I have precisely four memories of attending films in the 1970s.
The first: Disney's "Fantasia," at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood. I'm 3, maybe 4 years old. The evening's an echoing swell. A chorus of horns cuts through. A red curtain rises. The world goes black then explodes with color.
Next, "Pete's Dragon." The original. Mickey Rooney's bearded puss, a canvas of comic horror. "DRAGONNNNNNN!" he screams, pirouetting, grabbing lapels and singing his brains out across the town of Passamaquoddy.
Some time later, or perhaps even earlier, two of my babysitters — sisters, neighbors — haul me to George Hamilton in "Love at First Bite." He's Dracula for the disco era. Someone sets his coffin on fire. Perils of the vampire trade. "Who's smoking?" he asks in an arch-browed Transylvanian purr. My babysitters laugh. I laugh too. But I haven't seen it since. I likely never will.
The fourth is "Star Wars."
And I remember EVERYTHING. Not fragments. Not specks. Everything. From standing in a massive line outside the Whittwood Theater (now about three decades gone) in Whittier, California, to the strawberry ice cream cone afterward at the adjacent Farrell's parlor (also dust), and every spellbinding moment in between.
My God, it was perfect for even my young and slippery attention span: the triumphant pomp of John Williams' score; the crawling text; the monstrous Star Destroyer extending for miles and days, closing in on the retreating Rebels; lovably talkative droids; a princess; an all-powerful villain, coolly clad in black; alien grotesqueries; lasers; explosions; stormtroopers; a wisecracking pirate and his furry co-pilot; a mentor; a boy in search of something greater than himself; odds-defying space battles; good over evil; and a universe that appeared to expand toward eternity.
Somehow, even at age 4, I knew I'd witnessed something epochal — and my generation still hasn't recovered.
It's difficult now, some 40 years later, to articulate the original film's impact (and never-ending aftershocks). Unless you were there, it reeks of lacquered hyperbole, but I swear to Biggs Darklighter it's true.
"Star Wars" seemed to become part of our language before it was actually released. By the time I saw the trailer on television, its imagery so tantalizing I begged my parents with feral intensity to whisk me to the movies RIGHT NOW, I knew the names Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. I had posters on my walls, and a T-shirt, besides. Executives at the film's parent studio, 20th Century Fox, may have been skeptical about its potential, but they didn't hang with my kindergarten crew, 'cause WE TALKED ABOUT NOTHING ELSE. It arrived in our lives swaddled in anticipation. We were ready.
As you'll read in the accompanying stories from our archives, those kicks were near-universal from the beginning, although the Democrat-Herald, as was its wont, did what it could to downplay the Hype of '77, ho-humming "Star Wars'" lack of a BIGGER sellout — what'd they expect: the construction of a separate multiplex to screen the film exclusively? — the day after its mid-valley premiere.
From there we revisit the next and ultimately disappointing wave of fervor that greeted the revival of the "Star Wars" franchise and its long-promised prequel trilogy, starting with "Episode I — The Phantom Menace" in 1999. At last we'd behold the infernal rise of Darth Vader, from starry-eyed pipsqueak to black-hearted despot. Instead, we got three movies of Jar Jar Binks and Yoda channeling Daffy Duck. There wasn't enough Force left in the galaxy. Bafflingly, we were willing to forgive, even after camping outside theaters all night, desperate for tickets to a new old thrill.
Tonight, that thrill returns — very real this time — in "The Last Jedi," the eighth chapter in an adventure that now knows no end. Young or old, we'll all be there, wide-eyed children lost in imagination and perpetual wonder.
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