I've told this story before in a review or two but I'll repeat it here. I first saw Star Wars at my grandparents' lake house in Shreveport, LA. Prior to this my dad took me to see The Empire Strikes Back but since I was 3 years old and had no context for what the hell was happening in front of me I just sort of sat there watching it and not understanding a single thing. I asked dad if we could go home right about the time when Darth Vader and Luke were squaring off in the bowels of Cloud City because my little patience had run out. To his credit, Dad said "Sure" and we walked out.
A few years later when I was spending a week with my grandparents, they took us to the local video store to rent a movie. As I walked through the aisles my eyes rested upon a distinctive box with spaceships and a familiar looking helmet. I picked it up and thought it looked cool so I asked if we could rent Star Wars. They said sure and when we got home I popped it in and sat down on the couch.
I watched it three times back-to-back-to-back that very night. I didn't watch a movie. Someone shot me in the head with it and thus was born a new fanatic for the Force.
George Lucas has taken his fair share of grief over the years, first with the Ewoks and most recently with pretty much everything in the prequels. But he gave us a singular vision of an entire universe we'd all love to live in and he practically gave me my childhood. After seeing that first movie I immediately wanted to know what else there was. It was then that I rediscovered The Empire Strikes Back and having the context of the first one I totally got why I didn't understand it before and why my dad thought the Hoth battle was one of the coolest things he'd ever seen in his life.
George Lucas gave us Star Wars and I cannot think of a single film that has so permeated the entire world to the point that his little independent sci-fi flick has. Everyone in every walk of life in every corner of the world has heard of it and if you're one of those lucky ones who were part of that first run then you probably recall how chemical it was.
I've only read about it but from what I understand the people who saw it during that first run were evangelical about it. It got inside them and made them want to take all their friends and family back to see it, then to see it again. Crowds roared at the jokes. The Death Star battle had everyone on the edge of their seats. People cheered when Han Solo swooped in at the last second to save Luke's ass.
Seeing Star Wars on the big screen isn't like seeing another film. It's a religious experience where literally everyone in the theater is committed to it fully. When Lucas released the special editions in 1997, Crayola and I went to see the preview screening one cold January morning. It was around 10 a.m. but the second the fanfare began and the words STARWARS blasted onto the screen, we were both wide awake and back in that universe.
I also had the opportunity during the '97 run to do something that I'd never done before, and that was to share something that meant the world to me with my younger brother. I'm eight years his senior and as such he'd never had the chance to see the first film on the big screen. I took him out to the AMC Grand in Dallas and we sat down in one of the bigger auditoriums. He, of course, had seen the film multiple times growing up and loved it like most everyone else but he'd never seen it on the big screen.
To say it blew his mind would be putting it gently. His jaw was on the ground during the TIE Fighter-Millenium Falcon escape sequence from the Death Star. He was rendered slack-jawed again by the Death Star battle. The sense of speed and energy and excitement these scenes in particular deliver on the big screen can never be understated.
I hope that Lucas re-releases all six films in the theater this year to celebrate the anniversary because I would kill to see them again. My desire for a gargantuan TV screen and home theater/entertainment center has less to do with bragging rights and almost everything to do with being able to see Star Wars the way it was meant to be seen. I plan to watch it tonight in honor of its birthday and will do so once My Fair Lady gets home from work. I can't think of a better way to spend the night than re-watching it for the millionth time. Thank you, George, and may the Force be with you.