Originally created 09/21/04

Moviegoers' lives felt impact of galactic warfare



It was May 1977 in sunny Southern California when a little film about an isolated farm boy who dreamed of saving the universe debuted to audiences filled with slack-jawed, newly minted sci-fi fans.

Star Wars burst into the public consciousness with the force of a tidal wave, swept across the world and eventually landed in family rooms via VHS tapes.

After years of film fans wearing those suckers out, writer/director George Lucas finally gave the green light to today's DVD release of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Cash registers most likely are ringing loudly as you read this.

Nothing, however, can compare to the thrill of that first moment in a darkened theater; that instance when composer John Williams' stirring fanfare swept up the audience into a tale of a young hero, a brash space pirate and a strong-willed princess.

Here is what other people and I remember about the first time we saw Star Wars on the big screen:

Erica C. Cline: Lifestyles editor

It took a year for Star Wars to make it to my hometown.

In 1977, Juneau, Alaska, was probably one of the last stops in a long line of cities to get the now-legendary film, which benefited me in a big way.

Just 6 years old when the movie was released, I was a much more mature 7-year-old in the summer of 1978 when the film finally made it to the 20th Century Theater in downtown Juneau.

The line for the premiere that Friday night snaked through town for more than two blocks, and unfortunately for me, the second my family stepped in front of the ticket counter, a theater employee came out to announce that the show had sold out. I'm not embarrassed to admit I promptly burst into tears (I was 7!).

The next morning, I gathered up my money and marched down to the theater myself to save a spot in line for my family. Needless to say, I was the first one there for the early matinee and had to wait nearly two hours to get my fill of Luke, Leia, Han and Darth Vader. Oh, but it was worth the wait!

Linda Canalejo, Aiken

Mrs. Canalejo got a double dose of galactic gallantry during the summer of 1977.

She and a fellow college student had met several times for casual meals and library study dates when he finally asked her out on a "real" Friday-night date - an evening showing of Star Wars and dinner at a Mexican restaurant.

What her Friday-night date didn't know was that she had previously set up a Saturday-night date with a different man. The date agenda for that Saturday night? An evening showing of Star Wars and dinner at a Mexican restaurant.

She eventually decided bachelor No. 1 was the real catch and she married Dan Canalejo the next year.

It wasn't until later that Mrs. Canalejo confessed to her husband about her Star Wars double-dip, and the film and its sequels have become a must-see event whenever they play on the big screen.

Steven Uhles, entertainment writer

Here's what I remember about seeing Star Wars for the first time:

I remember who I went with - my dad and my sister. I remember where the movie theater was - on Highway 1960 in Houston. I remember where we sat - on the right side of the theater about halfway up. I even remember our reason for going - my mother was in the hospital and my dad, something of a movie fan himself, thought this would be a good way to entertain the kids.

Here's what I've forgotten:

I've forgotten every movie I saw and loved before Star Wars. I've forgotten the reason my mother, who was gone for several days, was in the hospital. I've forgotten everything else that happened that summer - vacations, friends, any other life-altering occurrences that might have happened to the 9-year-old version of myself that summer.

Granted, as a pre-pubescent male living in the 'burbs, I was, for all intents and purposes, Star Wars' target audience. It's funny how one movie eclipsed everything else that happened to me that year.

It's funny, because in many ways my life is still affected by that evening 27 years ago. I mean, I'd like to be able to say my love of movies, the love that led me to my career, began when I saw Citizen Kane or Grand Illusion or even The Wizard of Oz, but that would be a lie. The spark for me, the movie experience against which I still judge all others, was sitting next to my dad on a sultry summer evening watching Star Wars for the first time.

Mary Dickey, Evans

Ms. Dickey admits that she didn't "get" Star Wars when she first saw it in 1977 as a fourth-grader.

She'd heard the hype and begged her mother to take her and her sister to see what was obviously the film to see.

Ms. Dickey's mother relented.

"As I recall, all of us were transported into another realm by the movie, but I don't believe any of us enjoyed the trip," she wrote in an e-mail to The Augusta Chronicle.

The death of Luke's aunt and uncle disturbed Ms. Dickey, and her mother hated the film.

"To this day, if you mention the movie, she'll ... brand Star Wars 'The ugliest movie I ever saw,'" Ms. Dickey said.

Ms. Dickey skipped The Empire Strikes Back, but when a high-school friend begged her to attend Return of the Jedi, she relented.

"She had to fill me in on all the details I'd missed in the second film, and this time I was blown away in a good sense," she said.

Ms. Dickey loved the film so much, she promptly went out and rented the first two films to see what she'd been missing.

"Suddenly, I found myself into the Star Wars thing, and there I remain," she said.

She has plenty of opportunities to get her Star Wars fix nowadays because her sons' rooms are decorated with Star Wars posters on the wall and action figures on the floor.

A former high school English teacher and a fan of author Joseph Campbell, Ms. Dickey used the films in her class to illustrate the heroic quest theme of mythology.

"At the time, the newer episodes hadn't been released, and most of the kids had never seen the original," she said. "It strikes me as ironic for someone who had such a bad experience the first time she saw Star Wars to have become a total Star Wars fan as an adult."

Reach Erica C. Cline at (706) 828-2946 or erica.cline@augustachronicle.com.

May the force be with you

DVD release: Relive the experience with the Star Wars DVD box set released today.

The four-disc set features the Star Wars trilogy Episode IV, A New Hope; Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back; Episode VI, Return of the Jedi; and a bonus disc with director insights and behind-the-scenes material.