The Star Wars Summer
My memories of Star Wars
In May of 1977 Star Wars was released and I was 9 years old.
Between Jaws in 1975 and Star Wars in 1977 the summer ‘blockbuster’ phenomenon was born and I was the first generation swept into its net.
By June 1977 Star Wars was a-big-deal. I mean, there’s nothing comparable now, no matter how fast a film earns a billion bucks, culturally nothing compares to the earthquake that Star Wars was. Especially for young people.
I saw Star Wars 14 times in the movie theatre. By late summer I was going to any birthday party that promised the movie (Did I like the kid? Didn’t matter, we were going to see Star Wars again!) and sometimes seeing it twice in a day.
I have never seen another film in a theatre 14 times. Now in 2018 I rarely see a movie in a movie theatre even once. I’ll wait and watch it at home on my TV or my iPad or my phone. But in 1977, things were different. We were not saturated with great ‘content’. Honestly, we were desperately searching for it. There wasn’t much entertainment around and movies were a MUCH bigger deal for American pop culture in 1977.
Being a kid in 1977 and seeing Star Wars didn’t result in rushing out to a store to buy all the toys. I don’t recall a single TV commercial ahead of its release though there must have been one. As has been famously documented there were no Star Wars toys released until months later, almost a year, when everyone woke up to the fact that the money printing machines were about to be working overtime. It was a movie you experienced at the movie theatre. When the movie was over and it said The End - that truly meant The End, until the next time you bought a ticket.
For me Star Wars never became enthroned as the most meaningful escapist brand in the world as it did for the generation just after me. My love isn’t for an I.P. (intellectual property). My love for Star Wars is that movie and that summer when a creative vision was unleashed that obsessed me, but did not inundate my life.
Star Wars was created long, long ago and was part of a cultural awareness far, far away. At its birth Star Wars was pure and innocent. Naive to the seeds of mega-blockbuster exploitation it carried. The simple focus on elemental, mythical escapism seems almost noble in retrospect. We now have video games being produced at a cost far greater than the budget of the original Star Wars film.*
It was a brilliant business move - Disney buying Star Wars (Lucas Film). It was cold, logical, bottomline business logic. Much like the films are now.
In 2018 Star Wars is an I.P./brand and not a singular movie. That the results are devoid of any pathos and ethos that isn’t of the cheapest kind is part of why it’s valuable. It is a big junk food meal served over and over and over until you feel dizzy and weak. Developed and ‘reimagained’ and massaged and tuned to extract maximum profit. It placates to the very worst in fandom and demands respect based on its humble rags-to-riches backstory. And I’m not angry about that. It would be silly to expect a different outcome given the economics of our culture at this point in time. But that also means I don’t have any fondness, warmth or caring about ‘The product’ that is now everything ‘Star Wars’. But let’s not forget what it lost along the way.
I doubt any 9 year old will see a new Star Wars movie twice much less 12 times in a movie theatre. And a modern 9 year old may or may not pass up You Tube videos to watch it again at home. So Star Wars is now a product that creates profit, but a product that means less.
I feel lucky because that original experience stays alive with me. I don’t rush out to see the new Star Wars offerings. I don’t buy the toys. My daughter has little interest in it. But what Star Wars was in the summer of 1977 has stayed strong with me.
I don’t expect Star Wars to be bigger than the extreme capitalism of our system. But what it was in 1977, will never be diminished for me. That is not true for all the generations that followed and have been force fed The Force. They will move-on in time and I suppose their memories of Star Wars will be wrapped up in toys and branded candy and lame spin-offs and endlessly being told by the regime of corporate entertainment manufacturers that Star Wars is something special. That it’s meaningful and cool. But it’s not. It’s now a copy of a copy of a copy. Nutritionally it’s a Snickers Bar in a world with a billion Snicker Bars.
But for me the summer of 1977 was filled with adventures even better than what I saw on the screen. Characters who lived beyond the screen in the only real way a character can - solely in my imagination. The movie screen was filled with technological wonders and a diversity of alien characters that we take for granted now.
Like Elvis in 1974 Star Wars is now less than what it was, even though it’s more widely exposed. Although exposure holds dominance in our celebrity make-and-break culture it also prematurely ages and deforms things embraced by it. As inevitable as entropy, whatever achieves the cataclysmic heights of popularity that Star Wars did can not but falter and rot. Transplants of talent, new ‘visions’, creating million dollar writers' rooms weekly can’t bring back its youth, vigor, innocence and simplicity. Like too often visiting a maniacal plastic surgeon, it can only make things worse.
I am sentimental about the summer of 1977 as most of us are about the idle days of childhood. But May of 1977 was the last time Star Wars was more than just Star Wars.
Video Game Budgets
Original Star Wars budget