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Friday, 23 February 2018

When is your Star Wars 40th anniversary?

Star Wars opened on both screens
at the Gaumont, Bournemouth

In a shorter Episode Nothing post than usual (thank my internet provider for that), I'm taking a look at the 40th anniversary of my own first viewing of Star Wars  and asking you for your memories.

When did you see Star Wars for the first time?

The 40th anniversary of Star Wars shouldn't be seen as a one-off event, commemorating the day the film officially opened on May 25, 1977.

Today, films tend to be released across large parts of the world almost simultaneously. But that wasn't the case back then.

As we saw in this post, only 32 screens showed Star Wars on day one, a Wednesday, and the number rose to only 43 for its first weekend.

The film's release didn't get significantly wider until June 17, and wouldn't reach its peak of 1,044 American screens until August 5.

So for most people, the 40th anniversary of Star Wars didn't happen until significantly later than that May 25 opening.

Star Wars' release dates around the world?

Star Wars at Mann's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles

In the 1970s, the expensive business of making prints of films and distributing them around the world took time.

So, the 'opening' date of Star Wars varied widely depending on where you were.

Canada got the film on June 24, 1977. In the Philippines, it came out on August 23. (I'm going by dates listed on, by the way, when I generally prefer primary sources, so please correct me if you can.)

France's Deauville Film Festival had the film in September, but the general release there began on October 19. Italy had the film on October 20, Australia on October 27, and Spain not until November 7 (following a showing at the San Sebastian Film Festival on September 19).

Greece saw the film on November 8, Portugal on December 6, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden on December 15-16, and most of South America on December 23-25.

In the UK and Ireland, the official release date was December 27, although that British opening date only covered two cinemas in the West End of London. As we saw in this post, the rest of the country had to wait a lot longer.

The UK was, however, ahead of Brazil (January 30, 1978) West Germany (February 9), Peru (February 23) South Korea (June 1), Japan (June 30) and India (July 1). By the time the film reached Iceland (July 9) and Iran (July 20), its first re-release was about to begin in the US.

My own Star Wars 40th anniversary

Star Wars Weekly issue 2

I've become increasingly obsessed with trying to remember when I first saw Star Wars at the Gaumont in Bournemouth.

It was a Saturday, and at least two issues of Star Wars Weekly had already been published. So my best guess is February 18 or 25, 1978.

The film had only been showing there since February 9, and I remember the wait being agonising, so it's surprising to discover that objectively, it was not that long.

It seems (after consulting with Craig Stevens, author of the forthcoming book The Star Wars Phenomenon in Britain) that Bournemouth may have been the only twin-screen cinema in the country to show the film on both its screens simultaneously. It was the first and last time that happened at the venue. 

Craig writes: "I think it's pretty remarkable that the Bournemouth Gaumont managed to obtain two prints of Star Wars when the entire country was screaming for one."

I had a lot of ideas about how Star Wars might look and sound (from Marvel comics, magazine coverage and Meco's disco version of the Star Wars theme, among other sources), but the real experience was nothing like it. For millions of young people around the world, of course, it was a life-changing experience.

I'd be interested to know when and where you first saw Star Wars. What can you recall? Is the venue still standing? Please share in the comments below.


Twin30mm said...

Great post.
Like you, I've got a rather unhealthy obsession with trying to recall the details of my first SW viewing.

I was friends with the next-door neighbours boys and I was invited along, when their parents took them to see SW. It was at the Bristol Odeon and I can remember the queue snaking all the way around the block to Brentford Nylons.
That made quite an impression on a nine year old.
Nothing could of prepared me for the experience of seeing SW for the first time.
I'd seen a few SW clips on TV, such as the SW Weekly advert and a clip shown on Screen Test, which really piqued the interest.
There's also a vague memory of seeing the SW trailer at the cinema (possibly in front of The Spy Who Loved Me).

Amazingly, I have no vivid memories of the actual showing.
I just have this recollection of being in a bit of a daze afterwards. Totally blown away.
On the way out, I managed to blag the SW Cinema Programme booklet and the Hildebrandt SW poster (which I've still got).

As for when this all happened, I'm pretty sure my friend had a copy of the Star Wars Look-In mag, at the time.
The date on that issue was w/e 11th March, so I'm assuming it was early March '78.

I can't quite believe this film has been such a big part of my life for 40 years.....

Chris said...

My first Star Wars viewing was on Thanksgiving Day, 1997, when my dad's friend brought the VHS tapes of the Special Edition over. I know it may seem like heresy to older fans, but my first experience with Star Wars had Greedo shooting first, CGI Dewbacks and Rontos, and CGI Jabba getting his tail stepped on. I didn't see the theatrical version until years later when I watched my cousin's 1995 tapes and then got the 2006 DVDs with the Laserdisc rip as a "Bonus feature."

I'm close to 30 and have never seen the original Star Wars in the theatre. I kind of wish that Lucasfilm had gone ahead with the plans to re-release all of the movies in 3D so I would at least have that opportunity (best we got was Episode I, then the Disney buyout happened).

Darren Slade said...

Hi Twin30mm: Great comment. Thank you. I remember that first viewing fairly vividly (whereas my memory of Empire is a little hazier, for some reason). Like you, I recall being in a daze afterwards. The normal business of Saturday tea, Jim'll Fix It etc seemed strangely unreal.

Chris: Thanks for commenting. Good to have a reader who wasn't there in the 1970s!
Yes, even though I'm not a big fan of 3D conversions, I sort of wish Lucasfilm had finished them. After all, I only sat through the 3D Phantom Menace on the understanding that it was the start of a saga. I think we deserve our money back.

Rory Cobb said...

Last year I, too, became obsessed with finding the exact date I first saw the movie (why? Who cares?why was it that important? I don’t know- but it was!). But I finally tracked it down thanks to an article on the digitalbits .com and my dad’s memory- June 24th, 1977!

Darren Slade said...

Thanks Rory. Glad you locked down that date.
Where did you see it? Is the venue still standing?

Rory Cobb said...

The Town Cinema in Kankakee, Il. We left Illinois two years later (June of ‘79); but after doing some on-line research, it appears the theatre was closed in 1990 and has since been renovated for use as an Arts and Conference center. Alas, it does not appear to be a place for films any more.

Darren Slade said...

Sad. At least it's still there, I guess.