My first viewing was one Saturday in what was then the Gaumont cinema in Bournemouth, England. It opened there on February 9 1978.
By that time, we had been hearing for about eight months about this science fiction movie that had conquered America's box office.
The last few weeks of waiting to see the movie had been agony.
In our family, my uncle had been given the task of taking four children to see it, but it had been decided that we would leave it a while – until the lines for the film got smaller. Personally, I would have gladly joined one of the blockbusting queues we had seen on the news.
|An ad for the first showings |
of Star Wars in Bournemouth, February 9 1978
Finally, one Saturday afternoon, we stood in line at the Gaumont. In an unprecedented move, both the big auditoriums there had been given over to the same film. The waiting seemed to go on forever, but I stood there patiently looking at the lobby cards posted in glass cases outside the cinema, with their images of Tusken raiders, Princess Leia,
C-3PO and the Rebel spaceship hangar, as we waited for the box office to open.
I've long ago forgotten what the supporting film was that day. (These were the days when every film shown in the UK was preceded by a usually dreadful 20-minute documentary or travelogue.) What I do remember is that the Gaumont plainly wasn't used to dealing with full houses, because there were still plenty of people queuing at the side of the cinema for ice cream when the lights dimmed and the Twentieth Century-Fox searchlights appeared on the screen.
I'd not seen the Fox logo and heard Alfred Newman's Fox fanfare in the cinema before, only on television. It was a familiar, old-fashioned image which seemed suddenly new and striking on a big screen – the perfect curtain raiser to what was to follow.
I remember registering surprise that the film's opening title music was not the version I had on a record at home. (Meco's Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band single had been in the British charts for a while.) That surprise over, I settled down for a life-changing movie experience.
I had never before seen anything as intensely exciting as this film. The sheer exoticism of the galaxy George Lucas created – its aliens, its scenery, its robots – was unlike anything depicted on screen before.
The key elements of the story could have come from a hundred different adventure yarns – the mission to rescue a princess, the journey into the enemy base in disguise – but they were made fresh and new in a movie that looked and sounded like nothing else I had experienced.
Yet there was an emotional resonance to the film too. What boy could fail to relate to Luke Skywalker, the loyal young farmhand who yearns for adventure? Who wouldn't want a big brother figure like Han Solo, the gun-slinging rogue who was always going to turn out to have a heart of gold?
About 90 minutes into the film, the heroes had rescued the princess and fought their way out of the Death Star. I remember thinking to myself: That was a great movie. If only it could go on a little longer. In my excitement, I'd forgotten that the Rebels still had to deal with the small matter of destroying the Death Star. We were heading for 20 of the most exciting minutes in film history.
After we came out of the cinema that afternoon, the ordinary world seemed unreal and sort of smaller. We had spent the afternoon in another universe. I knew that I'd had a profound experience. I probably had no idea I'd still be going on about it thirty-five years later.
What are your memories of seeing Star Wars for the first time? Where and when did you see it, and with whom, and what do you remember about the day? I'd love to hear your memories. Please comment below.