That Summer of ’77

1977.

There were only a few markers in my life before then that I could remember. Jaws being one of them as mentioned in a previous post. I remember liking Happy Days, and pretending my bike was Fonzi’s motorcycle, though sometimes I would pretend to be Evel Knievel as well.

Most of my toys were kept in the cement-floored basement of our duplex in North Bay, including my 12 inch GI Joe, and his big plastic camper, including plastic campfire (so he could take it with him I guess), and he and I would have a lot of adventures. I had a slot car race track, and lots of hot wheels.

I remember hearing rumors from some of the other kids in our little collection of homes about this new movie that had come out. Something called Star Wars.

I had no idea what it was, or what it meant. But somehow or other, I can only imagine it happening because someone had gotten doubles already and was happy to share cards that seemed to be in every pack, alongside the single stick of gum, someone gave me a Topps trading card with an image from the film. It was rimmed in blue and had a picture of two amazing looking robots, the likes of which I had never seen before…

What the heck were these things? They looked incredible! What kind of movie would have something like these things in them?!

I had to see it! Where could I see it? When? How cool did this look?!?!

It wasn’t too long before I was gathering quarters wherever I could get my paws on them to buy my own cards and continued seeing images that knocked this little 5 and 3/4 year old on his butt. 

Battles in outer space!?!?!

I knew I had to see this now! There was nothing like this anywhere.

And yet, it didn’t happen right away… Though I’m sure I pestered my parents endlessly about it. There had to be a theater somewhere in a 100km radius showing this thing! I could stand a drive that long if it got me to see spaceships fighting in outerspace! I could! I could! I’d sit still and be so quiet. My sister and I wouldn’t fight over the imaginary line seperating our seats in the back, if only we could go see this Star Wars thing!

How big a deal was that if I was willing to make nice with my sister?

But like I said, it didn’t happen right away…

Later in the summer my dad got his new posting, and we relocated from North Bay, Ontario to Borden, Ontario (which was cool in and of itself, first and foremost for its Tank Park! That’s right, a park, filled with Tanks! They were there for display, all of them had little plaques with their info, and they were all sealed. Well almost all, there was one that I actually got to crawl inside of once – Awesome! And then there were all these bike tracks through the surrounding woods on which to ride my bike! It was like my own personal moon of Endor before it was even created!!).

But at this point I didn’t know about the tanks or tracks yet.

I just knew we were in a new place, and I’d be starting at a new school in September, and would once again try to make new friends – but that was relatively easy on a Base. We, as kids, inherently knew we were all in the same boat and threw our lot in together and became fast friends on the most flimsy of excuses, “we live on the same street”, “we have the same bike.”

Our first night there my dad wanted to drive us all around the base, to get the lay of the land I guess. I do the same thing now whenever I move, I just get out and wander, never knowing what will be around that next corner.

Finally, we pulled up in front of this big white square building that wasn’t close to anything else at all on the base, but for some reason, at least to me, seemed to be at the center of the entire place.

I remember my dad getting out of the car, our brown vw rabbit. I watched him run up to the building, and I guess he must have chatted with someone in what must have been a ticket booth.

He came back to the car, climbed back in and said that they were showing Star Wars tonight.

I had no humility.

I was quite happy to beg.

And did.

I remember passing through the door, seeing lobby cards in glassed off shelves set into the walls, some for Star Wars, and others for titles coming soon. I remember clambering up the short flight of stairs that lead up into the giant theater.

The snackbar was to the left as you walked in, but I don’t remember any snacks that night, I just remember sitting down in the already dark of the theater. We had timed it close. Or maybe my dad had already known it was showing, and was finally relenting before the tiresome onslaught of an almost 6 year old.

Then…

The 20th Century Fox logo and fanfare came up.

Then a black screen and silence followed by the lightsaber blue words

Silence.

Deep breath.

Then BOOM!!

I don’t know if the theater shook, but those strong brassy opening strains of one of the most iconic themes of all time blasted me to my core!

Everything changed after that!

Now I should point out, and I know that its been said before, but this movie truly changed the film industry, and life in general. Before that, there really wasn’t a huge cultural icon like that. Today, there are dozens upon dozens, but there wasn’t anything that impacted me, or my friends like this show did.

This was in a time when there were maybe 30 – 40 movies released a year, not a month, but a YEAR. Where most of today’s blockbuster fare can be watched and forgotten by the time you leave the theater, Star Wars was the first of its kind. Anyone born after that was already living in a world that had been changed by it (I’m not saying Star Wars didn’t and couldn’t have a profound effect on you, I’m saying it literally changed my world). You can’t imagine the wonder of having lived through that cusp of movie history, the concept of movie merchandise was sparse before then, but after Star Wars I knew exactly wanted I wanted for each of my birthdays, Xmas, and any other way I could weasel presents… (and I’m also sure I was a brat about it).

It had to be Star Wars.

I came out of the theater that night just agog, and I remember looking up at the sky and wondering if right now, rebels couldn’t be fighting a dastardly empire.

My first birthday after that I got the first of my treasured action figures, I still have them, they are worn, scratched, well-played with and well-loved. I remember playing with them in my school’s playground, it was only a 10 minute walk to school (3 minutes on my red bike with its banana, which I had rechristened the Falcon), and it had the best playground in the area. I made sure Luke fought Darth Vader and won! Han Solo outwitted the stormtroopers! I accompanied all of this by humming the Star Wars theme over and over and over again.

There was never a summer like 1977 before or after… I’ll treasure it and miss it, and remember it fondly.

When the universe Lucas had created was still fresh, wonderful, and completely unexplored. All of its adventures were my own, in my mind, acted out on my lawn, my bedroom, my playground…

Star Wars.

How I would love to experience that moment again…

That summer of ’77…

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