I can’t remember a time in my life when Star Wars wasn’t in it. And with good reason: I became cognizant right at the moment when Star Wars had seemingly taken over the world. When the original movie opened on May 25th, 1977, I was a month shy of turning 3 years old. They say your first lasting memories are formed at around age 3, and my earliest memories are Star Wars. Not the movie, which I probably didn’t see until I was about 4 years old, but the hype, merchandising, and overwhelming pop culture presence that became fundamental to Star Wars fandom.
My earliest memory (besides being pushed into the deep end of a swimming pool by my older brothers before I could swim) was seeing the trailer for Star Wars for the first time. My older brothers had actually gone to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind in one of the neighboring screens in our local, now long gone movie theater, back when a movie house had maybe two screens at most. Deciding I was too young for Star Wars, my grandmother took me to the screen next door, which was showing The Jungle Book. But when Darth Vader appeared in the trailer, I lost my mind with fear. To me, he was terror personified, and my grandmother had to take me out into the lobby, screaming and crying. Within a year though, I’d have my own Darth Vader action figure. We all would.
Someone more cynical than I could argue that everyone who was young when the original Star Wars came out, was indoctrinated into loving the movie by a vast, corporate merchandising machine orchestrated by George Lucas and the Hollywood studios. A soulless entity that just wanted our parent’s money. But no one, especially Lucas, knew that Star Wars was going to be such a huge hit, and that licensors of every shape and size would want the characters from the film all over their products. This wasn’t some big conspiracy, this was serendipity. And we begged for the toys and the shirts and the rest of it because we genuinely loved it.
It might be difficult to understand for anyone who came of age in the last twenty or so years, but when Star Wars hit theaters there was a virtual desert of high concept science fiction and fantasy in mainstream popular culture for kids to latch their young imaginations onto. Star Trek and Planet of the Apes were always more adult leaning, and both were long over at that point anyway. To a modern kid who has grown up with not only Star Wars permeating the culture, but also Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Marvel, and several other incredible fantasy worlds at their viewing disposal, it’s hard to properly convey what a giant ray of light George Lucas’ world was to those of us who were children in the ’70s.
For most of us who were kids at this moment in history, Star Wars was simply part of our everyday lives. Our bed sheets, our t-shirts, our lunchboxes, our plastic dinnerware–all of them had Lucas’ characters we had grown to love plastered all over them. And of course, there were the toys, which are responsible for forever etching names like “Hammerhead” and “Walrus Man” into our memories. I got in big trouble when my I ripped open my giant inflatable Jawa punching bag and sand got all over the carpet: Star Wars was even associated with my first memorable childhood punishment.
But it wasn’t just the stuff you could get your parents to buy for you. We pretended we were Star Wars characters every day at recess. My first Halloween costume at age 4 was a homemade R2-D2 costume. For Gen-X kids, the characters and lore of Star Wars were a constant presence the same way statues of saints might have surrounded kids growing up in a very religious home. It was a collective story that we all shared.
For a window into what it was like to be a kid at the particular moment, I highly suggest watching both E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Poltergeist. Both of the little boys in those films, which were produced by George Lucas’ close friend Steven Spielberg, have bedrooms littered with Star Wars posters, toys, etc. Someone today might think that this is just Spielberg paying homage to his buddy George, but no, this is really what it was like to be an 8-year-old kid at the time. We lived, breathed, and ate Star Wars. (Yeah, ate. There was an actual C-3P0’s cereal).
Of course, all those kids who grew up Star Wars are the same adults today that are posting constant images and memes with characters from the classic films on their social media feeds every day, and who treat May the 4th like a national holiday, even if we know it’s just a totally made up internet thing. We treated the return of Luke, Leia and Han with The Force Awakens like the second coming, because for so many of us, it was.
Star Wars is special to multiple generations, but for those of us who were wide eyed kids still on May 25th, 1977, there’s an extra layer of sacredness. With the pervasiveness of social sharing now, it is almost impossible to imagine the fervor about a film without the consumption tools we have now. But how does that saying go? “I guess you just had to be there.”
Were you around when Star Wars first premiered? And if so, what are your memories of the galaxy far, far away? Let us know down below in the comments.
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