I sat in the theater anxiously waiting for the movie to start. We’d had to wait well over an hour to get in to ensure we had a good seat. I was told I’d love the movie, but I wasn’t so sure. From the commercials it looked like a hokey Buck Rogers style movie using Space 1999 spacecraft. I was a hip and jaded 13, I didn’t need to have Hollywood shoving this kids’ stuff down my throat. So I sat there, watching the cartoons on the large screen, not realizing that in the not too distant future the cinema would be cut in half and later cut in half again, creating a postage stamp size screen in each theater, and waited for the main attraction.
Finally, with a fanfare, the movie started. Words floated through space in a giant block. The effect was cool, but they actually expected us to read in a movie? Read? As the words floated off to infinity the camera panned down. We were in orbit around a planet, and it looked like a planet. Not a distant ball like that old TV show, Star Trek, but a real, honest to goodness planet. And we were in a low orbit so the world below filled my whole vision, going out to the end of my peripheral vision. It felt real. It felt like we were in space. Nothing, literally nothing, had been like this before. We were in orbit around a real planet. We really were.
Before I had time to totally take in this planet, a spaceship zoomed overhead. Sure, there were some similarities with the Space 1999 ships, but this looked so much cooler. It looked the way a spaceship should. And I could tell it was pretty big, a good 80 foot long. Maybe bigger. It was firing laser blasts at something following and there was return fire.
And then the other ship came on screen. Remember, this was a huge screen that covered my whole vision, from left peripheral to right. And the ship filled the screen. After the entire top of the screen was filled with spacecraft it kept coming. And it kept coming. And coming. And coming. It was huge! It was the size of a city! A super New York in the sky. And every detail was perfect, though by then I was so immersed that it didn’t need to be perfect. I was in the movie. And my young mind was blown.
To say there had never been anything like Star Wars before it came out would be an understatement. The illusions it created were not just head and shoulders above the rest, but light years ahead. Even some of the details, like Luke watching the double sunset. Even without thinking that there are more binary stars than single stars in the universe, seeing the double sunset told us we were on a different world more than any exotic set would. It was simple, but set the sense of place in a way that no lessor movie was able to pull off.
The story was perfect for a 13 year old. Luke was exactly the right hero. He was a cool teenager that made the same types of mistakes that I did. He grew in the film, but was still a kid at the end. It was so easy to see myself in his place. And the storyline was simple to the point of being stupid. Yet it worked. It was easy to follow. It was very personal, with hand to hand combat and chase scenes. The characters had chemistry.
This movie changed the industry even more than Steven Spielberg’s recent landmark film, Jaws, which even today is still credited as creating the blockbuster. Star wars was bigger and had a bigger impact. It changed everything. And it change me.
Years later a second Star Wars came out. I saw it on a much smaller screen, so there was no way it could have the same impact. It was darker and more mature in many ways, which was great because that was where I was at the time, but it felt like it was just a transition. Nothing was resolved for good or evil. It had a big cliffhanger ending. And then there were some parts that I didn’t like at all. The scene through the asteroid belt felt so contrived. It is still my least favorite scene in the original series. It was like it was only there to add excitement, but it didn’t, at least for me. I played the crude video games of the day and the scene was less exciting than a good video game. And it didn’t have that personal feel that the chases and battles in the first movie had. Despite the two weaknesses, that the whole movie was obviously just a transition scene and the idiotic asteroid scene, the movie itself was great. It added dimension to the universe. It changed Star Wars from a space opera, though a mind blowing space opera, to a real, complicated universe. A lot of people call The Empire Strikes back the best Star Wars film, and I can understand why.
In ways The Return of the Jedi was the perfect closer. Not only did it bring back the Death Star, it brought back the simplicity of the original. And yet it also left the darkness and the complex intertwining of the second film in place, often in the background but sometimes even reaching the front. Of course there were still issues. In my opinion the Ewoks only existed to make sure 8 year olds liked the film. If they left everything else alone but made the Ewoks nasty looking instead of cute, I would have liked them much more. The chase through the trees was in ways this movie’s version of the asteroid scene, only it felt personal. It was back to the hand to hand combat but at high speed. One problem was that the plot seemed to be written by formula, a formula that popped up in every film in the new series. Things happened at the exact right time. And there were other minor things, yet overall it worked. It closed the series the way the series deserved to be closed.
The next series? Well, I may talk about them another time, but I’ll just make a few comments now. The first was by far the worse film of the franchise, the one that followed that formula so closely even a total idiot could see the outline showing through. Yet they did so many things right. For instance, everything in the first was sleek and Art Deco, like the 1920s. The second was bulky, like the late 1930s. The last was blocky and looked like the late 1950s. So when A New Hope (original first movie) arrives, the 1970s look feels natural.
But some of the bad was very bad. The scene going “to the core” was a new version of the asteroid scene, but even worse. Sure, we had to have them trapped by a big monster only to have a bigger monster “save them. That was hokey. But then they did it again! Exact same thing, just different monsters. Why, oh did they do that!!?? And some of the CGI battles didn’t have an iota of personal feel to them.
But I’ll talk about all of this and more another time. The main thing I want to point out is that the next series was in no way, shape or form “mind blowing”. They didn’t change the way people saw movies. To be fair, I can’t think of a way they could have had the same impact as the first movie. The first was groundbreaking in every way imaginable. No matter how good they were, they weren’t as legendary as the first.
At least they didn’t effect my mind they way the first effected my 13 year old brain.
With the new series they tried to bring back the look and feel of the original film. Will the latest series work? I don’t know. But I do know that there are some 13 year olds that sat in the new large screen theaters and had their minds blown.
Perhaps it is a reawakening.