I remember 40 years ago today, though it began like any other.
It was a beautiful, sunny day in Murray, Kentucky, on May 27, 1977. I lived on Main Street, above Owen Food Market, one block from Murray State University. Just before noon I began a walk across campus. I had gotten as far as 15th and Olive when a new (and loud) Mustang Cobra pulled up alongside me. My good friend, Tilford Gaines, called out to me from behind the wheel. “Hey!”
I leaned down and saw Tilford’s excited face. “What’s up, Tilford?”
“I’ve been looking for you. Man, you have got to come with me right now!” he said, eyes gleaming.
“What for?” (I had learned to be wary of those Delta Sigs.)
“You’ll see. I promise, you will love it. You will thank me. Just get in the car.” I had rarely seen Tilford this worked up. And he wasn’t given to hyperbole, so I figured it must be something special. Plus, it wasn’t like my walk across an empty campus was all that exciting. With the college students gone MSU was a lonely spot. So, I agreed and folded my skinny, 6’4″ inch frame into the passenger side. Tilford took off down Olive Street like they were giving away free food somewhere.
“Where are we going, Tilford?”
“We’re going to see this movie I saw last night. It’s called ‘Star Wars,’ and oh, man is it good! I can’t wait for you to see it.”
Nowadays, movies have enormous media budgets, but back then I knew nothing about a new movie called Star Wars. There had been almost no publicity; I had seen no previews for it. So, seeing it wasn’t even on my radar. But it was matinee time at the Cheri Theater, a mere buck and a quarter. There wasn’t much to lose.
We were approaching the theater and I said, “What’s this movie about?” And Tilford said, “I don’t want to spoil it. It happens in space. You are gonna love it, I promise.” So, Tilford has promised me twice in five minutes I’m gonna love it, so it must be good. I guess.
We pulled up at the Cheri and word obviously had spread overnight. The lobby was packed. Tilford insisted we find seats together to share the experience–no time to waste waiting for popcorn.
We entered the theater and it was full. I didn’t even see a spare seat, but Tilford spotted two on the very first row. Now, I usually don’t sit on the first row, because who likes looking up the entire time? But that’s all that was left, so we sat front row center. And none too soon, for the lights dim and the first of a couple of trailers are shown. I can tell already I’m not liking the experience. My head has to turn left and right to take in the entire screen, but what the heck?
Then, the “Lucas Film, Ltd.” thing appears on the screen and Tilford whispers, “Here it comes!” Honestly, I can’t imagine why he’s so excited. It’s a little creepy.
Then we see “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away…” and some people in the back yelled and clapped. I had never heard anyone clap for a movie before. Then the now-famous crawl began flowing up from the bottom of the screen, which seemed like it’s about 30 feet tall, on account of we were right on top of the screen. I remember reading it and not comprehending much of it, but no matter. For the next two hours the crowd was bombarded by special effects, fights, flights and a moving score. And when it was over, I did thank Tilford. I loved it.
It’s difficult to describe to today’s audiences how much Star Wars appealed to us back then. It was FUN–pure, unadulterated fun. It had identifiable heroes, dastardly villains, and a fast pace. We saw things we had never seen before, like light sabers and planets with two suns. Teenagers had speeders that floated effortlessly above the ground, and there was a death star big as a moon. And you must remember this: The last really great special effects film I recall before Star Wars had been “2001: A Space Odyssey.” TEN YEARS before Star Wars. So, we had certainly been in a bit of a drought. The time was ripe.
And what special effects! Everything looked so real, so new, so shiny. They could do things we couldn’t, and they had aliens in their bars, serving drinks and playing in a mean combo. Their souped-up Chevy’s could go faster than light! (Sometimes) They had funny droids that were loyal and capable. And an old man who seemed to know everything.
And, in the end the enemy was defeated with a big explosion. The princess was saved, the Wookie celebrated. All was right in that galaxy far, far away. What’s not to like?
Of course, no one could have predicted the success of the original Star Wars. Lines snaked around movie theaters all summer. Music from the soundtrack made its way onto radio. Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill became instant stars. Books and comic books were printed. Toys and action figures were rushed into production. The money flowed. The sequels followed. The rest is history.
And I never once complained about the crick in my neck.
© Wade Kingston