This isn’t really the 40th anniversary of watching Star Wars in the cinema – mainly because most Malaysians had to wait a whole 14 months for the movie to get here! (Except my late Dad, who was lucky enough to catch it in 1977 on a business trip abroad. And brought me a ton of Star Wars souvenir magazines and the soundtrack cassettes.)
What was the world’s biggest box-office hit at the time, released in May 1977, only arrived here in July 1978, in standard Panavision and “normal” sound. By comparison, Singapore was advertising its screenings in 70mm and six-track Dolby Stereo.
Darn it, even the knock-off Battlestar Galactica was in Sensurround (which involved mounting speakers the size of baby elephants at “strategic” points of the cinema, the bass set so low it felt like the fillings were vibrating loose from your teeth), for crying out loud. Not that you could be heard over anything in Sensurround.
Still, the lack of frills aside, and despite the fact that I had read everything about Star Wars I could get my hands on by then, and worn out the cassettes of the soundtrack, and so should have known what to expect … whoa.
Nothing quite prepared me for the awesome sight of that Star Destroyer flying in from overhead, a myriad of details on its surface, as John Williams’ incomparable music swelled. And when Darth Vader cracked poor Captain Antilles’ neck and tossed him casually aside … this truly was a bad guy for the ages.
The two hours passed in a heady blur. Even after all the science fiction and comics I had read, all the TV shows and other movies I watched, seeing alien worlds and creatures, massive starships and space dogfights brought to life in such (for the times) convincing and immersive detail was a fanboy’s delight.
The sacrifices and valour of the heroes, the sheer evil of the villains (you blew up Alderaan, damn you Hammer Films’ Van Helsing!), the roguishness of a certain Corellian scoundrel (who will always have shot first in my book), the occasional corny dialogue that made my teeth hurt (who needs Sensurround, after all?) – you bet I was back in the cinema for a second viewing as soon as my allowance permitted.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t easy sharing my exuberance about Star Wars at school.
Guess many Fifth Formers were too busy being cool to admit to liking such “child-like” pursuits.
I certainly am glad to have found more fans in my adult years than I did in my teenage ones – and even though the visual spectacle that George Lucas created on a relatively modest budget has been surpassed by other efforts, and the prequels were a little soul-crushing, the magic lives on.
Has any cinematic endeavour since then ever quite recaptured the gosh-wow fanboy delight?
It was 2012’s box-office flop John Carter, which ironically was one of Star Wars’ inspirations; and then 2014’s surprise smash Guardians Of The Galaxy, which clearly took many cues from Star Wars.
There’s life in the old space opera yet.