In 1977 Star Wars, just Star Wars no new hope, exploded on to a small number of screens across the U.S. The studio had not anticipated the mania that would ensue after its release and so it only received a minor release and no international release at all. They were not prepared for its success. America up until this point had seen movies screened that reflected the general mood of the people. Jaws, Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver and Mean Streets were among the titles released. All very dark but also masterpieces in their own right. America was crying out for something to pull them away from the daily struggles they were facing. A fast growing fuel crisis, a crashing economy, and a president wrapped up in a serious career destroying scandal that drove a knife into the back of every American citizen from New York to L.A. The movie theatre’s used to be a place of magic and music but now they were only a reminder of the hardship people were going through in the early to mid 1970’s. As these uncertain times were unfolding a young aspiring filmmaker from Modesto California was working on a screenplay that was going to take us all to Galaxy far far away.
George Lucas began filming Star Wars in 1975, the year of my birth, however, I was not to see the movie until 1980 in the old Ambassador Theatre in Dublin, Ireland. I was 5 years old and up until this point had played with dolls and teddy bears just like any other young girl. My cousin John, aged 10 at the time, was staying with my family for a few weeks in 1980 and my father each day had created all kinds of fun activities for us to do, which wasn’t easy in a country where there really wasn’t much for us to do. Dublin was not the cosmopolitan city it is today. I always remember it looking very gray and dirty. Old buildings were blackened with carbon, caused by the passing traffic. The old yellow double decker buses with an entrance at the back were still cruising along the city streets. Many of the streets looked deserted with businesses boarded up. MacDonalds was really the only treat you got as a kid in Ireland and you only got to go there on your birthday or a special occasion, the other treat was the pictures as we called it then or the movies.
I will never forget the day we went to see Star Wars. My cousin seemed to be aware of how exciting this was going to be and he had on a red t-shirt with a picture of a blonde boy with a funny glowing sword, a girl in a white dress with a really weird haircut, a guy with a gun in a black waistcoat and their very big brown fluffy dog. At least that’s how it looked to me. We took the bus into Dublin city with my parents, as we had no car then, and got off on Dublin’s main street named O’Connell Street and we began walking down towards one of Ireland’s most iconic department stores, Clerys, sadly now closed, and onwards to the Ambassador theatre. This movie theatre was like no other you’ve ever seen. Among all the Georgian buildings of Dublin stood this round, roman like arena that was laced with stone draped sheets connected by the skulls of bull’s right around the top of the building. It was more like something you would have seen in Gladiator rather than poking out at the end of an Irish street. My cousin got more and more excited the closer we got to the building. I held my mum’s hand as my cousin ran ahead pointing to the signs on the theatre, ‘look,look!’ he yelled. Because he had lived in England for many years Star Wars had received more press releases there as the movie was shot there in Elstree Studios. However in Ireland the only exposure I saw was his t-shirt with the funny looking people on it, so I was not excited at all. I remember as he shouted I looked up at the door way of the Ambassador and there stood a tall sign above the door. One said ’The Empire Strikes Back’ in white and red and the other ‘Star Wars’ in red and white. I thought nothing of it as there were no pictures at all. Let’s face it at five it’s all about the pictures in books, posters etc. It was a double bill, something that was quite common in movie theatres in Dublin at the time, in fact the main feature quite often had a support movie back then. We stepped inside the theatre, the foyer was draped in red velvet, at least I remember it that way. It seemed very luxurious to me, or ‘’fancy’’ in five year old terms, a beautiful old theatre that felt like there should have been women in Victorian bustle gowns walking about it linking the arms of proper gents with tail coats and cravats. There were no LED screens showing the trailers of upcoming features, no digital tills and no great glamorous movie board cut outs. Simple posters in frames were about the walls and modest sweet shop beside a small box office. My father bought the tickets, there were no online box offices then, hell! there were no computers in people’s homes, The first Atari’s were only just starting to hit the market in the U.S. in 1980. Ireland was very far behind and wouldn’t see such technology for at least another two years after.
The movie tickets were the old paper ones on a roll with a number. My father came back with the four tickets and my cousin was literally jumping up and down with delight. I still just looked on in confusion. Then my eyes lit up, not for the movie but the sweet counter. My mum armed me with one box of smarties and maxi twist ice cream, two very popular treats for the cinema. Popcorn, unless it was the neon pink and orange candied type made by a crisp company called king, was not sold in Irish cinemas. Smarties were like M&M’s, only better in my opinion, and the maxi twist was a vanilla ice cream in a plastic tub with a lime and raspberry swirl down through it. I have no doubt at this point my mum was getting nervous as I was known to perform a full gymnastics display across the bottom of the movie screen if I was bored. I rarely kept my mouth shut or sat still during a movie.
We took our seats and my dad propped me up so I could see. I remember the lights going down in the auditorium, the red velvet seats and roman style white walls and carvings faded into the darkness. The screen flashed on and as always we were subjected to ads for Guinness in Ireland on the big screen, this one a number of surfers on great waves crashing into the ocean head first that would then morph into the dark and creamy swirling of Guinness as it filled the pint glass. I didn’t get it, I was five, all I got was the swirling fruit sauces of my ice cream which was now all over my face and, to my mums delight, keeping my mouth shut. I remember being able to hear the crunching and munching and packets rattling of all the other movie goers that day. There were trailers but I don’t remember them at all. Then up came the censorship board saying ‘Star Wars’ rated G. Then the screen went black, suddenly drums echoed and bellowed out over the whole auditorium. Spot lights appeared on screen shining over a bright golden monument sculpted out in the words ‘20th Century Fox’. Epic trumpets played out a tune that I would forever associate with the opening of a Star Wars movie. Lucasfilm Limited appeared on the screen in a cheesy neon green and very simple font, then the screen turned black again. One sentence appeared in deep blue on the screen ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far far away..’ Ok this Lucas guy had my attention, after all every great fairy tale started with either once upon a time or a long time ago. Suddenly the yellow title ‘STAR WARS’ filled the whole screen and John Williams epic theme came bellowing into the theatre. My jaw dropped, ice cream running down my chin onto my lap. It was the greatest sound I ever heard. This was pretty exciting already and all I had seen was the two words, but then, they began to sink away into space and were followed by a scroll that flowed like a space ship from underneath us. I was too young to try and read it and so my mum read it in a whisper into my ear for me. I became more and more mesmerized as my mum read the scroll. Rebels, spaceships, evil galactic empire, PRINCESS!!! That was it I needed to know more about all of this. The scroll vanished into space and the screen once again became quiet with only the music playing gently. Nothing prepared me for what was to happen next. Two moons appeared and then a great planet beneath us. Suddenly a spaceship! A real spaceship flew out over our heads and was followed by the most terrifying ship I had ever seen, well the only one I had ever seen, It was pointed and narrow at the front and as it flew over us it got larger and larger and louder. The whole theatre vibrated with the roar of its rocket engine. Laser blasts of red and green flashed back and forth from one ship to the other! At this point my ice cream tub was now lying on my lap and slowly rolling towards my knees, ice cream still dripping from my face, I couldn’t even taste it anymore all I was able to do was see, I couldn’t stop looking at it. I looked up at my dad, who like me, was sitting with his mouth hanging open too. Suddenly the small ship took a hit and an explosion lit all our faces in gold as it rocked the transporter. The screen changed, we were inside the transporter. There was a gold man and little blue and silver robot hurrying along a white corridor. I didn’t care too much for the gold man but the little blue dude, I was pretty sure he was going to be my best friend.
I sat through the entire movie in silence, my eyes wide and taking in every single detail. Who needed Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella, I was part of the elite Princess Leia club now! My days of playing princess games in pink dresses were gone. I spent my days swinging sticks around making swish swoon noises and swinging across from bunks beds with my Luke Skywalker next to me, a kid named Billy, who I played Return of the Jedi with on a regular basis in 1983. I tied my hair up in that weird swirly bun thing, that strangely enough made Leia’s head look a bit like a Tie fighter. That’s what I thought it was supposed to be about when I was a kid. Luke Skywalker was may favourite, the blue eyed golden haired hero with the good heart. Still my favourite today.
The opening of Star Wars changed my whole perspective on life. Even at the age of five it molded me. It’s been 37 years since I saw Star Wars for the first time and even today I still approach the release of each Star Wars movie with the same attitude I had at the age of five. I don’t read articles and I don’t watch any video’s that contain ‘’leaks’’ or ‘’spoilers’’. Back then there was no internet, there really was no way to see anything about a movie before it was released. The only thing you saw was maybe the odd trailer on tv and the small print of the movie title on the cinema listings in the newspapers, they were never in colour. Movie magazines were available but as a little kid that young, I wasn’t allowed to look at them as they would often have pictures of scenes from upcoming horror movies in them. When I saw Star Wars that day it was the most exciting and jaw dropping movie I had ever seen and not just because it was a masterpiece, and it still is, but because I knew nothing of it beforehand. It was a complete mystery to me.
Every Star Wars movie has excited me ever since because I avoid all the information as much as I can, I say to all of you, be just like us the kids of the 70’s and join us in going to see The Last Jedi in the same way, turn away from those spoiler videos and articles, avoid the production shots leaked online and go see it just like we did with no expectation whatsoever. Its then and only then that you will truly feel what is was like for us all those years ago, when Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew first graced our screens in these legendary roles. It blew our minds we were the generation of cinema ice cream dribblers all because of two words ‘STAR WARS’.
Join us and wait for VIII. #WaitForVIII