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Thirty Years Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away….

May 25th, 2007

May 25, 2007 marks the 30th anniversary of the theatrical premiere of Star Wars. I didn’t actually see it that day. Back then, movies didn’t premiere in thousands of theaters at once. According to this account, Star Wars opened in a mere 32 auditoriums, adding another 11 over the Memorial Day weekend. The theater in which I first saw it–the now-defunct River Oaks in Calumet City, Illinois–was one of those initial 43, but even then I didn’t get there right away. The first time my family tried, the lines were impossible and we wound up going to another theater across the street to see Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards. (I still have a lot of fondness for that film as well.)

By the time the film opened, I’d already read the first two issues of the tie-in comic book, so I was familiar with the story up through the Millennium Falcon’s blast-off from Tatooine. Maybe that’s why the first half of the film felt a little slow to me on that initial viewing. But by the time Luke and Leia were swinging across the Death Star’s endless abyss, I was hooked.

Star Wars played at the River Oaks for 25 weeks. By the time it finished its run, the film had already begun its first official national rerelease. I saw it a total of 12 times during that period, and I’m sure it would’ve been more if I’d been able to drive myself. Sometimes my dad and I would arrive halfway into one screening, then stay through the entire next show. I didn’t always go to the River Oaks, but with its massive, wrap-around screen, it was definitely the place of choice, and I saw the debuts of both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi there as well.

Lately I’ve been reading The Making of Star Wars, a newly-published, massive coffee table book. I hadn’t thought that there was much I didn’t know about the production of the original film, but this one digs deeply into the Lucasfilm archives for a warts-and-all examination of its genesis.

It takes readers through the various iterations of the screenplay, noting when familiar elements first made their appearances. It’s interesting to see just how much the prequel films were influenced by the early script drafts: not just names like Utapau and Mace Windu, but the whole backstory of trade unions helping to overthrow the Republic. (One obvious omission is that, while there was a point at which Luke and Leia were conceived as twins, there’s no mention of Darth Vader being their father.)

Reading though it reminds me that there was a good reason I was so impressed with George Lucas back in the day. He wasn’t, as my wife infamously puts it, “a hack and a ne’er-do-well.” Lucas was a respected experimental filmmaker, and Star Wars was an incredibly risky project that forever changed the language and landscape of film. It’s been increasingly difficult to remember that amidst the ensuing avalanche of tie-in merchandise and the relatively disappointing nature of the prequel trilogy.

So, here’s to you, Star Wars. In your honor, I will post a link to one of my favorite versions of the main title music. Back in ’77, when I was searching for the John Williams soundtrack, all I could find was a similarly black-covered record called Music from Star Wars, as performed by the “Electric Moog Orchestra.” (Which I’m pretty sure was just some guy who got his hands on a Moog synthesizer.) Honestly, it’s pretty awful–okay, more like teeth-clenchingly terrible–but until I got my hands on the real thing, I played the hell out of it. Enjoy!

And remember what Darth Vader says:

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