40 years ago today the first lucky cinema goers got to see Star Wars, a new science fiction space opera on the big screen, and everything changed. I was five, and this film became my world. Today Star Wars is a huge part of my daily life, and I couldn't be happier...
In 1977 an ambitious filmmaker released a film that would change everything. Star Wars, a film that beat the odds in getting made, would, over the years, go on to change the way films were made, promoted and distributed. Special effects company ILM would go from miniatures and puppets to computer generated special effects and characters and back again. Director George Lucas would develop non-linear editing, make digital cinematography an industry standard and build his own empire with the proceeds of tiny plastic action figures and eventually sell it all to Disney for multiple billions of dollars.
But Star Wars is so much more that these bookmarks in cinema history.
As a five year boy my dad would take me to see Star Wars, because he had an interest in the special effects and model making involved, and he knew I'd love it too. For me, the experience was earth shattering. My mum reminded me over the years how the five year old version of me came home and attempted to recount the entire movie in half finished sentences and improvised sound effects. This movie was quite simply joy to a five year old boy.
That joy would be played out daily with my 3 3/4 inch plastic action figures from Kenner and Palitoy. A collection that would be updated weekly with a new addition. This was George's attempt to; A, keep the movie alive in the minds of his target audience and B, finance his independence as a filmmaker. Both gambits worked with the 1980 sequel being largely independent and Skywalker Ranch, and filmmaker Mecca, breaking ground not long after. All financed through the passion of small boys like me, and the generosity of their loving parents.
Star Wars would be a gateway movie for me. The sequels, of course became a huge part of my life, as would the earlier efforts of George Lucas. I remember one day my mum saying, "I recorded something for you. It's called American Graffiti. The man who made Star Wars made it." For the younger readers, recording would be done on tape in those days. I know right? This was thirteen year old me by this time and the movie in question was the same age, almost to the day., and I loved it. I'll admit, I hadn't given much thought to the making of films and the fact that George Lucas, a name I had seen onscreen numerous times, had other work was a revelation for me.
Graffiti would lead to THX1138, which would teach me about Francis Ford Copolla and American Zoetrope, which would lead to The Godfather, Indiana Jones, Jaws, Close Encounters and on and on and on...
Star Wars opened up a world of film to me and before you knew it I was hooked. Star Wars was a staple for me as a film lover, and when home video became a thing in the mid to late 80s (we were late to the party as a family) the Star Wars movies would be my first purchases. it started with Star Wars (1977) in a CBS Fox All Time Greats edition, but would lead to pilgrimages into town on the bus, on my own, with my grubby pound notes in hand, to purchase the sequels.
Empire and Jedi came out on VHS sometime after Star Wars, and as a kid, with limited finances, I would spend far too long weighing up which of the two movies I should buy first. My inner completest eventually decided to buy Empire and suddenly my video library was up and running. Over the years I would buy Star Wars on every platform, in multiple versions, Widescreen, THX remastered, DVD and BluRay and now iTunes digital. I simply can't seem to get enough.
I think its fair to say that at certain points in my life Star Wars has moved to the background. I remember it still being a large part of my life in the early 1990s, but it would become background noise until Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace hit theatres at the end of that decade. When the prequels hit I had to go to extraordinary lengths to keep up with the news. I purchased an unreasonable amount of print media to follow the production of Episode I and had to beg and plead to watch the trailer on the PCs of those lucky enough to have access to the still nascent internet.
By the time of Star Wars Episode II Attack Of The Clones I had access to the 'net via a games console and would spend hours waiting for low res images from behind the scenes to load up followed by my oops and ahhhhhs. This would be the first opening day trip to a Star Wars movie for me, with tickets booked well in advance, along with the requisite time off of work. I booked two shows, back to back. Star Wars was back, and I was in deep.
Star Wars Episode III Revenge Of The Sith came to theatres when I was working as a 35mm projectionist. It couldn't have been better. My passion for film, which had started with Star Wars, had lead me to a job where I got to see every trailer onscreen, first. Sometimes I would splice all the trailers together and we would go sit in a theatre and watch them through, one after the other, This would be followed by intense discussion about what we had just seen. I still have some of those 35mm trailers somewhere. When the film was finally released, I was lucky enough to "build" a print. This meant I had to splice each reel together, taking care to "bloop" the reel joins and remove any "lab splices" to ensure the ultimate experience for those watching my print. Print number 001.
I watched Star Wars Episode III Revenge Of The Sith ahead of its release, on a huge screen, with incredible sound. Completely. And utterly. Alone. The five year old boy, the kid who bused into town to buy films on VHS, had managed to find a way to enjoy the final Star Wars movie, in the most incredible way. What a way to say goodbye to Star Wars. Forever...
I remember where I was when I heard that Star Wars had been acquired by Disney along with Lucasfilm and the Indiana Jones IP. I was standing next to the office manager's desk and the news buzzed through the office. I went straight to the internet, now in my pocket, and had it confirmed, Star Wars was back, with Disney promising more movies, probably a lot more. And we were off...
I had allowed Star Wars to retreat into the background once more, after Star Wars Episode III Revenge Of The Sith. I had built a modest home theatre in my basement at home, years earlier and it had some Star Wars memorabilia dotted around, and I had viewings of the movies from time to time, but my attention had shifted somewhat. A few years before the Disney news, I had started to enjoy podcasts and I had a Star Wars show in my weekly rotation. But I hadn't really been following the Clone Wars very closely. I was moving on until the Disney news hit. Then I was pulled back in.
As news of the new Star Wars movies started to pick up, I started to contribute to the cacophony surrounding the new films. It started with a Tumblr blog, then a Flipboard magazine, a website with friends and a podcast. Eventually, after a couple of false starts I would double down and launch Talk Star Wars, just in time to cover The Force Awakens as it hit theatres. Now with numerous contributors, podcasts and a stunning community of Star Wars fans, I feel like I'm just getting started in celebrating this franchise. A franchise that's been a part of my life for four decades. Every day is Star Wars focused for me now. I start each day by reviewing a tidal wave of Google Alerts and then recording an episode of my daily podcast, the TSW Kessel Run, and finding things to talk about is rarely and issue. Every week I get to record a weekly podcast with some of my favourite people in world, people who also love this franchise and wax lyrical about it in a way that enhances my experience exponentially. I and fortunate enough to have friends all over the world who share their thoughts and feelings about Star Wars past, present and future with me daily. All because one guy took a chance forty odd years ago and made the thing he felt passionately about.
Star Wars made me the guy I am today. Gave me something that now defines my life. It is a consuming passion, 40 years of greatness that is still a huge part of my life today, and I couldn't be happier.
George Lucas, thank you for giving that five year old by the best gift in the galaxy, the gift that keeps on giving.
Thank you for reading,