I’m updating the pages from my old Reseda High School Class of 1979 site to my main blog. The first of these is an article I wrote in 2005 about the Star Wars prequels and my memories of the first movie that came out in 1977. It will be interesting to see what Disney will do with the new films, but nothing can compare with the experience of seeing Star Wars in theaters when it first came out and when Han shot first. (However, the trailers for The Force Awakens look promising.)
In May 1977, as I was sitting at a bus stop on Sherman Way near Reseda, I saw an ad for a new movie. I looked at the title and thought, “Star Wars? What a stupid name for a movie.” Little did I know that 28 years later, my seven-year-old son would beg me to buy him every conceivable thing that has the Star Wars logo on it. George Lucas should thank me for helping to fund his retirement.
Today’s kids don’t realize that Star Wars has a history, and it’s not only that Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. For those of us who lived a long time ago in a suburb far, far away, Star Wars was a part of our growing up.
After my classmates at Reseda High gave me their rave reviews, I decided Star Wars didn’t sound like such a stupid movie after all. So, my mother, younger brother, and I went to see it.
Before Star Wars, we didn’t go to the movies very often. That was because there really wasn’t anything for a 15-year-old to see. I couldn’t get into R-rated movies, and I was certainly too old for kiddie flicks, like those insipid Benji movies. I did enjoy Jaws, which we saw at the Van Nuys Drive-in Theatre. (Remember those?) But mostly, movies in the 1970s were too realistic and gritty to be enjoyable. After spending all day in our miserable post-Watergate stagflation world, who would want to spend money and two hours watching a movie about our miserable post-Watergate stagflation world?
Star Wars was the first movie that I could really sit back and enjoy. I felt like I was transported into a different universe with spaceships that didn’t look like plastic models, heroes I could root for, and villains I could hate. (We didn’t know that Darth Vader was Luke’s father at that point.) Film critics talk about suspension of disbelief, and that definitely worked in Star Wars. I felt like I was actually flying in the back seat of that X-Wing fighter with Luke and R2-D2. And when the Death Star blew up – Wow! I heard stories about how magical movies used to be, but I didn’t experience it for myself until Star Wars.
I indulged in some of the movie merchandising. I think I still have a Star Wars comic book series that Marvel produced shortly after the film. I also bought a novel inspired by the movie and a plastic model of a Rebel X-Wing fighter. I didn’t buy anything that would have made a killing on eBay.
In my creative writing class that year, there were a few of us who shared an enjoyment of the film. Thomas Keiji Agawa was the dean of the Star Wars fans. He was the editorial page editor and political cartoonist for our school paper, the Regent Review. He would quote from memory various bits of dialogue and draw fantastic sketches of various Star Wars characters. (I couldn’t find any of his, but I found one of mine, as shown at the beginning of this post. He went out with Hillary Hansen, our resident Ayn Rand fan, thus dispelling the stereotype of Star Wars geeks who can’t get a date.)
Besides drawing pictures of Darth Vader, Thomas enjoyed putting hidden messages into his political cartoons. In the April Fool’s edition of the Regent Review, he drew a picture of a gymnast, and the shading of the uneven parallel bars spelled out in Morse code a popular two-word explicative. He also got in big trouble with a hidden message that expressed his displeasure with the school cafeteria.
I haven’t heard from Thomas since high school. A Google search returned a note about an exhibition from the Lowe Gallery, “A conceptual piece concerning the culture of skateboards created around an interactive skateshop, with the conceptual artist Thomas Keiji Agawa.” I was glad to see that he continued with his artwork. I wonder if he still puts hidden messages in it.
For me, Star Wars was a key part of growing up in the seventies. The most special thing about it was how it made me feel. It was the first movie in a long time when the good guys actually won. After Vietnam, we Americans had stopped believing that the good guys would always win. So, we had movies where the bad guys (who weren’t as bad as the supposed good guys) won, the good guys won by becoming bad guys, or both the good guys and bad guys lost in gushers of blood. I could leave Star Wars feeling exhilarated and uplifted. It was a movie that made me feel good.
This may be why I don’t enjoy the newer Star Wars films as much. They feature political intrigue and the tragic spectacle of a promising, talented, and inherently good young person become corrupted by power and turn towards the Dark Side. We have enough of that in the real world, Mr. Lucas.
So, when my son begs me to watch the new Star Wars movie, I’ll rent the original movie – the real movie – and show him what Star Wars is really all about.