time doing something I loved: watching movies. David was my favorite uncle. He passed in the late 90s and I've often thought that if I ever had a kid, his high-bar example would be an excellent one to follow.
posted by dobbs at 8:25 AM on May 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


I SAW IT IN THE ORIGINAL RELEASE! You can have my autograph if you ask nicely.

Seriously, I was little, but I remember the theater being empty and me being scared and hiding under the seat because of Chewbaca. When everyone began talking about it my brother got a bit of a swagger and said with an air of disdain for the peasants, "I've seen it."
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:31 AM on May 25, 2017


I was six. A neighbor's kid took me and my brother to see the movie - he was maybe eleven at the time? I don't know. It stands out in my mind for a few reasons - it was the first movie I went to see without the 'rents; it's the first movie I have memories of seeing; and it was the first time I had ridden on the bus, because that's how John took my brother and I to the theatre. I know it wasn't opening day - I think it might have been late June or July and that the buzz about this movie had probably started to grow. Or maybe it was just starting, because I recall my parents taking the two of us to see it again later that summer - either we pestered them into it, or they also wanted to see what was causing all the excitement.

I had no clue what I was going to see; I hadn't heard of Star Wars, and had no clue. John had been. John wanted to share the experience. I'm still a SF nerd to this day; I think I became one the moment the crawl ended and the two ships appeared above Tatoonie.

I don't know where you are today, John, but thanks for taking this six year old to see the movie.
posted by nubs at 8:32 AM on May 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


I must've seen Star Wars for the first time sometime in late June or July of '77. I can guess that with some degree of certainty because my dad and I saw Star Wars and A Bridge Too Far on the same afternoon and the latter didn't open until the middle of June. (And my memory of the thrill of getting to spend an entire afternoon at the movies is still intensely vivid.) But unlike Logan's Run, whose advertising I distinctly remember, I have almost no memory of how I learned to expect the movie. My guess would be a combination of the Foster/Lucas novelization, the Marvel comic, Starlog, and word of mouth. I do remember that the local paper serialized the novel that summer and that I read it every day. That was probably key in turning the movie into something that I had to see.

My dad worked with a young guy ("young" being in his twenties, I imagine) they called "Space Ghost." Space Ghost saw Star Wars many, many times that summer and I think I was as entertained by the number of times Space Ghost saw it as I was by the movie.

for many people, the I-gotta-see-this movie of 1977 was a certain film called Cross of Iron (IMDB).

Despite being taken to see A Bridge Too Far, I was, unsurprisingly, never taken to see Cross of Iron. Only two other 1977 movies left an impression on me: Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:41 AM on May 25, 2017


I put my birthdate into one of those calculators that supposedly pinpoints the date of one's conception. My conception date was May 25th, 1977. Being a nerd, I knew what that date meant.

At a hotel I worked at once, decades ago, I was training a new staff member and showing her the reservations calendar in the software. I mentioned that by holding the "up" or "down" buttons on the keyboard would move through the months and display each one, so you could see when dates fell. I said that, "you can even check what day of the week you were born on." (NB: this was more impressive in like 1998, before sites like timeanddate.com.)

She said "cool" and that she wanted to check this. I asked her her birth date and she replied, "May 25th, 1977."

Instantly I said, "Wednesday."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:00 AM on May 25, 2017 [7 favorites]


One kid had brought the mail-order Boba Fett figure to show off.
posted by Fleebnork at 10:48 AM on May 25 [+] [!]


He may not have bought it...

I remember around the Empire Strikes back I got the mail-order Boba Fett through a pharmaceutical rep trying to win my dad's business... At Return of the Jedi, I got the Emperor. In retrospect, it is sort of not surprising that the pharmaceutical companies were buying up all the bad guys to pass out to the kids of the doctors they were trying to influence... Talk about evil empires...
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:01 AM on May 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Even my mom went to see it -- that's how huge the hype was.

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll kiss 3 bucks goodbye!
posted by JanetLand at 9:17 AM on May 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


I saw New Hope at the beginning of 1978, when I was 7 years old, at one the Century theaters in San Jose, next the Mystery House. Even at that time, the line was wrapped all the way around the dome. In my memory at least.

My dad had a super 8 projector and had gotten a five minute preview reel (with no sound of course)--I had see that little Super 8 so many times before finally seeing the film.

Star Wars Super 8 is #1 on this page
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:01 AM on May 25, 2017 [2 favorites]



I attended a SF convention in Louisville that summer, as one does. While waiting in line to see a play -- Ringworld adapted as a musical by way of The Wizard of Oz-- I struck up a conversation with a fellow wearing some kind of home-made pseudo-military jumpsuit uniform with some kind of home-made colourful plastic medals on his chest. When I asked about the medals he said, "the blue ones are for seeing Starwars once; the red ones are for seeing it five times".

That's when I realized it was time for me to get out of fandom.
 
posted by Herodios at 10:10 AM on May 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


If 42 theaters showed it opening day, and I think it's safe to assume they were mostly full,

I recall seeing a trailer for Star Wars months before it actually opened in Vancouver. People laughed, not with it, at it. It was not a good trailer. The movie looked cheap, goofy. Sophisticated 17 or 18 year old me wasn't remotely interested.

Jump ahead a few months and suddenly there was this huge hype brewing, the reinvention of the space opera yada-yada. It took me a while to realize it was the same movie. Which I did go to see on opening day in Vancouver (autumn sometime, 1977), and I liked it but ...

for many people, the I-gotta-see-this movie of 1977 was a certain film called Cross of Iron (IMDB).

yeah, Cross of Iron was way better. I mean, how many movies can you watch the ending and really, nothing gets spoiled?
posted by philip-random at 10:15 AM on May 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Nobody saw "A New Hope" in 1978. What you saw was Star Wars.
posted by whuppy at 10:18 AM on May 25, 2017 [25 favorites]


I saw it the summer of '77 in a drive-in on Cape Cod while my family was on a vacation. I was seven, my little brother was four. Since it was a near-certainty that FratriCallipygos was probably going to fall asleep, and so was MaterCallipygos, they sat in the back seat while Dad and I sat in the front. I remember during the scene with R2D2 getting shocked and then falling over, both Mom and my brother giggling and saying "bonk!" And then they fell asleep soon after. Dad and I were awake for the whole thing, and I remember on the drive back to our rental house that I was looking out the window, up at the night sky, and pretending that I was on the bridge of the Falcon and we were flying through space.

Oh, and someone spoiled Empire for me right before I saw it at age ten. My family hung out a lot with another family, friends of my parents and their two boys, and they'd gone to see Empire before we did and one of the boys was so mind-blown over Vader and Luke that he blurted it out, and I just stood there blinking in shock while the grownups all started scolding him for "ruining the surprise". We stil saw it, I still thought it was awesome.

....When The Force Awakens came out, I realized that my niece and nephew were exactly the same age that my brother and I were when we all saw A New Hope, and pointed that out to my brother. :-) He said he'd been showing them the original videos to prep them before taking them to see Force Awakens, and for a while was a little uneasy about the fact that my nephew really, really liked Darth Vader. Fratricallipygos even had a little bit of a come-to-Jesus with him between Empire and Jedi about, "now, hang on, buddy, you get that Darth Vader's the bad guy, right?" He says that my nephew just sort of dubiously nodded, but then when they got to the scene in Return of the Jedi when Darth finally saves Luke from the Emperor and kills him, my nephew jumped up and shouted, "I knew it, I knew Darth Vader's a good guy!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:27 AM on May 25, 2017 [7 favorites]


But going back to my point, were 12-year-olds particularly into gritty WWII movies at that time?

I don't know the raw numbers on this, but my feeling is that Star Wars was a more of a general audience movie than a preteen or teen movie, and was initially marketed as such. It had material that appealed to younger audiences, but the movie reviewers--most of whom grew up during or in the aftermath of WWII--made a special point of commenting on how the dogfights were modeled after WWII films, down to the editing and the call signs of the pilots. So, there would be a huge overlap between audiences for Star Wars and Cross of Iron.

Unless you were incredibly grouchy or a strictly Swedish film poseur, you dug Star Wars no matter what your age, and considered it your movie. It's only in later years, after the toy merchandising and prequels, that it rotated down into the kiddy bin. Eternal gratitude to Rogue One for pushing against the tide of this.
posted by Gordion Knott at 10:39 AM on May 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


I saw it reasonably early, but after there was a pretty big buzz. I really do strongly advise being 10 years old and already heavily obsessed with spaceships shooting lasers at things, for maximum enjoyment of the film.
posted by thelonius at 11:02 AM on May 25, 2017


Because I first saw Star Wars at the Camp Hill Theater, I know for sure I watched Penguins, In Snack Canyon??? before it started. A classic.
posted by lagomorphius at 11:07 AM on May 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


I was 11 and saw it with my brother, who was 9, with our dad (I think?) sometime during the summer in Mt Holly, NJ. I wish my parents were around so I could ask them and I know my brother doesn't remember when, either. I remember very little of the movie itself except that I knew I was gonna have to see it again. Which was remarkable because I don't think there was any movie at the time which generated even a similar reaction. It came at the exact right time for me.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 11:23 AM on May 25, 2017


I saw it on opening day, and I'm not lying.

I was 14 in May of 1977, and my friends and I saw it at the Twin Theater at Mid Island Plaza in Hicksville, NY (yes, Hicksville. Really.)

We new about the movie because of an article in Starlog magazine that, in addition to some very hyped up marketing copy, also had some of the Ralph McQuarrie pre-production art, which is what really sold us.

It was a late afternoon showing. There were a dozen people there, tops. By the weekend the lines were already starting.

As we left the theater, in a daze from having our heads exploded, they were handing out "May the Force Be With You" buttons. I'm sure I still have it somewhere.
posted by aerosolkid at 12:36 PM on May 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


Ringworld adapted as a musical by way of The Wizard of Oz

#buriedthelede
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:38 PM on May 25, 2017 [5 favorites]


I saw it for my 13th birthday, mid-June, paid for with babysitting money. And then I saw it again, and then I bought the novelization and read that over and over all summer (we went on a road trip). My parents kept telling me to get my head out of the book and look at America, but I was in space.
posted by ceejaytee at 12:48 PM on May 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Ringworld adapted as a musical by way of The Wizard of Oz

#buriedthelede


You hadda be there, Jack. It was both better and worse than it sounds.

Teela was of course Dorothy. Louis Wu, the scarecrow. Speaker, the dandelion. Nessus was created by having the actor wear Cookie Monster puppets on both hands and a matching blue rug over his head. He does offer Teela a cookie at one point.

And then . . .

Keep in mind, Larry Niven was GOH.

♫ We're OFF to see the Stringworld, that unstable Stringworld of ours . . .
 
posted by Herodios at 1:11 PM on May 25, 2017 [5 favorites]


I definitely saw Star Wars in the original run, probably late summer of '77 (I was 10). I remember the line stretching all the way around the strip mall next to the theater in Marlow Heights, and waiting in that line for what seemed like HOURS (and was probably at least one full showing). I'd been hyped by articles in Starlog and, even with the level of anticipation I had going in, the movie totally outdid itself. It was, without a doubt, the best thing 10-year-old hanov3r had ever seen.

Oddly, though, I only ever bought one of the action figures. #gonkdroid4lyf
posted by hanov3r at 1:22 PM on May 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Nobody saw "A New Hope" in 1978. What you saw was Star Wars.

Indeed. But along with the rosy false memories of seeing it on opening day forty years ago today come the even more ubiquitous false memories of it being subtitled Episode IV: A New Hope then. I imagine that since the "May the Fourth be with you meme" began, the next big one will be that its release date will somehow be shifted backward three weeks in the collective memory. I would be happy to take a bet that on May 4, 2027, news sites will be trumpeting the fiftieth anniversary of the release.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:27 PM on May 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


I saw it in June, probably within a week or so of my eighth birthday, on family vacation “down south” (as Alaskans call the rest of the U.S. except Hawaii), at a theater somewhere in the Denver area, with my cousins who lived there.

On the walls of the lobby were a series of promotional photos with captions that i read while we made our way in line. One referred to an “old hermit” — as a child that young who had lived and played on rocky, life-filled beaches, i thought that meant a hermit crab, so i imagined one of the characters was going to be a giant, intelligent hermit crab in a huge seashell.

The movie was the best thing ever.

It didn’t come to the 20th Century Theatre in downtown Juneau until very late summer or in the fall. When i saw it there, the line for the movie stretched around the block and it wasn’t even opening night. There were lines every night for many days. (I just called my mom to confirm these memories/details.)
posted by D.C. at 2:05 PM on May 25, 2017


Unless you were incredibly grouchy or a strictly Swedish film poseur, you dug Star Wars no matter what your age, and considered it your movie.

not so for eighteen year old me as already noted above. I liked it, but certainly didn't love it or consider it "my movie". It was skewed too young for that -- for twelve year olds of all ages, or whatever. Which remains my overall take on the popularity of the Star Wars franchise. If you first encounter it as a kid (certainly by your early teens), its magic is "yours' forever. Any later than that and it warrants at least a hint of a shrug.

A quick look at 1977 releases reveals Annie Hall, Bridge Too Far, Cross of Iron, Close Encounters, Jabberwocky, Julia, Rolling Thunder, Semi-Tough, Slap Shot, Sorcerer, Wizards -- all movies I saw at the time and preferred to Star Wars.
posted by philip-random at 2:18 PM on May 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


....When The Force Awakens came out, I realized that my niece and nephew were exactly the same age that my brother and I were when we all saw A New Hope, and pointed that out to my brother. :-) He said he'd been showing them the original videos to prep them before taking them to see Force Awakens, and for a while was a little uneasy about the fact that my nephew really, really liked Darth Vader. Fratricallipygos even had a little bit of a come-to-Jesus with him between Empire and Jedi about, "now, hang on, buddy, you get that Darth Vader's the bad guy, right?" He says that my nephew just sort of dubiously nodded, but then when they got to the scene in Return of the Jedi when Darth finally saves Luke from the Emperor and kills him, my nephew jumped up and shouted, "I knew it, I knew Darth Vader's a good guy!"

I definitely cried when Darth Vader died.
posted by atoxyl at 2:33 PM on May 25, 2017


I saw it for my 13th birthday, mid-June, paid for with babysitting money. And then I saw it again, and then I bought the novelization and read that over and over all summer (we went on a road trip). My parents kept telling me to get my head out of the book and look at America, but I was in space.

TIL that ceejaytee and I were separated at birth.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:41 PM on May 25, 2017


I definitely cried when Darth Vader died.

. . . never wishing to hide the pain.
And Yoda, god rest his soul, 965 years old
Just couldn't grok, so he started to talk
In word order that is backward,
Sense is what he lacks, with syntax so badly broken
I didn't catch a single word that muppet's ever spoken
When the sequels passed my way
I cried and cried all day
A clone again, naturally
posted by Herodios at 2:59 PM on May 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Which remains my overall take on the popularity of the Star Wars franchise. If you first encounter it as a kid (certainly by your early teens), its magic is "yours' forever.

I cannot dispute this. As a ten-year-old, I saw Star Wars dozens of times. Nowadays a movie would have to be shockingly good and original to tempt me to even a second viewing on the big screen (followed by maybe once every few years on the small screen). I like to think that as a middle-aged Gen X type that I am still open to finding new stories equally compelling or enjoyable, but I realize that nothing is ever going to hit me the way SW did. I mentioned this once before on the blue: it is not merely a function of "the golden age of sci-fi is 12" but also that it created and filled a niche that is overstuffed in the modern era. If you enjoyed and wanted to watch science fiction in the mid-seventies, you were condemned to disappointment -- a look at the films of 1976 gives us Logan's Run and Futureworld, a double bill that virtually defines a two-course meal of thin gruel.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:03 PM on May 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


I was a sophomore in college when it came out. I do remember seeing the trailer in the theater and thinking "WHOA - this looks different from...well, everything". I am thinking it was opening weekend that I saw it because the date lines up with when I would have been just finishing finals and before I went home for the summer. My memory is clear enough of seeing in while still in school.

I was bowled over. The Imperial Cruiser at the opening, that was a level of detail we had never seen before and the almost serial pacing was certainly a change from most genre films of the time. I spent the summer conspiring ways to see it again, seeing it when it opened in the rural towns around us, plus when it hit the drive-ins, and then when I got back to college of course it was still in the theater. What a time to be young.

I should watch it tonight. My wife will question my sanity because the Force is just not that strong in her. Considering she'll watch GoT, LOTR, Harry Potter, or any Star Trek at the drop of a hat, I'll let her keep her disdain for Star Wars.
posted by Ber at 3:08 PM on May 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


a look at the films of 1976 gives us Logan's Run and Futureworld

More fun facts. 1973 double bill. Soylent Green / Westworld. I was 6. THANKS DAD!
posted by mikelieman at 3:10 PM on May 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


Unless you were incredibly grouchy or a strictly Swedish film poseur

Nonsense. :)

I'm lovable in every way and prefer French cinema to Swedish.

And I have a very vivid memory of literally laughing out loud at the trailer for the film. I was nine. The movie itself was even more ridiculous.
posted by dobbs at 6:49 PM on May 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


I never saw the trailer before I saw the movie but I vividly remember seeing a TV commercial and jumping up and saying "I have to see this now". I talked my older sister into driving me to see it but I don't think it was opening weekend, probably a week later because I had time to buy the paperback and read it before I saw it.
posted by octothorpe at 7:04 PM on May 25, 2017


And I have a very vivid memory of literally laughing out loud at the trailer for the film. I was nine. The movie itself was even more ridiculous.

You found the movie ridiculous. The fact that so many others didn't would seem to provide evidence against a flat assertion that "it was ridiculous".

FFS I am so damn tired of the "I didn't like it therefore it was shit" thing. Maybe your perceptions and preferences are different from others but not inherently more valid, hey?
posted by Lexica at 8:03 PM on May 25, 2017 [4 favorites]


The first movie I remember seeing was Grease at the Drive-In. They played two films back then and I don't recall the second. Star Wars? Don't know when I first saw it.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 8:18 PM on May 25, 2017


I remember seeing Soylent Green and The Other back to back on TV sometime in the 70s. I'm pretty sure I wasn't supposed to be watching that much TV.

My parents took me at a very young age to the drive-in where I was supposed to fall asleep while they watched The Party. Until I was in my 30s I thought the movie was a weird dream until I ran across it in a video store.
posted by lagomorphius at 8:24 PM on May 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


I like to think that as a middle-aged Gen X type that I am still open to finding new stories equally compelling or enjoyable, but I realize that nothing is ever going to hit me the way SW did. I mentioned this once before on the blue: it is not merely a function of "the golden age of sci-fi is 12" but also that it created and filled a niche that is overstuffed in the modern era. If you enjoyed and wanted to watch science fiction in the mid-seventies, you were condemned to disappointment -- a look at the films of 1976 gives us Logan's Run and Futureworld, a double bill that virtually defines a two-course meal of thin gruel.

I've been thinking about the Star Wars phenomenon a bit lately, and I think there's a factor that's being overlooked. Yes, there's an age factor at play, and yes, that particular niche is overstuffed and beyond in the modern era. But there's a factor of the era of Star Wars that I don't think we fully apprehend, and that is that it came to us before the age of on-demand. We got to see Star Wars in the theatre maybe once or thrice, and certainly many people made the effort to see it an incredible number of times...but - once it left the local cinema, it was gone. Except for in our imaginations - where it lived for the next three years, until Empire came along to blow our minds again.

But that's where it lived for a great huge number of us kids after the summer/fall of '77; in our heads, in countless games in the school yard or with friends after school. We pretended to be Luke or Leia or Han or Chewie or a stormtrooper or Vader. We played with the action figures. Maybe we got our hands on the novel or on some Star Wars comic books, but the movie itself - that thing that transported us to the galaxy far, far, away - we didn't have it again for years. I remember that it got re-run in some theatres ahead of Empire coming out in 1980, and getting to see it again (and 9 year old me laughing up my sleeve at the few people in the theatre who stood up when the Falcon escaped the Death Star; those poor benighted fools who didn't know that the movie didn't end there - now I wish I hadn't had that reaction, that I had instead been happy that these people were seeking it out for the first time and how lucky they were).

Anyways, my point is this - we didn't have home VHS in those days, and Star Wars didn't air on broadcast TV for I don't know how many years later. Between the installments in the theatre, Star Wars had to live in our imagination. Maybe that's part of why its roots sunk so deep for so many of us.
posted by nubs at 8:24 PM on May 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


I was a young'un but recall being loaded into the wally wagon for an Event. The sky was blue and line was long.

(On another note, I made a very controversial move for Empire Strikes Back -- bailing shortly after a funeral to meet up with some girls I was interested in.. still missed the first 30 mins of Empire)
posted by raider at 9:09 PM on May 25, 2017


Well I guess I was one of the liars! I thought I saw it opening weekend, but I saw it when it opened at the Plitt in Century City (in LA) so according to this chart it must have been the weekend of July 6th.

I was 12 and not as jaded as some here because it was a ton of fun and one of my fondest memories. The Plitt had huge, rocking seats -- decades before it became common -- and it was all just so exciting. I recently went through a box of all my old childhood cards and letters and found a letter from Linda R, a friend in San Francisco who would come down to stay with her dad during the summer. She said was excited to see me and added "PS I can't wait to see Star Wars!"
posted by Room 641-A at 9:09 PM on May 25, 2017


I was mere months old when Star Wars was in theatres and my tiny theatre in my tiny northern Canadian town never did get a copy anyways.

But... around 1981 a teacher at my school got a copy on film, word spread around school like wildfire and the ENTIRE SCHOOL was shut down for a morning, all the kids were moved into the gym and Star Wars was shown, twice.

It. Changed. Everything.

Seriously, my town (400 people) and everyone in it was changed, ALL playground games instantly became Star Wars games (I was always a storm trooper).

I am watching it now and laughing and smiling and cannot believe how much I still like it.
posted by Cosine at 9:30 PM on May 25, 2017 [4 favorites]


Kafkaesque, I saw it at the same theater that summer (I was seven then too!) and I have a similar recollection as you, except in my brain the line snaked through the parking lot. This can't be right. But oh, those Century domes were the best...
posted by queensissy at 10:49 PM on May 25, 2017


the Uncut: Director's Cut is better anyway
posted by philip-random at 12:41 AM on May 26, 2017


I saw it on opening day, and I swear to you that's a lie!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:44 AM on May 26, 2017


A.O. Scott in NYT: How 'Star Wars' Defined My Generation
posted by hippybear at 2:28 AM on May 26, 2017


I'm amongst the liars, too. For years I swore I saw SW opening day, May 25, 1977. Because I DID see it on opening day... in the town I lived in. I'm not even sure when that was, really. It was definitely early summer because I spent the whole summer mowing lawns to get money to go see SW. And school in southern NM starts early, like late August? Definitely before Labor Day. So there's only so many days available for me to actually go see the movie during the gap while I was out of school.

I don't lie about it anymore, since I learned it wasn't a global single-day roll-out like they have today. But I did lie about it. For decades, actually. I just didn't know I was lying.
posted by hippybear at 2:31 AM on May 26, 2017 [2 favorites]


The Balder & Dash column over at rogerebert.com takes a dive into binge watching all 8 films, in order.

Some interesting thoughts on improving the prequels and Anakin's journey, but I disagree with the idea that the third film "turns a corner":
Thankfully, there comes a point in “Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” where Lucas corrects some of his mistakes and the prequels end on a high note. Supposedly, Lucas brought in Tom Stoppard to do some drafts. I don’t know if that is true, but the scene in which Palpatine and Anakin watch a bizarre performance piece while talking about a previous Sith lord has no trace of Lucas prose. The scene is too well-written. It is the moment where the prequels turn a corner and becomes a series of substance. Anakin’s downfall has more believability, more tragedy and the moment that the Darth Vader mask gets affixed to his burns on his face is positively haunting
That scene between Anakin and Palpatine is creepy and weird, and not in a good way from where I sat; and Anakin's downfall was never all that believable to me because the films really failed to strongly establish Anakin's angst and anger; his brimming hostility to Obi-Wan throughout the second and third films never squared with how they both spoke about the depth of their friendship.

Anyways, it is interesting to note that the person doing the binge felt that dropping Rogue One into the mix creates a jarring effect for the viewer because of the differences in visual style and aesthetic. And that Episode VII, while very much in all the Star Wars traditions, feels like a new series as opposed to a continuation...which, I would say, is likely the point - that's the movie Disney used to stake its claim and start building out into a bigger web of stories.
posted by nubs at 8:18 AM on May 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


I was 13 in the summer of 1977 and remember seeing Star Wars well. I was a big science fiction nerd at the time, having grown up with Star Trek in its original run on TV, reading every SF book and magazine I could get my hands on, and watching movies like The Andromeda Strain and Silent Running every chance I got. I'm not sure if I had seen 2001: A Space Odyssey yet, and if I had I was just as puzzled by the ending as everyone else. That summer we were visiting relatives in Texas and it was definitely after the hype had started because everyone wanted to see it. So my siblings and cousins all piled into a station wagon (I think my oldest cousin might have just gotten her drivers license) and saw it at the Houston Galleria. I was hooked and saw the next two movies as soon as they came out. But for some reason I lost interest in the story over the years (and SF in general; perhaps I read one too many crappy novels instead of seeking out quality stuff) and have not seen any of the movies after the first three. I don't know if I'll ever get around to seeing the rest of the Star Wars movies, but thinking about that first one brings back fond memories. My daughter is almost the same age now as I was back then; perhaps she will rekindle my interest in that sort of thing since she is as avid a reader, including SF, as I was.
posted by TedW at 10:12 AM on May 26, 2017


But for some reason I lost interest in the story over the years (and SF in general; perhaps I read one too many crappy novels instead of seeking out quality stuff) and have not seen any of the movies after the first three. I don't know if I'll ever get around to seeing the rest of the Star Wars movies,

If you do, skip the prequels. Rogue One and The Force Awakens are fine, though.
posted by nubs at 11:40 AM on May 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


> Skip the prequels. Rogue One and The Force Awakens are fine, though.

Right on. I was going to introduce my eight-year-old to Star Wars in the recommended Machete Order, but once The Force Awakens came out and turned out to be decent[*], I decided that the Prequels were no longer part of my Star Wars canon.

(I also took him to see Rogue One at nine, and I wasn't too happy about that decision in retrospect. It was a bit too grim. I liked it well enough, but I'm not sure about him.)

[*] I had no idea that I was quite so tense about how TFA would turn out until I sat through the leisurely introduction to Rey - one of the finest character intros in my movie memory, with its quiet exploration of her life as a scavenger on a desert planet. I let out a sigh of relief and relaxed into it.
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:29 PM on May 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


There are a few fanedits of the Prequels that Do Not Suck. IIRC, one backwards tracks Jar-Jar so it's all alien gibberish, which of course is a material improvement.
posted by mikelieman at 12:52 PM on May 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


I did not see SW on opening day, but very close to it. I was sure that it couldn't be that close because there was a huge buzz about it and lines around the theater when I got to see it. Apparently, the one theater in Phoenix that showed it (Cine Capri) was one of the ones that got it on opening day. I went as soon after as I could, payday. The two films I was hot for that year were Star Wars & Wizards, a feature length Ralph Bakshi animation. Both lived up to their hype as far as I was concerned. Most films I'd seen up to that point (Blazing Saddles being an exception) did not live up to the hype. The 70's being a dark time in cinema. Well, a dull time in cinema anyway.
posted by evilDoug at 2:13 PM on May 26, 2017


« Older Truck plows AnalTech, odor leads to HazMat...   |   Baseball, bonding, and looking hot Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments