“Star Wars” wasn’t front page news on May 25, 1977, the day it first hit theaters.
A quick look back through the time warp of microfiche proves that the now-legendary movie didn’t grace the pages of The Bakersfield Californian for days after its opening.
But the simple space opera and its familiar moral arc, spiced with cutting-edge ‘70s special effects, drew hour-long lines across the country and brought people back to watch it again and again.
In the four decades since the film opened it has spawned four prequels, a sequel, countless technical revisions and books, comic books, an animated series, theme park rides, trillions of toys and a nearly religious devotion in billions of fans.
Today the second of three sequels, “The Last Jedi,” opens to general audiences.
The lines will be long.
There will be squads of stormtroppers, rebels, Resistance fighters, wookies, Sith Lords and Jedi Knights on hand to catch their first glimpses of the new film.
Once more Jedi, Luke Skywalker, his sister Leia Organa and their friends, enemies, allies and — perhaps most importantly — their narrative offspring, both literal and spiritual, will return to the screen.
I won’t be going the first night. Or the second.
But I will go, carrying with me the 7-year-old kid who, on his birthday in early June 1977, walked into a theater and was enraptured.
“Star Wars” is a cultural touchstone, a story that transcends the divides and silos we humans tend to divide ourselves into.
Not everyone loves it.
Some curmudgeonly folk refuse, on principle, to even see the movies.
But for those who love it, the story of good and evil, heroism and villainy, adventure and danger, transcends its occasional flaw.
Some are even able to stand Jar-Jar Binks.
For those of us who saw the original “Star Wars” movie, subtitled “A New Hope” now, everything started there.
Kern High School District trustee Jeff Flores wrote to share his memories of “Star Wars.”
“I was fortunate enough to have seen the debut of ‘Star Wars’ when I was 6 years old with my best friend driving from West Covina to Hollywood. I remember standing in a long line at Mann’s Chinese Theater, not having the slightest clue of what this movie was about, not to mention the effect it would have on my childhood.
“I was immediately hooked. I remember being in awe of the sand people and quickly ran out to buy the first toys from Kenner, the sand people of course, followed by Snagletooth, Hammerhead, Walrusman, and many others courtesy of the cantina scene,” he wrote. “Now I take great joy in showing my son the ways of the Force for the next installment.”
His son is 6, the same age as Flores was when he first saw “Star Wars.”
For me, “Star Wars” began 41 years ago, when I got the massive folio comic books for the movie for Christmas in 1976.
By the time I saw the movie I knew the story by heart (including some bits that were in the comic but not in the movie) and my folios were dog-eared.
I clearly remember moving through the lobby of the only theater in Porterville, where I grew up, and into the cavernous screening room.
I remember the movie’s beginning and how mad I was that I had to run to the restroom early in the film, missing the violent attack on Luke Skywalker by scavenging sand people.
I remember the toys I played with until they fell apart.
I remember trading for action figures and collecting cards.
I dressed up as Luke Skywalker for Halloween.
I painted pictures of the lightsaber duel between Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi.
I refused to accept, for years, that Darth Vader was once Anakin Skywalker — and Luke’s father.
I cheered for Leia to fall for Luke, not Han, until we found out that (ewwww. They kissed. Twice.) the pair were brother and sister.
And I obsessed about finding a movie theater that played only “Star Wars,” all the time, always.
Time hasn’t taken away my love for “Star Wars,”though the complexities of being an adult, a husband and father to two kids have softened the compulsion to be at the very first showing of each new movie — as I was with Episodes I, II and III.
And I’ve watched two new generations of fans join the obsession.
I’m nearing the end of my fifth decade on the planet now.
I was in Bakersfield in 1999 when “The Phantom Menace” was released and wrote an article about the business impact of the movie’s long lines for The Californian.
The 7-year-olds who watched Episode I then are 25-years-old now.
They have kids.
Both my children, 5 and 9, have watched the more kid friendly of the “Star Wars” movies.
They like “Star Wars,” maybe even love it.
And over time it will perhaps come to mean, for them, some of what it means for me.
But perhaps the greatest magic of these movies is that, when I sit down with them to watch, I am 7 years old again and we can just be kids together.
- This story was changed to correct the school district where Jeff Flores is a trustee.