Jan. 7th, 2017

gwyn: (bumble _hellsbelles)
I'm super late with the second entry; trying to bust a move on my book edit and had to put everything aside (other than running off to see Rogue One, augh, I hate this, I want to vid something so bad and NO SOURCE).

Day 2

In your own space, share a book/song/movie/tv show/fanwork/etc that changed your life. Something that impacted on your consciousness in a way that left its mark on your soul. Leave a comment in this post saying you did it. Include a link to your post if you feel comfortable doing so.


Okay, so, speaking of Star Wars. My answer to this is that, but it's also something many people have tried to get me to put down in print for a long time, because it's a fannish history not a lot of people had (I know a couple other fans who were at a theatre opening night, now, but for a long time it was something I rarely heard about).

In 1977, there wasn't a lot of decent SF in theatres--it was a really crappy genre to be in love with if you were a fan and wanted to see things on a big screen. It was very much a literature fandom, and cons, what few there were, were fan-run experiences whose main focus was on lit, not film and definitely not TV. Star Trek had a modicum of respect, but that was it. For every 2001 or Silent Running, there was a Logan's Run or Saturn 5 or whatever. Most of it was schlock, is what I'm saying, and even the decent things were often quite flawed. I hung out with a lot of guys who were fans of the genre, some who were just plain movie buffs like me, and we'd been hearing about this movie being made by the guy who'd made American Graffiti and THX-1138. Starlog was THE movie magazine for SF and horror and fantasy fans, and that was where you got information--there was no Internet, nothing. You read newspapers and magazines and watched shows on TV that might tell you about new films.

I was a junior in high school in '77. My friends were telling me they planned to go see the movie when it opened, which, for a teen, was kind of a big thing; most of my friends were older than me by a year to three years, so it wasn't a big deal for them to schedule around as it was for me. I ended up ditching my last classes of the day (it was a Wednesday), the first time in my life I ever skipped class. I was one with the Rebels, and I didn't even know there were rebels in the movie! No one knew anything about the movie--there was just so little information. There'd been a few pics in Starlog, some discussions, speculation, and hilarious bits of news with incorrect names and stuff, but overall, we just didn't know what we were getting into.

Which was also part of the fun--it could have been just another schlocky piece of crap, which was honestly what we expected, or it could be cool, who knew--THX had been somewhat interesting, and American Graffiti was pretty good, but a lot of the excitement was simply that sense of going into something blind. A lot of people don't know that Star Wars only opened on 32 screens (but it opened up an additional dozen or so by that Friday because buzz was so high), so we had to go downtown to the UA150 here, which was this amazing round moviehouse that had a full, curved 70mm screen and that I still miss like hell to this day--I saw all my favorite movies of the '70s-'80s there and they were stunning. Since I and one other guy were ditching class, we waited to go stand in line for the second showing, in late afternoon.

Standing in line, outside of large cities, was still pretty unusual, too. It was for primarily the biggest of the big event movies and not something you tended to see in smaller cities or rural areas, and it was still common practice, too, for double features, and for an event movie to only play in a downtown theatre if it played a city at all. Single-screen houses were the norm for films; the UA was a really unusual theatre in that it had two large screens, but the 150 was the half of the theatre that had that glorious huge wraparound screen. But we dutifully drove downtown and got in line, somewhat close to the front, though where we were standing was outside the exit door at the rear of the auditorium.

People were filing out after the first matinee, and they all had this dazed look on their faces. We started asking them "what was it like?" "was it good?" and they were all speechless, just kept saying "you'll like it so much" or "you're gonna have suuuuch a good time." By the time they let us in, we were crazy psyched about it. In the lobby they had cardboard boxes with buttons that said May the Force Be With You. We had no idea what it meant, but a few of us picked them up; after the first screening, we ran back out to the lobby and gathered up as many as we could.

It's hard now, with it being part of the zeitgeist, to imagine what it felt like when the curtains parted, and parted, and parted to the entire width of that enormous screen, and then to hear those first notes and see the crawl begin. The crawl seems…normal, now. Enough that when I saw Rogue One I was heartsick that there was no effing crawl and I muttered darkly at my companion. But on May 25, 1977, it was mind-blowing. We just hadn't seen anything like it, not in modern-day cinema, certainly, and not on such a beautiful, majestic scale. And then the battle cruisers come into view and we gasped. We all, including my cynical, jaded, I've seen everything friends, dead-ass gasped when those ships came on screen, I swear to you. And when Darth Vader strode through the hall and spoke in James Earl Jones's voice, I thought I would faint from excitement.

I felt like no time had passed when we got to the end, and the music started up. I suffer from an inability to suspend my disbelief, I guess I've just been writing too long or something, but it is so vanishingly rare for me, even back then, to get completely immersed in a film or book, enough so that I don't notice time passing. And people cheered through at least a minute of the closing credits, people literally stood up in the theatre. My friends and I all looked at each other down the row, and I said, "I want to go again." And they all said hell yeah, so we stayed for the, like, early evening showing.

That was another thing that was so different, and that Star Wars changed completely--up to that time, you could not only often go to double, even triple features of first-run movies, but that also meant you could stay in the theatre without buying another ticket. The ushers came through to clean, but they didn't shoo us away; the friends who saw it two days later told me that they were clearing the theatres after the showing. After Star Wars, I never saw first run double features again, either.

While people were filing in for the next showing, my best friend was throwing handfuls of May the Force Be With You buttons out into the seats; people were mingling and talking, someone would catch a button and ask, "What's this for?" and we'd shout "JUST YOU WAIT" or they'd ask, "What was it like?" and he'd yell, "Prepare to get your mind fucked!" We were just silly and giddy and so so happy to have gotten a good, well made, interesting space fantasy that we didn't feel like we had to cringe in horror about having seen, the whole place felt like a big party. It was almost as exciting when the crawl came on screen the second time as it had been the first time. And then, because we had some kind of happiness high, we stayed for the last showing, too. I confess, during the really quiet times, it started to drag a little but I'd also been up since about six a.m. with nerves over skipping classes, so I was pretty ragged, plus, I knew I had to be at school the next day. My parents were used to me staying out really late, though, thank god, and I'd called them before the early evening show to tell them I might be home really late, but I had never expected we'd sit through all three showings.

The next day I wore my button to school, and everyone asked me what it meant. No one knew anything about it, had heard of it, but between my evangelizing and the news media, they quickly learned about it. I was so enthusiastic about it that, without knowing anything about conventions or fan groups, I hunted around till I found out about a group of local fans who wanted to put on a Star Wars convention, and started going to meetings. And I would like to point out, for anyone who identifies as female and gets shit about women not belonging in SF or insisting it's a new thing that they care? The makeup of that group was 70-30, in favor of women. I didn't stick with them long enough to see it come to fruition because of a lot of emotional issues that had come up around that time and family trauma, but it was the first experience I would have with organized fandom like that, which I would learn more about in a few years when I got invited to be a panelist at the big SF con in Seattle.

I was still pretty fannish about it after Empire, in a slightly different way--I collected every picture and article I could about Harrison Ford, and had all the things about Han and Leia in a box or scrapbook, because we didn't have the interwebs and that was really all you could do. By Return of the Jedi I was working as a film critic, and there was so much I didn't like about it that kind of overshadowed what I did like, and that was sort of the beginning of the end for me. By then there was also a lot of SF and other creative genre stuff coming out, and the landscape had changed considerably. I knew that a lot of those things--the scarcity of showings, the dearth of information, the specialness of the theatre--played a part in what made it so magical, and there was no way to replicate that or catch lightning in a bottle again. Then Lucas's endless tinkering with the originals while refusing to let us have them on home video, and the awfulness of the prequels, killed any enthusiasm I'd once had for it.

But those first few years, those were magical. I found a site that says Star Wars (it's always been Star Wars to me, I cannot think of it as A New Hope, it just doesn't compute) played longest in Portland, but I…sort of question that, because after Empire Strikes Back finished its run at the UA150, Lucas gave Seattle a gift for playing the first movie longer than any other city, which was to show the two films back to back for free, as part of our late summer arts festival here. It was the first time anyone had seen Star Wars onscreen since it had left theatres, and the first time it was shown with Empire. We waited in line all day, and I have to say, that was almost better than when we'd seen it the first time, and even more of a fan party. And on New Year's Eve 1977/78, the theatre had timed the Death Star to blow up at midnight, so we waited in bonebreaking cold for hours and hours just for the chance to see that--it was worth it, totally totally worth it.

I haven't even included stuff that isn't related to the movie, of which there were many monumental things that night for me, too. But to say that Star Wars changed my life is putting it very mildly. I literally can't imagine my life now if I hadn't cut class and gone to the theatre on May 25, 1977.

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