About a week or so before my seventh birthday, my family climbed into my grandma’s gold station wagon. We were headed out to the Fair Oaks Drive-In to see this new movie everyone was talking about. It had opened on May 25, 1977, but this was the first time my mom could take us all.
The line was about a mile long. Cars pulled partway off the two-lane road so regular traffic could continue moving. We slowly inched our way up to the entrance. When we were the third car in line, I had climbed under Gram’s black and red banana blanket. The drive-in charged per person, not per car and I was the only one left in the family small enough to evade the fee.
My mom and grandma sat in the car. My sister, aunt, and my mom’s boyfriend’s kids sat in aluminum lawn chairs near the speaker. They goofed around a lot during the movie. I stretched out on the hood of the station wagon, my head resting against the windshield. That didn’t last long. I was little and it was hard to see. It’s something I’ve had to deal with most of my life at the theater as well.
I climbed up onto the roof of the car.
“You’re not funny,” Mom yelled. She leaned her head out the driver’s side window and looked up at me.
“Not trying to be,” I said. I settled down on the roof near the front of the car. I crossed my legs. My elbows rested on my legs, my hands upside down, supporting my head. I sat that way for the rest of the movie.
When the movie was over, we stayed to watch it again. The man who took our money at the gate said that since we got in late, we could stay. It was one of the best nights of my life.
A few weeks later, I saw a Star Wars watch with C-3PO and R2D2 on Tatooine. It was a shot from the movie of the first moment I saw Star Wars. I wanted the watch. It was expensive, but Mom said I could have it when I learned to tell time.
Three weeks later, I knew how. I didn’t just know that it was 4:10 p.m – I knew it was 10 minutes after four, it was 50 minutes before five, and that the military would say it was 16:10. I didn’t get the watch. I was disappointed until Christmas. It was one of the few things I got that year. I wore that watch for nearly a decade before it quit working.
I also sold the most Girl Scout cookies that year, more than 1,000 boxes. My prize was The Story of Star Wars LP and the soundtrack to the movie. I still have them tucked away with the album my elementary school band made and my Led Zeppelin albums.
Mom had also recently taught me how to do jigsaw puzzles. I was only a little kid, but I excelled at it. There’s a peaceful calm that comes over me whenever I do a jigsaw puzzle. I’m relaxed, focused, and determined. Five hundred piece puzzles were common for me to do when I was seven-years old.
Mom came home one day with a new challenge for me. It was my first 1,000-piece puzzle. The Kenner Star Wars jigsaw puzzle was absolutely glorious. It was based off of the Hilderbrandt poster. Luke and Leia stand ready for battle. A giant Darth Vader head looms in the background. The Death Star behind him. C-3PO and R2D2 were there, too.
The puzzle was a challenge for me, especially with the different shades of black throughout the picture. Mom had a large piece of wood I could rest across my legs to do the puzzle. When the borders were done, there was a little bit of space on each side to set pieces aside.
I worked diligently for hours to complete the puzzle. I worked mostly alone in Mom’s bedroom to finish it. Mom would often help me with puzzles when I got stuck, but she let me try this one alone, only occasionally stepping in to make suggestions.
Her room was the only place I could safely work to ensure the puzzle wouldn’t be damaged. Finishing it was a proud moment in my life. I finished one of the most difficult tasks of my life.
“The Empire Strikes Back” opened when I was nine. “Return of the Jedi” premiered when I was twelve. I saw both just after my tenth and thirteenth birthdays. That’s what happens when movies open in May: you have to go to school through June and your birthday is in July. You get to see movies when school is finished.
I didn’t have many of the toys from Star Wars. They weren’t cheap and we didn’t have a lot of money. I had Luke’s X-34 landspeeder, which, much to my chagrin, had tiny wheels underneath and did not float on air. My Darth Vader and Luke figures fought often. Darth Vader usually won. Luke lost his head in one of those battles. I glued it back on, but it came off again. My mom bought me a new Luke and told me to be more careful. Luke’s lightsaber got bent so he never won against Darth Vader.
I saved proofs of purchase from my figures so I could send away for Boba Fett, who was originally only available via mail with a certain number of proofs. He had a removable rocket. I got my Boba Fett, but I took too long in mailing in for him. Some dumbass kids supposedly swallowed the rocket so Boba Fett was recalled and remade with a non-removable rocket. I missed out on a piece of history because I was poor.
Unlike today, we all had to wait three years between Empire and Jedi. No one wanted to believe Darth Vader was really Luke’s father. We didn’t have a VCR. There was no streaming. We had to remember the movie from the theater and try to piece together what little information there was. I’m not sure if any of the movies played on television. Even if they did, you had to watch them when they aired. There were no DVRs.
I had a variety of figures from Star Wars. My Han Solo figure never lost a battle because he was a scoundrel who always shot first. I hated Chewbacca with the take-apart C3PO. It was a pain in the ass to keep track of the parts.
I also had a soft spot for the bad guys. They had all the cool ships while the rebels had whatever piece of crap they could get flying. The exception was the Millennium Falcon. I swore when I grew up, I was going to build my house to look just like it. Unfortunately, that was a dream dashed by reality many years later. I still reserve the right to build a Millennium Falcon house when I win $100 million. No one will tell me no then.
After “Return of the Jedi” ran in theaters, I saved up enough money to buy a kit model of the speeder bike. It was super cool. I also made a model of C3PO. He was easy to build and I still have him today. The speeder bike took a lot of work.
Once I finished the speeder bike, I had planned to go to the kit shop and get some paint to finish it. Unfortunately, our landlady sold our house and the new landlord was an asshole. He came in, served us with an eviction notice and then purposely stepped on my speeder bike model and my model KITT car. I was crushed. We couldn’t afford to replace them, and we now had to move.
I thought about the movies often. I bought the VHS tapes. I bought the DVDs and the Blu-rays. I bought the special editions. I watched them all over and over.
The prequels premiered after I was married. Again, they had May premieres. The difference this time was both Paul and I wanted to see them, so we went in early June. I was 28, 31, and 34 years old when I saw them. I didn’t like Jar Jar Binks because I found him more racist than annoying. Hayden Christensen’s stilted acting was a bit of a distraction, but I gave it a pass. He was a new actor in a heady role and this was Star Wars.
They definitely weren’t the best movies and I didn’t ask for prequels, but I had long given up on sequels. The story line was okay. Yes, there are plot holes, but I never looked at Star Wars as high art. It was always escapism for me and was a time for little me to enjoy the glory of of space battles, light sabers and shit blowing up.
When the sequels finally came along, they had changed from what was written in the books. That was okay with me. Though I knew about them, I never had a desire to read the books or the comics that had come out over the years. I never got into the nitpicking that some fans did.
Many people hate the directors of the sequels. The only thing that bothered me enough to laugh and roll my eyes was Leia doing her Mary Poppins thing and flying back to the ship. Even seven-year-old me thinks that’s dumb. Others find it empowering.
I liked “Solo.” I liked “Rogue One.” I really enjoyed how the end of “Rogue One” ends a moment before Star Wars begins. Now that I have them on Blu-ray, the only delay is in the speed in which I can change discs.
On December 22, 2019, at 49 years of age, I sat in the back of the movie theater and watched “The Rise of Skywalker” with Paul. I didn’t cringe when Emperor Palpatine came back. I just went with the story. It found it intriguing that what remained of the Death Star from “Return of the Jedi” was now partially in the ocean on Kef Bir. I loved the light saber battle there.
I didn’t mind that footage of Leia that was cut from the previous movies was used. Carrie Fisher is dead. They did what they could with what they had and I think it was good enough. I’ve decided to stay away from the nitpickers and naysayers this time.
I can’t help but see Star Wars from the viewpoint of seven-year old me. She loves the movies. The plot holes that seem to be driving people crazy don’t matter to her.
There is always awe and wonder with a sprinkling of joy whenever I see these movies. They have been a huge part of my life. I have seen every one in a theater during their first run, including when the original trilogy was released in the 1990s.
There’s a fondness in my heart for these movies. The movies aren’t perfect. They never will be. They will never live up to everyone’s expectations. There is no way I will ever watch the opening of Star Wars, with the star destroyers slowly moving overhead, without a smile on my face. You can get a sense of the awe of the Death Star blowing up with an recording of people in the theater in 1977 thanks to modern technology.
The movies took me to a place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away and showed me something wondrous and magical. Star Wars blew my mind. No one had ever seen anything like it. My seven-year-old eyes were witnessing the pinnacle of filmmaking. It was gritty and dirty and real.
I’ve been on this wild ride for forty-three years. It’s been a hell of a trip and I get to take that journey every time I turn my Blu-ray player on.
If you’re as old as I am, take your little self with you when you watch the movies. You’ll never be disappointed and you will find, the Force has always been with you.