The other day I was driving near the airport when a jet plane came up behind me and passed by close overhead. It reminded me, inevitably, of the first time I saw the movie Star Wars.
It was during the summer of 1977, just after the movie opened. I had watched an enthusiastic review of the film by Gene Shalit on The Today Show. I liked science fiction, and Shalit had raved about the movie’s special effects, which made seeing Star Wars all the more enticing. At the time, and still today, one of my favorite movies was 2001, with its spectacular special effects combined with particularly apt music — epitomized by the epic scene where the passenger shuttle docks with the spinning space station to the stately strains of the Blue Danube waltz.
So, I bought a ticket and settled myself into a seat at the old University Flick theater on the campus of The Ohio State University, sat back, and watched as Star Wars began to play on an old-fashioned big screen. First you saw the planet and moon, then you saw the space ship firing to the rear, and then you saw and heard the truly massive, rumbling battle cruiser skimming close overhead, firing at the little ship struggling to get away. It was only about 40 seconds into the movie, and already I thought: Whoa!
Of course, the rest of the film was terrific, too. It had a simple and romantic plot but was fresh and original, with a fantastic score by John Williams, lots of humor, and an ultimate bad guy in Darth Vader. Even better, it was chock full of the special effects touches that a sci-fi geek like me craved — like the spinning escape pod bearing R2D2 and C3PO heading planetward, or the derelict robot transport of the Jawas, or the holographic chess game that Luke and Chewbacca played on the Millenium Falcon, or many others too numerous to mention. Like 2001, Star Wars was just dramatically different from and better than everything else that was playing that summer, and it raised the bar for science fiction movies. I bet I saw the movie 10 times during that summer, and each time there was something new to notice and savor.