1977: Star Wars
Written and directed by George Lucas
Unless you were there, unless you lived through that six-year span from 1977 to 1983 at old enough an age to understand it, you can’t possibly appreciate what a phenomenon Star Wars was. Yes, that’s it’s still going strong some thirty-five years later is a testament to its enduring appeal, but these are just the aftershocks, the ripples from the rock dropped into the water. I was there for the splashdown, and let me tell you, nothing that’s come along since has even come close to it.
Star Wars seemed to spring so fully into our consciousness so quickly, it was almost as if it had always been there. In a lot of ways, we were waiting for it. We were emerging from ten years or so of generally feeling bad about ourselves. Vietnam, Watergate, inflation, you name it, we had it, and a lot of early 70s cinema reflected the cynicism and discontent of so many Americans. Then along came this simple film with clear good guys and bad guys, a space age fairy tale, and it was like we’d been told it was okay to have fun again. That’s why adults loved it as much as kids. It reminded them of their childhoods just as it was forever shaping the childhoods of my generation.
And the thing was everywhere. The theme got played on the radio constantly, both Meco’s disco version and John Williams’ orchestral one. Everybody made reference to it, from newscasters to political cartoonists to sitcoms to talk show hosts. Everyone seemed to have a t-shirt. Every kid has a Star Wars costume for Halloween, and got the toys for Christmas. Underneath it all the film just kept playing and playing. It was a less crowded marketplace then, and films tended to open small and expand, but there were places where the 1978 re-release was totally unnecessary, because Star Wars was still on its initial run.
All of which made me feel … connected. This was something I loved, and everybody else loved it, which justified how I felt about it. It was the first time I was ever a fan of anything, and I sought out every TV appearance, and begged my parents for every piece of merchandise. Star Wars sits squarely at the core of so many things I came to appreciate: science fiction, mythology, film music, film itself. I had a scrapbook in which I kept clippings of nearly every newspaper ad for Star Wars, and which eventually grew to chronicle pretty much every movie I saw or wanted to see until I graduated high school. So many things sprang from my love of Star Wars, it’s not hard to imagine me being a completely different person had it never come to be.
What’s really remarkable is that Star Wars did all this without months of internet buzz leading up to its release, without opening on 4,000 screens, without any of the things films use today to worm their way into our skulls. While eventually other films came along that made more money, only E.T., Jurassic Park and Titanic ever felt remotely the way that magical summer of 1977 did. And even they didn’t quite have the same footprint Star Wars did. It really was a once in a lifetime film. I’m just glad it was my lifetime.