The movie that changed everything

Today is the anniversary of the release of Star Wars. I was eight years old back in 1977, and had only been to the movies to see old Disney films that had been re-released. My mom had taken me, my sister, and my brother to go and see Dumbo or Bambi or something like that. But Star Wars was different, and in a very good way.

My dad took me to see the movie, I suspect to keep him from having to see it by himself. The theater was packed, and everybody enjoyed the story of Luke and Leia and Han and old Ben Kenobi. The laser guns were almost a miracle of movie effects. The droids were funny and amusing. The Wookie was scary. And Darth Vader…where to begin? For a kid like me, Vader was the incarnation of all things evil. I still remember how it felt when Kenobi stopped fighting to let Luke escape. Vader swung into Obi-Wan and he just vanished. It has terrifying. But the fighting scenes at the end–where Luke destroys the Death Star–was just about as exhilarating as the movies ever got for me.

Part of the magic–and that’s really what it seemed like– was me being a kid, but part of it was discovering, for the first time, how movies can create, and then draw you into, another world. In the days before VCRs and DVDs and even Betamax machines, this was a feeling that could only be recreated by seeing the movie over and over again in the theater. I didn’t do that with Star Wars,¬†(the only movie I can ever remember doing that with was Raiders of the Lost Ark a few years later) but I would have if I was old enough to get myself to a theater by myself.

The year after Star Wars came out, I saw a pirated copy of it on a Betamax machine. It was a glimpse into the future of home entertainment, I suppose. I also saw a parody of it called Hardware Wars, which was funnier than anything I had ever seen before then. The idea of a parody, which would later lead to some years of reading Mad Magazine, was a new thing to me at the time.

I recently did some research on NASA for a project I’m working on. I learned that the number of applications to their astronaut training program spiked to their highest level ever in 1978, and I have to believe that Star Wars had something to do with it. If they would have taken an application from a kid like me, I would have done it too. The movie had that kind of an impact.

So now, all these years later, May the 4th is now called “Star Wars day,” thanks in large part to social media. But the date when it was actually released to the world–which also just happened to be as school was letting out for the summer–is the best time to remember it. ¬†Every movie wants to capture some of what Star Wars had, but none ever has, or likely ever will.

And remember, the Force will be with you, always.

Apparently I’m from the olden days

The other night, my younger daughter and I were having dinner together. I told her that Halloween was a week away, and at this time of year, when I was her age, one of the big happenings was the annual airing of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” It was a big deal when it was on, I explained to her, because if you missed it you were out of luck until the next year.

She look bewildered as I explained that in a world without VCRs or DVRs, and without on Demand or the internet, there was just one time when you got to see Charlie Brown get rocks in his trick-or-treat bag, or Linus convince Sally to wait in the pumpkin patch all night, or see Snoopy pretend to be the World War I flying ace. I really did look forward to it, and watching it on TV helped to confirm–if any confirmation was necessary–that it was almost time for tricks or treats.

My daughter then informed me that she had never seen it before, and I know a parenting moment when I see one. I dug out our old copy of it on videotape (since the $2.99 cable fee for watching it on Demand seemed too high) and we went to the old VCR and put it in. I think she enjoyed it, and I know I did, because Halloween just seems to be the unofficial start of the holiday season for me. Thanksgiving comes pretty quickly, and then Christmas, and just two months later it’s New year’s eve.

My daughter told that she’s glad she didn’t grow up in the olden days like I did. I got a laugh when I heard that, because I’m sure I said something similar to my parents at some point in my youth. Anything new that come along, like electricity or color TV or wireless cellphones or whatever else you can think of, makes life impossible for children to imagine without it. It made teaching history just about impossible, since kids probably though that Benjamin Franklin took long bathroom breaks, or George Washington had lots of followers on Twitter.

Having lived through the olden days myself, I have to say that it wasn’t really that bad. I wish I had some of the cool things that my kids have now, but it’s impossible to miss something when nobody’s thought it up quite yet. And whenever these cool new things seem antiquated–which is bound to happen at some point–hopefully they’ll be able to embrace whatever comes along to replace it.