By Graham Kelly
1977: My dad loads my friend Keith and I into his scratchy white Vee-dub micro and tunes the big German dials to some Joni Mitchell and Jim Croce station. He rambles us into the city core, his enormous black mane of hair flipping in the incoming breeze. The two of us ride restlessly in the vast rear expanse of the van and keep repeating “we’re goin’ to see Star Wars!” over and over, the whole way there. Star Wars premieres on the sunniest day of my childhood.
1997: Star Wars remerges on the most bitterly cold day in recent memory. My friend D and I load ourselves into a chilly subway car and get off blocks away from the theatre. “Seeing it on the big screen’s gonna be NICE.” “Wish it wasn’t so cold.” “You got the shit?” “Yeah. ‘Zis enough?” “Oh yeah. Couple good hauls.”
1977: The theatre is massive and has a balcony. Dad buys us a cubic tub of popcorn and big pops and the cups have wavy orange and brown designs. I hang on dad’s big black thumb as we find our way. After we sit, some scraggly hair kid keeps looking back and staring at my dad. When it does dark, some kids go “oooo” but everyone’s excited. Then, there it is — a tower of words a mile high that begins “A long time ago.”
1997: Ticket lady looks at us sideways and asks us who we’re with. Once we’re in, it’s more crowded than we expected, and not just with media types, but everyone. We snag two seats at the edge of the auditorium at a fucked up angle, and go off to find a place to smoke. The cans are inundated but by the grace of the force we get a break and cram ourselves into a single stall. Puff rises gloriously. Had to be done. We hassle the counter guy for two large cups of water. He responds with two child-size. We trip past ushers with glowing flashlight extensions like lightsabers —crawl over bodies “sorry” — plant ourselves in and prepare to absorb it all. Lights go down, cheers go up. We’re in trouble because even “THX The Audience is Listening” has our heads spinning. Then 20th Century Fox ID with extended theme and once again it’s on! This time it’s particularly hard to get the gist of the preamble, but my eyes trip over the majesty of the block of text as a whole. “Christ that’s beautiful.”
1977: I have to piss. There’s no other choice. But this is already the best movie I’ve ever seen and I don’t want to miss anything. So I go quick. When I get back I ask my dad what happened and he says Luke’s parents got killed or something. Doesn’t matter anyways, since the plot and dialogue are shooting over my head like an Imperial Star Destroyer.
1997: The industrial light and magic is killing me. I contemplate hitting the lobby for a while to calm myself down, but opt to tough it out. Soon I start to catch details I’ve never noticed before. Jawa, Sandperson and droid dialect begins to make eerie sense. I can relate to R2 more, but I see 3PO’s point. In no time, digitally remixed sound rumbles through the walls as the Death Star comes to a premature end, and it’s done.
Post-event discussion, 1977: “I like when Luke’s flying and then th’other ship flies in and shoots Darth Vader and then he blows up the Death Star.” “I like it better when Ben and Darth Vader fight and Ben gets killed.”
Post-event discussion, 1997: “It’s the most important film of its time. Nothing that came after wasn’t influenced by it” “Only in terms of marketing strategy, not necessarily for quality. Lucasfilm force-fed it to the public and the public ate it up.” “Awright… but you gotta like when Luke gets in the trenches with Vader on his ass…”
1977: On the way home, I’m Luke, Keith is Han, the van is the Millenium Falcon and dad gets to be Chewie. The roles will change, but the play will remain the same for years to come.
1997: That night, for the first time in two decades, my dreams are Star Wars adventures.