Friday, 3 June 2016

Listen: A 1977 audience's reaction to Star Wars

Hear a 1977 audience react to Star Wars below

Today, Episode Nothing points you towards one of the most beautiful, warmly nostalgic Star Wars experiences you can have on the internet, as we hear a first generation audience react to the film.

A cassette tape recording on YouTube shows a 1977 audience's response to Star Wars

A typical 1970s cassette recorder

The YouTube video below was created in 2013 and seems to have been available for a while before it started attracting significant attention. I didn't come across it until recent weeks.

When I did discover it, I have to say it fitted me with nostalgia in a more powerful way than almost anything I've found online.

The story behind it is this. In 1977, young William Forsche sneaked a tape recorder into a screening of Star Wars. Many years later, he uploaded it to YouTube.

Domestic tape recorders were catching on widely at around the time Star Wars was released. A whole generation remembers recording music from the radio by setting up their cassette machine's microphone in front of the radio speaker and attempting to edit out the chatter of the DJ at the beginning and end of each record. Many people made candid recordings of family gatherings too.

Our household had its own first tape recorder in about 1977 and I used mine to make an audio recording of The Making of Star Wars from TV the following year. I remember wondering whether I'd be able to see Star Wars a second time at the cinema and, if so, whether it would be possible to smuggle in the tape recorder. Could I swap tapes every thirty or forty-five minutes in the dark without attracting attention? And would the batteries even last that long?

In the end, I didn't see the film again, and as for an audio recording, the LP The Story of Star Wars was a pretty good substitute. But William Forsche clearly found a way around these practical considerations. He doesn't say whether he recorded the whole film or just highlights, but what he shared online is astonishing.

Listening to this recording almost forty years later must be a highly emotional experience for William himself. He writes under the video: "This audio was recorded in 1977 when my mother took me to see Star Wars (for the second time). Hearing her laugh ... and cheer with me and the rest of the audience is absolutely priceless to me. You can also hear me making laser beam sounds at the end of this recording, because Star Wars got me all fired up!"

But I found hearing it an intensely emotional experience too. We are rarely treated to recordings of genuine audience response to movies, and here is the candidly captured first reaction to the biggest film of them all.

We hear the audience thrill at the escape from the Death Star. We hear them laugh as Leia hugs Chewie and C3PO is tangled among the wiring of the Millennium Falcon. After the crowd experiences the almost unbearable suspense of the climactic trench run, we hear them burst into applause as Han Solo comes to Luke's aid, with another huge burst of applause following as the Death Star is destroyed and yet another as the credits roll.

There's another YouTube video below with Forsche's recording synced with the film. It's great, but I enjoyed listening to the audio-only version first; there's something very powerful about concentrating just on the sound of that audience. 

How did 1970s audiences react to Star Wars?

I suspect any first generation Star Wars fan who hears the William Forsche recording will wonder how their own first viewing would have sounded on tape.

I can't remember how vocal the audience was when I saw it. I suspect that, being British, it was a more reserved crowd than the one heard in this recording, but whatever your cultural background, Star Wars demanded an emotional response.

I do remember being in among quite a vocal audience on the first night the Special Edition of Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope was released in 1997. The cinema was packed and people reacted naturally and loudly. There were big laughs at moments such as R2-D2 being zapped by the Jawas or Chewie scaring the mouse robot, even though many people must have been them on home video many times. People were intensely engaged with the film's climax. And yes, there was applause as the credits rolled.

Nobody was grumbling that evening about Han shooting first or the redundant addition of CGI. There would be plenty of time to grumble about that later. That night, we were caught up in the same pleasures that had entranced audiences on May 25, 1977.

Did the audience reaction video bring back memories for you? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below.


Unknown said...

I've got mp3s of audience recordings of SW and ESB.

With SW, the taper went twice - once to record the far left of the theatre, the other with the right, then synced them up. It's great to hear the cheering ( albeit sometimes in one channel ).

John white said...

Oh my God, I can't wait to hear this Darren! I'm going to listen to it tonight, in bed, with headphones!

Darren Slade said...

Dec, that's amazing. Have you thought about sharing them online or is that somebody else's prerogative? Can you describe the reaction?

Unknown said...

I got them from a share online - I forget where but I'm guessing it was Originaltrilogy. I believe it was the taper who shared them so I'd have no qualms about sharing them further. My name is Declan McCafferty if you want to find me on social media I'll happilly pass them on. I won't describe them - best you hear them in their glory.

Anonymous said...

Dec-- there's a lot of Declan McCafferty's on Facebook. Which one are you? I'd love to hear the tape.

Unknown said...

you can also download star wars ringtones here.
star wars