Month: January 2008

When A Movie Changed the World

I am really in overdrive on this whole reminiscening thing lately and here is another post that may make you go Gah! Sorry about that, hopefully I will move out of this mode soon, for your sake, if not mine.

The year was 1977 and it was an exciting time in the US. We had just finished up with big celebrations the year before for our bicentennial. The first handheld calculators were making a stronger appearance and there was the start of discussions on whether school children should be permitted to use them since they might not learn enough basic mathematics if they came to depend on using a calculator.

There was this new friendlier looking guy called Jimmy Carter who was our President and the mini series Roots first ran on TV. Cable TV was around and we were able to get 26 channels, with a special box that had push buttons to select 1 of 2 modes and then the channel. The shuttle craft Enterprise went for it’s first voyage. Home computers were starting to make their first appearance, but most computers in use were by business and colleges. Teletypes could be used to interface with a college mainframe at high schools so computer courses started to be offered at the high school. The text game Adventure was popular and there was a text version of Star Trek too.

And then in May, this new movie came out, that had this really cool poster with a guy holding a funny kind of sword standing over a young lady with a foreboding image in the background. The first Star Wars movie had been released.

So what, you ask? For a teen at the time who was nerdy, it was a very big so what. Before the release of Star Wars, science fiction was definitely not mainstream and was associated with those weird kids that read big brainy books and were picked on by the more popular kids. Star Trek had been on TV and then canceled after only 3 seasons, although the reruns picked up a big fan base. There were science fiction books and some movies but either they weren’t of good quality or only watched by a few.

With Star Wars, that all changed. I remember being home that summer and watching a noon time news/talk show that talked about current events. As the summer went on, there was a segment every day that talked about this movie Star Wars and the amazing popularity of it. People were standing in line for hours to see this movie, the lines wrapped around buildings and city blocks. And people weren’t seeing this movie just once, they were seeing it 5, 10 or more times. People were flabbergasted at how this one movie was so popular and not just with nerdy, technical people but with regular types of people too.

Since I couldn’t drive and the movie house was quite a distance away, it was a couple of months before I saw the movie. And that was another amazing thing, the movie stayed in the theater for months not weeks. It was at a cinema in Denver, a round theater with this new funky surround sound system. I sat in the back row so that I could see all of the screen. I remember how amazing it was to hear shots behind me when the battle scenes were on the scene. And I had to keep turning my head from side to side in order to take in all of the screen.

And of course when the movie opens on that huge ship that just keeps going, my jaw dropped, along with many others in the theater. It looked real, not like a model hung from the ceiling with a black background, but like a ship was really flying in space. And all of those aliens in the cantina and the wookie and of course Hans Solo, . After seeing the movie, I went and bought the sound track on a vinyl record and playing it over and over again. Eventually, my interest faded and I moved on to other things, but the first Star Wars movie is still my favorite of the series.

And in looking back, to me the release of Star Wars was such a pivotal moment. It was after that movie that science fiction was viewed as something that might actually be of interest to more people. More books started to come out, more movies were produced and more television shows were produced. Nowadays, with the Internet, it’s taken for granted that science fiction is an viable subset of literature but I feel that back in 1977 was the time when it was demonstrated and when the world changed.