The year was 1977. I was 6 1/2 years old and all I could think about was going to see the new Star Wars movie. We lived in a fairly rural area where the closest thing we had to a movie theater was the local drive-in where (I kid you not) we once had to watch a movie out of order because the projectionist had taped it together wrong. Going to the actual theater was an event for us.
When the original Star Wars opened, it wasn’t Episode IV or A New Hope. It was just Star Wars and it was so monumental that my family of five hopped in the car and drove an hour away to see it with my uncle and his son. All seven of us found seats together in the back row of the theater where the gently sloped floor made it difficult to see over anyone’s head.
But, man, what a movie. My sci-fi brother ate it up buying all the movie tie-in books he could find. And I remember sneaking into his room to look at the color pictures from the movie in the center of the book over and over again. I even kissed the picture of Princess Leia because I thought she was so pretty and I wanted to be just like her.
In early January, I subjected my son to his very own epic moviegoing experience when six of us went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. So so different. Just as exciting but different.
I tried to avoid being the “when I was a kid we had to walk in the snow uphill to school” kind of parent but I felt like he might appreciate things more if he understood the old school moviegoing experience. Maybe you can share some of them with your kids too.
1. Going to the movies was an event in and of itself.
Kids don’t understand, and frankly it’s hard for me to remember, that you used to watch movies only at the movie theater. Or you could wait several years and watch the highly edited-for-TV version that might show up on Sunday Night at the Movies on ABC. Because we lived so far from the theater, when we chose to go, it was an event.
2. Only a few movies came out every year and stayed at the theater for months.
The original Star Wars opened initially in only 43 movie theaters. The number, of course, increased but the movie ran for an epic 60 weeks. WELL OVER A YEAR. By comparison, Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened in over 4000 movie theaters. While I expect it to run for a long, long time, the average length of time a movie stays in the theater is one month, with availability to purchase following shortly thereafter.
3. You couldn’t count on sequels.
In the on-demand era, my son has a hard enough time waiting a week for the next episode of his favorite show to appear on Hulu. Asking him to wait for a sequel? TORTURE. But he knows it’s coming. In fact, the next two sequels, Episode VIII and Episode IX, are scheduled for release on May 26, 2017 and in 2019, respectively. For the original trilogy, we were hoping for a sequel but had to wait THREE years for The Empire Strikes Back. And ANOTHER three years for The Return of the Jedi.
Fun fact: I remember that I was in 4th grade for this hotly anticipated sequel because my teacher corrected us insisting we must have the title wrong and it must actually be “The UMPIRE Strikes Back.”
Another fun fact: The original title for Episode III was The Revenge of the Jedi. And my 3 year old brother called it “Return to the Jet-ri.”
4. Our minds were blown with the technology behind the battle scenes.
We couldn’t believe that these scenes were created with detailed models built with super glue and q-tips and aluminum foil and anything else the model makers could come up with. In fact, there’s a super fun article about how many every day objects, like a potato or a gym show, were snuck into some of the battle scenes. While the prequels are done almost entirely on green screens (and oh gosh, can you tell if you go back and rewatch them), the latest installment uses a hybrid of elaborate sets and CGI to the point where everything feels real.
5. The merchandising was secondary to the film.
This is just opinion here but back in my day, you went to see the movie, fell in love with it, and then asked for every single related toy for Christmas. For some movies, you could even buy merchandise at the theater. Like records of the soundtrack! Now, the merchandising started before I even knew the name of the new Star Wars movies! Don’t worry. We’ve bought into it. I’m currently putting together the LEGO version of Kylo Ren’s ship.
Yes, I’m nostalgic but that nostalgia makes me appreciate this latest installment all the more. It has some of the beloved characters from the original series and have new characters with well-established personas. In the end, we waited several weeks to see the movie. I couldn’t bear to wait for hours at a time and hope to get seats together. But more importantly, it heightened my son’s anticipation of the movie – something that my inner child could totally appreciate.