May 2007 will mark thirty years since the original theatrical release of Star Wars. John Booth, who at age six converted his thumbs and index fingers from cowboy shooters to Han Solo-inspired blasters, is raking together his memories of the saga in a series of essays for Field's Edge.
I don’t remember the first time I saw Star Wars.
I remember wanting to see it, and I remember having seen it.
That actual first time, though, that I saw “A long time ago…” glowing blue in the darkness, and heard that slam-you-back-in-your-seat opening score, and read the majestic opening crawl, that’s all gone. “Lost” probably isn’t the word for it – more likely it’s just pulped in somewhere with 30 years’ worth of other Star Wars memories and I just haven’t looked in the right corner of my brain yet.
I was only six-and-a-half, after all, back in the summer of 1977. (And I’ll always believe it was the absolute perfect age to be for a movie like Star Wars to come along and sear itself into my head.) How could I know that I was supposed to be committing these all-important moments to memory? And even if I had, there’s no guarantee they’d be real.
Think of the stuff I do remember about Star Wars back in that summer after kindergarten, when my first little brother was just an infant, and we had just moved from our house near the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio out to what were then the boondocks of Lake Township. There are Star Wars memories that can’t possibly reflect actual reality: For instance, my friend Ford, from kindergarten, and his older brother had seen it. They’d also seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and one night their dad was bringing me home from a day at their house, and we were talking about the movies. We were riding in their dad’s Jeep, and Ford and his brother were kind of talking about both movies at once, and his brother said, “Yeah, they had these great big heads and skinny bodies,” – obviously talking about the Close Encounters aliens - and Ford and I were confused because we’d still been talking about Star Wars.
Here’s the thing, though: Close Encounters didn’t come out until November of 1977, months and months after Star Wars. And I know that night in the Jeep, I hadn’t seen Star Wars yet, but I’m also absolutely certain I saw it the summer it came out, or at least by fall when I started first grade.
So I can’t work that memory out, but it still doesn’t make it any less real. Maybe Ford’s older brother was talking about a preview or a magazine article or something he’d seen with the Close Encounters aliens in it. That still feels more like an after-the-fact justification, though, than what really happened.
I have the feeling, though I can’t be sure, that the first time I saw Star Wars was at the McKinley Twin movie theater on 30th street in Canton, Ohio. Great movie theater – cavernous and deep and boasting both a main level and a balcony. The last movie I remember seeing there was Tim Burton’s Batman the summer after I graduated from high school. Since then, the McKinley’s been converted into a big video rental store.
Still, I can’t remember actually seeing Star Wars for the first time. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have a reverse Total Recall done – have Star Wars taken out of my head so I could watch it for the first time again. Then I think what a gut punch it would be if I didn’t like it.
I do remember sitting on the living room floor at home afterward with a box of crayons and a stack of construction paper and feverishly illustrating a project I cleverly titled “My Star Wars Book,” which consisted of probably eight or ten pages, each with a single character portrait. I don’t have the book anymore, but I do have some drawings from early 1978 (God bless Mom for not only saving them, but labeling them in ballpoint on the back!) that are probably pretty similar. There’s C-3PO, and an R2-D2, and my own interpretation of the cover of Marvel Comics’ Star Wars Issue No. 5.
I know I struggled with a couple aspects of “My Star Wars Book.” For starters, I had no black crayon. I know this because while I don’t have my drawing of the “Storm Trooper” anymore, I’ve got a pretty decent mental picture of it, and the poor guy’s drawn in white and blue-green. And his helmet’s a big blocky square. (Don’t ask how I drew Darth Vader without a black crayon. Either I didn’t even bother to attempt it, or it came off so poorly I’ve banished it from memory.) I also remember asking Dad how he thought you’d spell “Kenobi,” because I was meticulously labeling each drawing. I was also apparently trying to perfect the art of reproducing the Star Wars title logo, since it’s all over the drawings that survived.
Two of those pictures from 1978 also poke into some foggier memories. One is a pen-and-crayon drawing of a green lightsaber (my light blue crayon must’ve been MIA, too), the other of a red one. Nobody’s holding them, and there’s no background. They’re just floating there.
And I labeled them “The Good Force” and “The Bad Force.”
I guess I can see the whole “energy field created by all living things” bit going well over my head, but I still don’t know how exactly I managed to somehow turn “The Force” into the actual lightsabers themselves. (A couple decades later, I’d have similar, though negative, thoughts about the credibility-chewing midichlorians in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. I told a friend recently I’d accept five additional minutes of Jar Jar Binks onscreen if it meant Lucas’ Force-binding microbes never got mentioned at all. Sorry, George.)
While I can’t remember seeing Star Wars for the first time, I can remember a few of the other times I caught it on the big screen.
Once was at a drive-in, and the only scene that really sticks in my head is Han’s meet-up with Greedo in the cantina. That was the first time Dad saw Star Wars, though he’d been hearing me rave about it incessantly, I’m sure. I remember him asking me if I thought he’d be able to understand the plot.
Then I asked him what a plot was.
I’m pretty sure I also saw Star Wars at the Belden Twin Cinemas (long since replaced by a series of interchangeable and forgettable strip-mall shops), and at the old Mellett Mall movie theater during one of the re-releases.
I saw it 23 times in the theater. At least, that’s the number I settled on decades ago when I was trying to count and lost track.
It’s funny – seeing a movie over and over used to mean a lot more than it does now. It required commitment and time and, for me, an adult to drive the car and buy the tickets. In the videotape and subsequent DVD eras, repeated viewings are the norm. And movies once took eons to make the jump to the television screen, so it literally took me years to come close to the two-dozen-viewings mark for Star Wars. My daughter had probably seen Toy Story twice as many times by her third birthday.
There’s no way, after almost 30 years, for me to even estimate how many times I’ve seen Star Wars. And when I say Star Wars, I mean STAR WARS. As big a fan as I am of the entire film series, even the hyper-flawed but still mostly-fun Episodes I, II and III, the first movie, in my mind, will always be known by the saga’s overarching title. Growing up, even after The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi came out, my friends and I never referred to the first one as A New Hope. It was always Star Wars.
Just like the first time.Here are the links to the rest of Remembering Star Wars:
Part II: The Droids We Were Looking For
Part III: Perfect Hibernation
Part IV: Into A Larger World
Part V: Collect All 21!
Part VI: A Certain Point of View
Part VII: A Pack-A-Day Habit
Part VIII: Size Matters Not
Part IX: Along A Different Path
Part X: There is Another
Part XI: Bounty Hunting
FieldsEdge.com is an online magazine with a wide-angle lens. Click on one of the topics below to see our offerings related to specific subjects, or browse the main page and see what catches your eye. Got a story idea? We'll listen. Drop a note to writer/editor John Booth or photographer/writer Jim Carchidi.