I don’t remember the first time I saw Star Wars. But it is something that I feel has always been with me. You see, I was two when the movie first hit theaters 40 years ago today, but my parents have told me that, during a trip to New York City in the summer of 1977, they saw a line stretching around the block at the Ziegfield Theater that was unlike anything they had ever witnessed before or since. So great was the allure of George Lucas‘ rousing storytelling that the film became a must see. And so countless moviegoers across the country waited in lines like the one my mom and dad witnessed on that steamy summer day so long ago. Repeat viewing became the norm, with the film’s unprecedented success being a staple of the news cycle for the remainder of the year. Which makes a certain deal of sense given how far-reaching Star Wars‘ impact was. It appealed not just to science fiction fans, but everyone who wanted to see good triumph over evil — a much-needed message by the time the dark and tumultuous ’70s were winding down.
My dad has told me that he took my older brother and myself to see The Empire Strikes Back when it hit theaters in May of 1980. This too is a memory that eludes me. I’m certain I saw Star Wars for the first time on VHS, and then countless times since. While I may not recall my initial experiences checking out the twists and turns of Empire, I can vividly remember sitting in front of my parent’s massive old Zenith television while their luggage-sized VCR played the film on a loop to keep my occupied in my youth.
As for Return of the Jedi? I remember that one because it remains the most fun I’ve ever had seeing a film in the theater. Growing up, my family never went to the movies except on special occasions (a trend that became more commonplace once my folks got their aforementioned behemoth VCR). But Jedi? Well, that was about as special as things got. My dad took my brother and I to the GGC Northeast 4 theater near where I grew up. We got tickets for the next available showing and waited in line, excited to find out if Darth Vader was in fact Luke’s father, who the other Yoda spoke of was, etc. When we finally got in, I remember the theater erupting with applause with the words “Star Wars” appeared on screen accompanied by John Williams’ iconic score. The entire screening was packed with endless applause and cheering and happiness by fans who enjoyed the saga’s conclusion. Watching the film from an adult POV, I am more than aware of Return of the Jedi‘s numerous problems. Yet I can’t help but think of how much that movie meant to my 9-year-old self, and that is something that has stuck with me through special editions and prequels and anything else that has dimmed the once glorious shine of the franchise. Because for all of fandom’s complaining about George Lucas, there’s no denying that without him we would have never had this cinematic playground to enjoy in the first place. And nothing can take that away.
So now that you know my experiences with seeing the Star Wars movies for the first time, I want to hear yours. Specifically focused on the original film. When did you see Star Wars for the first time? With whom? What did you think? What were your favorite characters? What scenes stuck with you the most? What was the first piece of merchandise from the film that you owned? (Maybe it was the delightful mispelled “Darth Vadar” pin featured above). Use the comments below to share your thoughts. And remember, the Force will be with you, always.