Top 250 Tuesday #173 – Star Wars (1977)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #173 on the list, George Lucas’s Star Wars. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.

Star WarsStar Wars is one of Those Movies, isn’t it? Not only is it a true cultural phenomenon, not only has it become an industry unto itself, not only is it currently a source of much speculation among genre fans who lap up every tidbit of information about the upcoming new trilogy of films and whatever else may accompany them, it is also one of the movies that very simply changed not only the science fiction genre, but the entire way that we watch films and that all movies are marketed today.

But.

Believe it or not, there was a time when none of that was true.

Back in 1977, when Star Wars (and by that I mean the movie which has retroactively become officially known, I suppose as Star Wars IV: A New Hope, though at the time there was none of that, it was simply Star Wars, and that’s how I’m going to refer to it throughout this post) first came out, I was 12 years old, and it was a different world than the one 12-year-olds have today.

Back then, there were no iPads or smartphones, no Blu-rays or DVDs or movies on demand or even internet, no cable TV (at least not here in Nashville), and even VHS rentals were just on the horizon. Instead, really, the only way to see a movie was either to see it in the theater or to wait for it to eventually hit television, most likely in a chopped up pan-and scan version which would be interrupted by commercials every 20 minutes or so.

star_wars_coverAlso, since there was no internet, (or at least nothing that today’s 12-year-olds would recognize as The Internet) that meant no Google, no web sites where one could go to find out all of the information about what movies were coming out (much less every little tidbit of casting rumors, etc.) no… well, I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

Anyway, so there I was, a 12-year-old comic book, sci-fi, and horror geek, and one day I was at the local drugstore, looking over the lone rack of comics they had just gotten in – oh, yeah, there were also no comic stores filled with back-issues and trade paperbacks that reprinted every comic book ever published. Instead, if you wanted to buy comics, you either rode your bike or got your mom to take you down to the closest place that had a spinner-rack, (for myself, most of my comic-shopping was done at the five-and-dime next to the grocery store while my mom did the week’s shopping), and made your choices from whatever they had on hand.

And there it was: the first issue of Marvel’s adaptation of Star Wars. Right away, I knew it was something golden. I knew that I held in my hand something that would change my world, something that was Big and Huge, and wonderfully exciting that would usher in a whole new era of sf geekiness.It was something that I absolutely HAD TO HAVE. And I had to have it right then.

Umm… well, actually, no. It wasn’t that way at all.

Star Wars movie image Han, Chewie LukeThe truth is, I did pick up the issue and gave it a flip through. I also saw the blurb there on the front cover that said “MARVEL’S EPIC OFFICIAL ADAPTATION OF THE MONUMENTAL 20TH CENTURY FOX MOVIE!”. Unfortunately, because of the way that movies were distributed at the time, breaking first in the big cities (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc.) then eventually making their way to markets like Nashville, I had no idea what they were talking about. Movie? What movie? I hadn’t heard about any movie called Star Wars. That, plus the fact that at the time I wasn’t that big a fan of Howard Chaykin’s artwork (hey, I was 12, gimme a break) and the fact that it was 30 cents where most of the other comics on the rack were only 25 – that nickle made a huge difference when I probably only had a dollar or so to spend on comics that outing anyway – caused me to just kind of shrug my shoulders, close the book, and put it back on the rack.

movies_star_wars_episode_iv_a_new_hope_3Little did I know that it would be only a couple of months later that I would be standing in a line that literally (and yes, I do mean literally) wrapped around the outside of the theater in order to see Star Wars for the first time. Nor did I have any idea that what I was about to see was going to turn out to be the Best Movie I Had Ever Seen in my twelve years on this planet. Nor that I would wind up going to see it at least four or five more times in the theater before it finally left town.

But yeah, that’s what wound up happening.

And you know what? Despite all the years that have passed since then, and everything that has happened for better and for worse both with the franchise and in my life, every time I go back to watch it, there is still a part of me that reverts to that 12-year-old and just wants to soak it all in. To watch the battle between good and evil, to shudder at the appearance of Darth Vader. To laugh at R2D2 and C3PO. To watch that epic lightsabre fight between Vader and Obi-Wan, To cheer when Han shows up in the Millenium Falcon to back up Luke so he can make the shot and blow up the Death Star. Just to let myself be a part of it all over again.

And that, my friends, is the power of a great movie.

Here’s the original 1977 trailer.

So what are your thoughts on Star Wars? Is it a movie that you’ve seen or would like to? If you have seen it, is it one that would make your own Top 10 list? Or would it not even crack your Top 250? Also, I’m curious about what you think about my argument that some movies simply have to be seen on the big screen before one can even really judge them. And if you agree with it, what films you would put into that category. Let me know in the comments below.

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