With my involvement in co-creating and administering the Growing Up Star Wars group (a nostalgic look back a childhood photos of the first Star Wars generation from 1977-1985) at the photo sharing site Flickr, I've watched as many contributors posted memories of the first time they saw Star Wars in the theatre. I, naturally, got perusing the cobweb-filled recesses of my noggin' in an attempt to recall my first viewing of the movie that was to fill my every waking thought for the next three years. Unfortunately, despite the exalted status with my elementary school classmates as a "Star Wars Freak", I can't remember my initial experience seeing it in the theater!
What I DO remember...
-First time I saw a TV commercial for it? Check! (I was so inspired I immediately drew a now-lost felt pen drawing of the event).
-Second time I saw it? You bet! (Parksville - see below)
-The Empire Strikes Back / Star Wars double feature in 1980? Uh huh! (see a future post)
But not the first time!
Could it be that the impact of such a momentous event overwhelmed my 9 year old brain like a traumatic car accident, erasing all memories of this earth-shatteringly important milestone?
Did the high sugar intake of those pre-adolescent years degrade my memory-making abilities?
Whatever the case it was a good excuse for me to track down the original newspaper advertisements for Star Wars that ran in my local papers (The Nanaimo Daily Free Press, and The Nanaimo Times), as well as those of the two closest cities / towns with movie theatres (Duncan - 45 minutes to the south, and the much smaller Parksville 25 minutes to the north).
Unsurprisingly then, last year at the Provincial Archives (conveniently located a 15 minute walk from my house), I spent a few hours (when I should have been working) doing just that.
So... without further ado: at the top of this post you'll find this first newspaper advertisement that ran in any of these papers... AND IT WAS FROM OCTOBER 1977!!!
Meaning the first and most important finding is...
STAR WARS DID NOT PLAY AT MY LOCAL FURSHLUGGINER MOVIE THEATRE UNTIL AFTER THE RELEASE OF "THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK" IN 1980!
Theatre chains and distributors had airtight deals back then, meaning you were locked in to choosing from the list of whatever films they provided. If Star Wars wasn't on the list you were out of luck buddy.
So I must have seen Star Wars for the first time either in Victoria (2 hours to the south, and my current home), or Vancouver (a 2 hour ferry/car ride to to the east) sometime in June, July or possibly August. I was already a big fan (with a t-shirt and constant theme song hum to prove it) by the time of my birthday in early September, so we know it was well before that. Plus, I was well into wearing out my brand-new copy of the oversized Marvel Comics Star Wars Treasury edition (released in July or August) by the time I went back to school on Sept. 5th, so the date fits.
So... a little bit of disappointment that I can't narrow things down more than that?
But at least I was able to figure out the time line a little more.
And looking up these great ads was fun.
Which brings us the second time I saw Star Wars. ...
In a world where blockbusters are released to DVD within months of hitting the screens, it's good to recall a prehistoric time when films would increase the number of screens they played on throughout their run if they were a hit. Originally debuting May 25th, 1977 on 32 screens, Star Wars grew in popularity through out the Spring, Summer and Fall until it was playing on close to 1,100 screens by Christmas. So it wasn't until late November or early December, 6 months after it hit the theatres, that I saw it for the second time.
Obviously having to get a parent to drive you to another town, even to see your favourite movie, was a tough thing for a 9 year old to accomplish!
This time (see ad below) I DO remember it well. Sitting, sans seat belt, on the engine cowl of my dad's red Dodge A-100 as we drove up to Parksville. Being overwhelmed by it for a second time. Noticing the Y-Wings this time. Crying tears of joy on the trip home because I was so happy (and probably tired, as it was past my bedtime).
Over the next couple years Star Wars was rereleased a number of times. Still not at my local movie house, but I was able to get to see it a total of seven times by the early 1980s and the beginnings of my move away from "kids movies". Of course, my Kenner Star Wars Movie Viewer, Kenner Give-A-Show Projector, The Story of Star Wars record, and the John Williams soundtrack double-LP (not to mention the hundreds of comics, books, magazines, toys and assorted ephemera I constantly poured over) all kept it alive for me in the meantime.
But it was nice to use archive materials to finally narrow down, if not answer fully, that foggy memory I had about seeing my favourite movie for the first time.
Now if I could just use the same method to remember where I left my glasses...