Happy Star Wars Day!

The original Star Wars poster by the Brothers Hildebrandt.
The original Star Wars poster by the Brothers Hildebrandt.

I bet you thought Star Wars Day was May 4, right? That silly pun has gotten most of the attention, but given the significance of the day this year, we’re going to go ahead and celebrate the real Star Wars Day.

Forty years ago today, May 25, 1977, marked the world premiere of Star Wars (renamed Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope when it was re-released in 1981), the movie that introduced the world to Jedi and Sith, droids and wookiees, Han Solo and the Force. It also sold a whole lot of theater tickets and toys. Eventually it became a religion.

May 25 is also popularly known as Geek Pride Day because “the Glorious 25th of May” is significant in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and because it was designated as a memorial day for Hitchhiker’s Guide author Douglas Adams two weeks after he passed away on May 11, 2001. Since then, Towel Day has been an annual remembrance.

In honor of this auspicious day, I’ll kick things off with my remembrance of a couple of the subjects mentioned, and you can follow up with your own in the comments section. Since I’ve never read any of the Discworld books (I’m not willing to commit to a great big stack of books, but if somebody wants to recommend one of them as a good self-contained starting point, I might jump in), I’ll have to stick to Star Wars and Douglas Adams.

In 1977, I was wrapping up my first year at the local community college, and at the beginning of the month I tripped while going down a flight of stairs on campus and broke my right leg just above the ankle. As a result, I didn’t see Star Wars on opening day, which was a Wednesday. Instead, I saw it about 10 days later, on Saturday, June 4, at Grauman’s (then known as Mann’s, now officially the TCL, but I’ll stick with Grauman’s, thanks) Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd.

Mann's Chinese Theater, 1977.
Mann’s Chinese Theater, 1977.

I want you to imagine it: in those days, there was no way to pre-order tickets, no internet to speak of. If you wanted to see a movie, you had to get up and go to the theater, stand in line at the box office, hand over cash for your ticket, then get in line for the movie. If a movie was popular, each of those lines could be hours of waiting; when you get to the box office after an hour or so of waiting, you’d find out that the next screening or two were already sold out; there could be two or three lines arranged around the building, one for each upcoming show. Multiplex theaters were still fairly new, having started popping up around 1970, and most of them only had three or four screens, so even a really popular movie might only be in two auditoriums. So we waited. On this particular Saturday, my friends and I arrived at the theater around 1:00 and got into the 6:00 showing, which meant standing in the Southern California summertime sunshine for about five hours, on crutches with a cast on my leg up to mid-thigh, for a movie that I knew almost nothing about. I’d seen one publicity photo in the LA Times, but friends who had already seen the movie swore I had to, so there I stood.

Naturally, as soon as that massive Star Destroyer began filling the screen, the previous five hours were forgotten, and I saw the movie another half-dozen times before it left the theaters, then a couple more times when it was re-released in 1979. I dutifully made the pilgrimage to Hollywood Blvd in 1980 for The Empire Strikes Back, this time at the Egyptian. (Hollywood has the best theaters.)

In a way, I’m almost envious of the younger fans who got to discover the galaxy far, far away as children. But even at 18, Star Wars was a revelation. Perhaps because I was older and already entrenched in numerous other fandoms, George Lucas’ tapestry has not been quite so deeply a part of my life as it is for younger fans, but I do appreciate what he did, laying the groundwork and making the world safe for other epic genre series including the two versions of the Star Trek franchise, as well as Lord of the Rings and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, among many others. Star Wars legitimized a variety of formerly lowbrow “junk” genres.

Douglas Adams
Douglas Adams

The other topic for today’s reminiscence is Douglas Adams, the much-missed creator of Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillian, Marvin the android, and all the many odd entries in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Ford Prefect (David Dixon), Zaphod Beeblebrox (Mark Wing-Davey) and Trillian (Sandra Dickinson) in the TV version of H2G2.
Ford Prefect (David Dixon), Zaphod Beeblebrox (Mark Wing-Davey) and Trillian (Sandra Dickinson) in the TV version of H2G2.

Like a lot of H2G2 fans, I came to the series through the radio series, or more accurately, through a set of cassette tapes of the series (which I probably still have around here somewhere); my former roommate brought them home around 1981, and I picked up the books shortly thereafter. About a year later I got to watch the BBC TV series when it ran on cable TV; my friend Paul Fasmer had the premium package with both HBO and Showtime, so we had a viewing party every week for the run of the show.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: the paperback.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: the paperback.

Around February of 1985, I had been dating the woman who is now my wife for about three months, and she was as much of a nerd as I was, so we were both excited to learn that the great Douglas Adams himself would be doing an in-store signing at the famous sci-fi & fantasy bookstore known as “A Change of Hobbit”; we happily made the schlep to Santa Monica and got in line, each with our sets of the first three books.

At that time, Ivan Reitman, riding high after Ghostbusters, was reported to be developing H2G2 as his next movie. Of course this rumor was now almost two years old, so I had to ask Mr. Adams what was happening on the movie.

He sighed softly, regarded me with a raised eyebrow and a slight smile, and said “it’s proceeding at a glacial pace, at a rate imperceptible to the human eye.” He chose not to elaborate, but signed our books, shook our hands and thanked us for coming.

You can imagine how disappointed I was to learn that Reitman’s next film was in fact the 1986 Robert Redford vehicle, Legal Eagles. We had to wait until 2005, when the H2G2 film finally opened, appropriately enough on my bride’s 42nd birthday, which of course meant we had to throw a Hitchhikers-themed birthday party at a local restaurant, followed by attending opening night of the movie. There was a lot I liked about the movie (Henson’s Vogons, the wonderful animated infographics, Alan Rickman’s performance as Marvin, Bill Nighy’s delightful portrayal of Slartibartfast, and Zoey Deschanel as Trillian), and some I didn’t much care for (especially the design of Warwick Davis’ Marvin costume, the unnecessary love story and neatly-tied-up happy ending), but really what was missing was Douglas Adams; in a just world he would have lived to see his great story up on the big screen. Maybe someday somebody will try again, but in the meantime, the books and recordings and cheesy-but-charming TV series are right there waiting for you.

I’ll be wearing a towel over my shoulder today in honor of Douglas Adams, and I’ll probably play the Star Wars soundtrack at some point, because I am a hoopy frood. I hope you are too.

22 Comments

  1. M-Wolverine

    I’m not going to play the “my fandom is bigger than your fandom” card, but i will say you’re right in that I don’t think it can mean quite the same thing to you if you didn’t play with the action figures on your living room floor. It did become a bit of everything to you. And while I certainly didn’t see anything on opening day (Jedi I did; I remember the lines) we did have a movie theater at the end of our block. One of those on a business street but adjacent to neighborhoods one. And that must have played all summer. And I remember being in the front row with popcorn and just staying in the theater to watch it over and over. Probably watched it 3 times in a row at least once. You could do that back then. (And when it hit my friend’s new cable on this thing called “HBO”…well., how many times can you watch it in 24 hours?)

    1. “I donโ€™t think it can mean quite the same thing to you if you didnโ€™t play with the action figures on your living room floor.”

      What a perfect way to put it. Former DC editor Mike Carlin once said “the Golden Age is 8.” The things you love as a kid are always the best, regardless of their actual quality. There are so many things I love simply because I discovered them at an age when I was in the right age and mindset to love them completely. I was just slightly outside that window with Star Wars; I like it a lot, but I don’t LOVE it like I do the original Planet of the Apes. I’m not saying one is better than the other, they can’t really be compared, but one came to me at the right time.

      1. Le Messor

        What a perfect way to put it. Former DC editor Mike Carlin once said โ€œthe Golden Age is 8.โ€ The things you love as a kid are always the best, regardless of their actual quality.

        I’ve (relatively) recently decided that Star Wars (the original trilogy) is my favourite movie(s) because every time I talked about how to do a movie well, every time I brought up a movie that did it right (for any given value of ‘it’), it was always Star Wars. So, I’m gonna back up my nostalgia with quality.

        In this case. There are other things that I love because I loved them as a kid that… don’t have the same quality.

      2. M-Wolverine

        6 for Star Wars, 9 for Empire, 12 for Jedi. So yeah, not going to disagree with Carlin.

        It’d be interesting to see if you did a survey on who is harshest on the Prequels, if it is that age category. Because while I DO think they’re great movies, I wonder if the things people complain about in the prequels are (some) things that people let slide in the originals because they’ve elevated them, where as someone who just likes them or even really likes them might see the flaws and not see as big a jump with the problems of the prequels.

        For the record, I do think there’s an obvious quality difference, but I’m not one of those who think the destroyed my childhood either. I think they’re actually mostly good movies. They’re not not nearly as good as the original ones.

        But in any case, as much as I love being a SW OG, I’d probably give it up to be a kid today. Yeah, maybe SW would look like retro Dad movies to me, but man, I’m jealous of all the great choices they have now as growing up. Their actual comics might kinda suck, but the things coming from those are amazing. In an era ranging from TV Captain America to TV Hulk, to be able to see the actual Avengers on screen together…a Civil and Infinity War…as I said in the GotG2 review, a world where Ego the Living Planet is on screen as more than an Easter Egg, and is taken seriously by the general populace; just things I couldn’t have dreamed of. All at the same time as new Star Wars movies, animation renaissance, and everything else they keep churning out, and with much higher quality. Yeah, they’re stuck in an era where action means The Fast and the Furious instead of Lethal Weapon or Die Hard, but the pain of Transformers can’t match Superman IV and some of the stuff we had to live with. It’s a great time to be a kid.

  2. Le Messor

    I bet you thought Star Wars Day was May 4, right?

    You bet I did!

    Forty years ago today, May 25, 1977, marked the world premiere of Star Wars

    Gah! You told me this a day too late to do anything!

    Iโ€™ll probably play the Star Wars soundtrack at some point,

    … come to think of it, I did that. But only by coincidence.

    I first saw Star Wars when it first came out, in a drive-in, iirc (that may’ve been my second viewing). The creature cantina scene scared me half to death (gimme a break, I was five!). I didn’t want to go the second time – but the second time, I was no longer scared and fully loved it.

    My first exposure to Hitchhiker’s Guide was asking my parents what they were laughing about. ๐Ÿ™‚ I first read it a while later, but don’t remember my first reading all that well.
    BTW, the order you experienced it in is the publication order:
    http://channelawesome.com/the-confusing-timeline-of-the-hitchhikers-guide-to-the-galaxy-adaptations-the-dom-reviews/

    My first Discworld book was Moving Pictures. It was stand-alone, and I loved it. It could be a good jumping-on point for you, too.

    1. M-Wolverine

      Ha, don’t be sorry about being afraid. My (younger) brother’s first movie was the King Kong remake, but he doesn’t remember it like I don’t remember mine (Fantasia). But his first movie memory at what had to be like 2 years old is the Sand Person jumping out at Luke Skywalker. It was scary enough he remembers that from a first viewing, vs. all the other stuff he’s seen a million times in reviewings.

      (And yes, we remember our first movies having seen them since, but talking about the first time in the theater).

          1. Le Messor

            ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s actually not bad, most of the time. I go swimming there all the time, usually in the exact spots both those videos were filmed.

            (Also… don’t look at the comments on the second; I’d only ever seen that one on YouTube, but it’s no longer there, so I found the actual site and posted before looking at them myself. NSFW. Apologies.)

  3. Greg Burgas

    Have you watched Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency yet? It’s … something. It’s supposed to take place after the two books, as Dirk makes reference to Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (very obliquely, but still), but while it’s not a bad show, it doesn’t feel like Dirk. He’s far too involved in things, which I guess you need if you’re paying an actor, but he feels like a too-big presence in the show, which makes it less weird, or weird in a different way (because it’s still pretty weird). But it’s not bad, and I hope the second season improves on what they did in this one. (And for some reason it takes place in Seattle, not London. Like I said – weird.)

  4. Jeff Nettleton

    Hey, wait a minute; the movie didn’t introduce anyone to the word sith! It is never uttered once. The novelization and the comic books might have introduced them to that. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I still recall seeing the original teaser trailer when we went to see some film (I wanna say it was one of the pink Panther movies; but I don’t recall). I thought that darth Vader was a giant, because of the closeup of him, in Leia’s cell, from a low angle; I though the Death Star scenes and the Mos Eisley scenes were all from the same city/planet/whatever, and the image I had in my head was more like a Ray Harryhausen film. That changed when I saw the first three issues of the Marvel comic, which my friend had. Never did see Darth Vader drink that cup of coffee in the movie, though..

    Another friend had the novelization, and I glanced at the back cover, where the synopsis mention Luke taking up his father’s lightsaber and had a mental picture of it hanging over a mantlepiece and Luke taking it down, for his adventure (I had seen the Frank Langella Mark of Zorro just a few years before, so that cropped into my brain, reading that passage).

    My grandparents lived in Bloomington, IL and we used to drive past a drive-in theater, going to and from their house. They showed Star Wars and that is the way to see it, on that giant screen. Granted, the speakers probably sucked, but, this was before stereo sound, in most theaters, anyway!

    1. M-Wolverine

      Sith aren’t in the original trilogy, but it was a term. I’d have to go back to the novelization to see if it gets mentioned. I remember Palpatine does, but I don’t know about that. But I remember magazine articles like Starlog and such mentioning one of Vader’s titles as a “Dark Lord of the Sith” and no one having any idea what that meant and speculating. We thought we might find out in Empire or Jedi, but yeah, not so much.

      (And if you want to be pedantic he’s right, it did introduce us to the Sith. It just never called them that. Just like it introduced us to a whole bunch of ships and aliens and things that had names that are never uttered in the movies, but appeared on toy cards and boxes. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

        1. M-Wolverine

          Ah, but he was in the novelizations, which I was referring to-

          Alan Dean Foster’s ANH novelization in 1976:
          Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the government, and the massive organs of commerce, the ambitious Senator Palpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic. He promised to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restore the remembered glory of the Republic. Once secure in office he declared himself Emperor, shutting himself away from the populace. Soon he was controlled by the very assistants and boot-lickers he had appointed to high office, and the cries of the people for justice did not reach his ears (George Lucas [Alan Dean Foster], Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker (paperback; New York: Del Rey, 1976), p. 1, ISBN 0-345-26079-1.)

          The 1983 novelization for Return of the Jedi by James Kahn:
          The Emperor sat, regarding this view, as Vader approached from behind. The Lord of the Sith kneeled and waited. The Emperor let him wait. He perused the vista before him with a sense of glory beyond all reckoning: this was all his. And more glorious still, all his by his own hand.

          For it wasn’t always so. Back in the days when he was merely Senator Palpatine, the galaxy had been a Republic of stars, cared for and protected by the Jedi Knighthood that had watched over it for centuries. But inevitably it had grown too large – too massive a bureaucracy had been required, over too many years, in order to maintain the Republic. Corruption had set in.

          https://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/71843/how-did-people-know-emperor-palpatines-name-before-the-release-of-prequel-trilo

          1. Le Messor

            Thank you!

            For me, I’d have modified that stack exchange question just a little: “How did I know Emperor Palpatine’s name before the release of the prequel trilogy?”

  5. Hal

    I’m sorry…what’s Star Wars? *smirks*
    With the proliferation of “Days” celebrating genre milestones, soon enough every “property” (as people have been trained to refer to them, jaws slavering like Pavlov’s dogs) or event will be celebrated, I look forward to carrying a candle in honour of Claudia Blaidel Carrington Day commemorating the day on which she set fire to La Mirage on Dynasty, wearing prosthetic ears mimicking Xon for Star Trek Phase II Day (celebrating the day on which the first episode of that series would have aired…if it had been made), sporting a fake mustache and khaki shorts as Jonathan Quayle Higgins III for Magnum, PI Day, bearing a squint and bad clothes whilst talking about someone named “Gooshie” and to a machine called “Ziggy” for Quantum Leap Day… Oh, and getting made up as a scary clown/creature from elsewhere for IT Day!

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