May 4 2011 12:50pm

Vivid Memories of Star Wars

Happy May the 4th, everyone! We thought we'd take a break from our Star Trek Movie Marathon to celebrate the anniversary of that other famed starfaring saga: Space: Above and Beyond Star Wars!

Below you'll find some of the staff reminiscing on their most vivid Star Wars-related memories, including schoolboy awkwardness, acid dealers, and things that really should have scared us more than they did.

Share your own memories in the comments! And check back later today, because we're not done loving on Star Wars just yet.

Star Wars Jedi Academy TrilogyEmily Asher-Perrin (Editorial Assistant):

So many memories from my childhood involve Star Wars in some shape or form, but I think the one that stands apart from the rest actually has very little to do with Star Wars at all. It happened in junior high; I was at my most awkward (most of us are around that age), in a new school and plenty of the kids thought I was a spectacularly weird. I eventually discovered that this was mostly due to the fact that I read between classes and actually seemed to enjoy being in school—apparently, that was very uncool.

Right before math class one day, I was sitting at my desk reading a Star Wars book. A boy approached me tentatively:

Boy: Hey.
Me: Um. Hey.
Boy: That’s a good Star Wars book.
Me: ...Yeah.
Boy: *nod*

That was the entirety of the conversation, in all of its wince-worthy pre-teen glory. But that boy quickly became one of my very best friends and, all these years later, he still is. Just because he saw a girl at school reading a book that he liked. The tale of that first exchange has never stopped being funny to either of us and we get a laugh out of telling the story to people who don’t know us well, acting it out with all the floor gazing, confused blinking and half-stammers. I know that many of us often feel like there are certain people who we are “meant” to know, but sometimes the ways in which those people enter our lives are the most unexpected, inconsequential ones.

Sometimes, you just happen to be reading a Star Wars book before math class.


Ryan Britt (Staff Writer):

I have so many childhood memories associated with Star Wars that picking just one is almost as impossible as bulls-eying a womprat while doing a handstand with Jar Jar Binks singing Lionel Richie songs in my ear. But here goes:

If you were into Star Wars at any point prior to the post 1997 hype, there was something a little purer about all the merchandising stuff. In 1990, I couldn’t buy a lightsaber toy even if I wanted to. This was just fine by me, as I had read that a true Jedi builds their own. Using pictures of Luke’s saber from my Return of the Jedi storybook, I hunted through my father’s tool shed for parts. (We fixed all our own cars at my house, and pretty much had a MacGyver sensibility about any repairs.) This meant there was a lot of junk lying around in the shed; spare parts for all kinds of machines. The handle of my lightsaber was a discarded sprinkler shaft; the kind that would protrude up from the lawn and spray water all over the place. For the round emitter of Luke’s Jedi-era saber, I found an old engine piston and slipped it inside the sprinkler shaft. After spray-painting the whole thing silver, it was done.

Two things are great about my 10-year-old lightsaber creation. 1.) Anyone who sees it immediately knows it’s a lightsaber. 2.) It’s tiny. This lightsaber was made for a child’s hands, and as such is about as authentic as any lightsaber can get.


Bridget McGovern (Blog Manager):

I guess it’s finally time for my dark secret to come to light: before I embraced my geek destiny as a Star Wars fan, I was in love with The Ewok Adventure. To be fair: I was five, and crazy about movies like The Dark Crystal, The Last Unicorn, and The Never-Ending Story, so the fact that the made-for-TV Ewok movies nudged the Star Wars universe even further away from its SF trappings into the more familiar realm of fantasy (complete with magic crystals and evil, parent-stealing trolls) made it a natural fit. And frankly, what kid didn’t want an Ewok best friend in the mid-eighties? It was only when I got a little older that I realized that the trilogy was actually far more interesting than whatever side stories were happening on the forest moon of Endor, but I still have to credit Wicket W. Warrick with sparking my interest in that galaxy, far, far away. (And it could have been way worse: luckily, I wasn’t exposed to the Star Wars Holiday Special until I was old enough to drink...).


Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Editorial Director):

I saw Star Wars in the first week of June, 1977, about a week after it opened. I lived in Toronto at the time, but I’d been attending Disclave, the then-annual Washington, DC science fiction convention, over Memorial Day weekend, and I then traveled to New York City with miscellaneous fannish friends. We went to the Loews’ theater off of Times Square.

It was an unforgettable cinematic experience, I’m sure, but specific memories of it are much overlaid with memories of subsequent viewings, of other (and mostly lesser) Lucas films, and of later adventure SF influenced by it. What remains vivid in memory is less the film itself than the vignette, inside the theater, of New York City at the far end of its endless cycle of decay and regeneration. “Loose joints, loose joints,” cried a scruffy drug dealer as he ambled up and down the aisles, just like a popcorn seller at a baseball game. “Acid, loose joints, acid. If there’s a cop in the audience, gimme a break, I gotta make a living.” The air was thick, and not just because people still smoked tobacco in movie theaters in 1977. No cops presented themselves. From the row behind us came a stinging chemical smell. “Amyl nitrate,” a friend explained to me. “You know, poppers.”

This is the New York City that time forgot, the city cast adrift, FEDS TO NY: DROP DEAD. No money, no future, an overheated stew of decline looking forward to more decline. This was the New York City in which vast tracts of Manhattan that are today crowded with shoppers were then bleak stretches of “urban decay.” This was also the New York City of the high summer of punk rock, a time when real, working artists and musicians and writers could afford to crowd into Manhattan.This was the actual Wild West on which we’ve now built Frontierland.

In effect, I first saw Star Wars in Bellona. I remember Bellona.

Stubby the Rocket is the voice and mascot of and can make any kind of run in a limited number of parsecs.

Chris Hawks
1. SaltManZ
I remember one year my parents judged all of us kids to be old enough, and we sat down New Year's Eve with rented VHS tapes of the original trilogy and watched the whole thing straight through. (Probably eating popcorn and fudge.) I had seen snippets of Empire at the neighbor's house, but that was my first full exposure to Star Wars, and it was glorious.

Sometime later, in elementary school, I picked up Brian Daley's Han Solo at Star's End from the school library and read it I don't know how many times. Much later, my dad picked up the Timothy Zahn hardcovers for me as they came out, and I was hooked on the Expanded Universe. I just about gave up on the novels when the New Jedi Order books came out, but when the series was close to halfway through (senior year of college, I think) I gave in and picked them up and discovered the best sequence in the entirety of the EU. Matthew Stover's book Traitor blew me away, and on the strength of that book I picked up Stover's original work and am now a diehard Stover fan.
David Thomson
2. ZetaStriker
My first memory of Star Wars is of being three years old, watching enthralled as man after man tumbled down that dirt slope into the dreaded maw of "Jabba the Hutt"(for some reason I was never able to tell the difference between Jabba and the Sarlacc as a child. No, I don't know either). In my memories, any clear picture of which was lost into the blurry realm that any toddler's memorable experiences fade into as they learn and grow, I had it wrong. I had the image of a giant Jabba, hanging out at the bottom of a dune with his mouth open, while Princess Leia kind of threw herself down that sandy slope, golden bikini and all.

Imagine my embarrassment later on, when I saw the remastered versions and became fascinated with the universe. I went on to devour the expanded universe, stopping only after the mismanagement of Jacen's character growth in the Yuuzhan Vong saga and my dislike of the Prequels pushed me away from the fandom. But to this day that initial image, of a fat Hutt devouring people like the Cave of Wonders from Aladdin, remains in my mind.
3. mdunnbass
It was 1986, and I was 10 years old. I had more toys than any 10 year old should, but I only played with my Legos and my Star Wars action figure collection. I had the X-wing, the Y-wing, an AT-AT, Ewok Village, dozens of action figures, the whole kit and kaboodle. I even had the large Darth Vader Helmet Action Figure Carrying Case.

One Saturday, while I was out riding my bike, my Dad decided that we had too much junk in the house, and he wanted to throw a spur of the moment garage sale. He gathered stuff from throughout the house, but when he went into my room, he didn't touch any of the toys that sat there gathering dust. He went straight to my Star Wars collection. He gathered up Every. Single. Action. Figure. He took them all. He wound up selling the lot for something like $50. By the time I got home, the garage sale was winding down, and they were long gone.

I can't even imagine what the street value of all those toys would be today, but to that 10 year old boy, they were worth the moon and more. I was utterly heartbroken.

David Thomson
4. ZetaStriker
SaltManZ@1: I felt the same way about Traitor. The way other authors seemed to ignore Jacen's growth in the books that followed is what felt so false to me that I had to divorce myself from the EU entirely.
Bill Siegel
5. ubxs113
Space: Above and Beyond is highly underrated, seriously.
Susan Meek
6. smeek1958
I saw the first Star Wars movie in a theatre, with my mother. We were both just blown away by the visuals; giant spaceships, dirt and worn out stuff; just the look of the film was amazing. Such a huge leap from other sci-fi movies of the time.
Ryan Britt
7. ryancbritt
@Ubx: Small preview.
We are currently reminiscing about Space: Above and Beyond and will likely be running some stuff about it soon.
Jody Crocker
9. Jei
I saw the first movie in the very front row of the theater with my husband, brother & cousin. Nothing like those fighters flying right in your face! and the sound - music, light sabers, etc. Loved the original trilogy & read many of the books. Was delighted when my grandson turned out to be a Star Wars fan too (he still is).
Irene Gallo
10. Irene
I have to admit, Star Wars was more my brothers thing when it came out. I was seven years old and for some odd reason Close Encounters struck a deeper cord with me at first — maybe I was young enough that the gentler story was more comforting. But Star Wars was a huge influence on how we played as kids. Trading cards and magazines were coveted. It introduced us to the idea symphony music, by listening to the soundtracks. And while I don’t remembering having the action figures, I do remember the larger models. We (we meaning my brothers and me getting in the way) would animated them flying and being blown up with fire crackers on Super8 film.

Today, Dave’s movie making skills turned to theatre and now he’s a Broadway set designer, Bob is still very much engaged in gamming, and I’m working at Tor Books. Clearly Star Wars, along with D&D and Tolkien, irrevocably fed our imaginations.

My office door:
11. Chang Terhune
After seeing it for the first time I remember leaving the theatre with my brother to ride our bikes home. The day was brilliantly sunny and I was high as a kit on this film that would change my life forever. I was so blissfully unaware of reality that I rode my bike straight into a curb and flipped ass over teakettle. I lay on the sidewalk, scraped, bruised and bloodied with the wind knocked out of me. But I didn't care for I had seen the future and it was a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
randy gallegos
12. gallegosart
It ends up that seeing SW in the theater was probably the earliest thing I can remember. It was probably the '79 re-release, which would have made me 4 or so. Ok, so I have one earlier memory of being in my crib. Or I was still in my crib at 4 or so. Anyway...

All I remember is that I must have fallen asleep in my seat before the movie started. I was awoken by the sound of the giant starships flying overhead in the opening scene, and was absolutely transfixed at the scale and mindblowing awesomeness I was seeing. Whatever work my parents had done in molding my young mind to that point was undone as my brain proceeded to melt and be re-cast in the mold of a fantasy illustrator. From then on I began drawing spaceships, monsters, robots and so on...and sorta never stopped. The End.
Michael Burke
13. Ludon
I was in college when the first Star Wars (Episode IV to the young'ens) movie came out. I had read the book a month or two earlier and thought it had been okay and I already owned the soundtrack on LP but those hadn't prepared me for what I'd see on the screen. Wow! Here was a world in which people lived. As with 2001: A Space Odyssey, these people belonged where we saw them. Only, unlike 2001's projection of N.A.S.A's clean-room spacecraft, in this world the space ships were as dirty as the family car. The rebel fighters could look right sitting on a bush field in Alaska or Canada and the TIE Fighters could be imagined overflying Red Square on May Day. Star Wars had made science fiction mainstream not by setting itself in our everyday world (Day The Earth Stood Still) but by drawing the everyday world into its universe. This is my lasting impression of my first look into that long ago galaxy so far away.
j p
14. sps49
Ryan Britt is so correct about the merchandise- I wanted models, but all you could really get was action figures (and never the good ones). I had to build a Millenium Falcon from two Apollo CM heat shields, an SPS-49 antenna from a USS Nimitz model, and other random bits from plastic model kits.

Bamboo with duct tape grips was fine for lightsabers, though.
15. Lucy Blue Castle
My best friend and I became best friends the summer Star Wars (Episode IV, I know, I know) came out, in 1977, when she was 12 and I had just turned 13. We lived in a tiny little town in South Carolina, so the movie didn't actually make it to us until almost July when it was already a huge sensation everywhere else. We knew nothing about any of that; we just knew the previews on TV looked sooooo goood. Even though it had a PG rating, somehow or another her cool mom convinced my Baptist mom that we'd be fine seeing it all on our own, so we went the first Friday afternoon it opened, first show, 12 noon. We stayed for the next two shows and were dragged away in tears by my dad halfway through the 8 pm show, an hour past our curfew. The next day, we went back with more friends in tow, and I know we saw it at least a dozen more times before we started back to school in August. Our crushes on Luke Skywalker (I was 14 before I realized Han Solo was ever so much more sexy) gave us stuff to talk about that sounded like any other conversation between boy crazy teenybopper girls. (Justin Bieber with a light sabre? Perish the thought!) But much more than that, we talked about the story, about what could have happened before, what might happen next. We wanted to live in that universe, and we disdained anybody who didn't. We were nerds together, and it made us friends for life.
Drew Holton
16. Dholton
My most vivid memory of Star Wars was the night I saw it the week it came out in 1977 at the age of 13. It was playing in Denver at the largest screen in town, called the Cooper theater. Now this was right before the days of the multiplex theaters, so there was the main theater, and almost as an experiment they had what they called the Cameo theater.
Again, this was before the summer blockbusters became the norm, and the only thing comparable to it was Jaws two years earlier in 1975. So we were not expecting what we found, which was a huge line around the building, a very large cylindrical building (with a curved screen!). And this wasn't to buy tickets, it was people with tickets waiting to get in (scrogglement causing at the time).
Reluctantly, we went inside, where they only had tickets for the midnight showing, a couple hours away, and we'd have to stand in a long line for that, with no guarantee they wouldn't sell out. Despair ensued. But my Mom, in addition to being cool and willing to let us watch the late show if we could get tickets, had a burst of genius and asked if we purchased tickets for the movie currently playing in the Cameo, if we could also buy tickets for the midnight Star Wars. The poor ticket girl, either from inexperience, frazzlement or being touched by our guardian angels said "Uh...sure."
So we got to go into the middle of a comedy that (being kids) we'd already seen twice before, rather that wait standing in line. The rest, as they say, was history, as the iconic image of the Star Destroyer passed over my 13 year old head, and I gaped in awe.
The kicker was something that I didn't realize until years later. The comedy that got us those golden tickets was Neil Simon's Murder by Death, starring (among many others).....Alec Guinness.
James Whitehead
17. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
Star Wars stayed at my home town theatre for the entire summer and frequenty had lines going down the street. I remember seeing a preview where Luke was fiddling with R2D2 & thinking to myself"What a cool movie! A guy fixes robots to fight each other!" (I had seen R2 shoot by the Jawas in same trailer). What can I say, I was 9. ;-)

We saw the movie lots during the summer. We even saw it at a drive in; and let me tell you, there's nothing like seeing an 18 foot tall Darth Vader.

Funniest thing I remember, however, is that for all the times my dad took us to see the movie, and we went numerous time, he never once made it through the movie. He always fell asleep during the movie. Star Trek was more his scene.

18. HighWiredSith
Starting where it all started, not with episode one but with episode four:

It was the last day of school. It was one of those rare school-day mornings when you are actually magnanimous to leap out of bed, put on your well-worn school clothes, grab your books for the last time and run out of the door. It was the last day of school in May 1977 and I had just successfully completed the first grade. As I raced out of the kitchen door my mom told me, rather off hand, “You don’t need to ride the bus this afternoon; your father is picking you up.” I don’t recall with what words I acknowledged her, but I do recall thinking that it was rather out of the ordinary for my father to pick me up after school. It had happened before, but it always predicated a specific function or reason, something like a visit to the dentist or a trip to buy new shoes for church. But, I was only six years old (to be seven in a few days) and by the time I reached the bus stop, all thoughts and imaginations about my father picking me up after school had vanished from my mind. Little did I know my life was to change forever that afternoon.

In the weeks preceding the last day of school, a small murmur about a particular film (we called them movies back then) had begun to surface among groups of boys in the playground, in the cafeteria; whispers during spelling drills. These were accompanied by images of strange looking spacecraft, great featureless gray globes, odd looking robots (I didn’t know what a “droid” was), and roughly hewn characters sporting the kind of haircuts the big kids wore and outrageous outfits accompanied by sidearms of an unusual and thrilling sort. It was compelling and mesmerizing and, with the enthusiastic talk that went alongside, almost mythical. To have seen that film was to have taken a step into that mythology, that magic that so entwines boys at that age.

That afternoon, as promised, my father was waiting on me, standing in a shirt and tie beside his company car. I climbed into the Ford Pinto and immediately asked where we might be off to.
“An early birthday present” he replied and said nothing more.

As we turned into the parking lot of the local cinema, my heart began to race, my eyes widened to twice their normal size and, with a lump in my throat, I croaked “Are you taking me to see…?”
“Yes” was his reply. We didn’t even need to say it.

What developed over the next two hours was nothing less than movie magic, a kind of magic that VHS snuffed out around 1987. I watched in awe as I was transported to a galaxy far, far away. There was no talking dogs, no cartoon dragons, and no Volkswagen bugs with giddy personalities. Suddenly the spaceships of Star Trek and Buck Rogers were forever replaced by starships, robots replaced by droids, and laser guns replaced by blasters! It was fun, it was amazing, and it was downright impressive, even for a six year old (soon to be seven!)

What I watched that day would define my childhood and, in a way, shape my adulthood. My Hotwheels cars and indiscriminate plastic armymen were suddenly outrageously inadequate. By Christmas my room was nothing less than a shrine to the magic that was Star Wars.

Ironically, I would not see it again for another four years, yet I lived it and played it out nearly every day of those four years. On an otherwise forgetful day in 1981 my father came home with a contraption he called a Video Cassette Recorder. I saw little use for this huge piece of hardware until, about six months later, an odd new establishment opened up in our small town in a portable building next to the Dairy Delite. It was called a video rental store. I was soon to be in Star Wars heaven. I watched it four times back to back on a single Saturday, reliving the magic that had washed over me that May afternoon so many years before.

Star Wars was new, it was fresh, and it was exciting. It involved characters that defined who we wanted to be when we grew up, characters who were fearless and fun, brave and real. Did I want to be Han Solo or Luke Skywalker? I don’t even remember, probably both.

Perhaps I am unable to give an objective review of Star Wars and perhaps this makes me unable to look at the prequels with any amount of objectivity. The plot was simple, straightforward, and easy to follow. We simply watched as characters we cared about and genuinely liked all took their first steps into a new world and had fun doing it. Did Padme have as much fun assaulting the Naboo palace to oust the Trade Federation as Han Solo had fighting his way out of The Death Star? Not even close!

And the action! The trench run still impresses me to this day. The fact that it was filmed using Popsicle sticks, battleship models, ping pong tables and a jeep makes it all that more impressive.

This was a milestone in film history, an achievement that has yet to be topped and, with the inception of the computer graphics age, probably never will. The films that followed would, in so many ways, go beyond this film yet they would never achieve the mystical magic that Star Wars achieved. In a time when films like Jaws, Smokey and the Bandit, and Rocky defined the highest essence of film, Star Wars went in a radically different direction, openly taking the old and sending into a brave new orbit, redefining a genre and redefining film itself.

And my reaction on that day in May, 1977, I knew then, at six years old, that this, this film was going to change my life. Here I am, 25 years later, sitting in a cubicle working for a billion dollar company, still dreaming about that day.
19. icantthinkofone
OK, so my first memories aren't so rosy. Seeing Episode IV when I was way too young and easily scared and being traumatized by the trash compactor. Followed by my parents thinking Empire wasn't such a good idea, and my cousin (curse her!) ruining the end when I hadn't seen it.

Yeah, Star Wars was more of an adult interest for me.
Steven Halter
20. stevenhalter
I saw it in July of 1977 in a theater in Des Moines. That was the first chance I had to go with a friend and his older brother. The theater was less memorable than Patrick's, but I can still remember the thrill of the star destroyers appearing on the screen.
Matt London
21. MattLondon
@pnh It is strange to think that the summer of Star Wars was also the summer of sam, blackouts, Studio 54, Plato's Retreat, CBGBs, the birth of hip hop. It makes me feel like my generation is so sterile with our M&M stores and walks through central park at night..

I don't remember my first time watching Star Wars. It's one of those things that has always been in my consciousness, like George Washington or the Mona Lisa. I remember hearing my parents' story about seeing not the film, but the trailer for the first time. Apparently my dad and his friend went out to the lobby to buy popcorn during the previews, leaving my mom and her friend inside to see it. When the boys returned, the girls were nearly hysterical "THEYWEREFLYIGNTHROUGHSPACEANDHADLASERSWORDSANDTALKINGROBOTSANDFURRYALIENS." It was like nothing they had ever seen, they said, and growing up I remember treating those fifteen minutes before any movie started with such reverence, because you never knew if you might see the preview for the next Star Wars.

Also, when I was younger, I had a vivid memory of a "phantom scene" from Return of the Jedi, in which Luke encounters a blue glowing Obi-wan as he sneaks his way through the second death star, alone, on his way to confront the emperor. Of course, such a scene never existed in any version of Star Wars, which is strange, because I still have memories not only of the scene, of the room where I saw it. The Letters to the Editor page of the Star Wars Insider often had comments about phantom scenes like this -- sequences that fans remembered vividly from old VHS tapes -- but were dreamed.
22. Staar84
"Sometimes, you just happen to be reading a Star Wars book before math class."

I used to carry books with me to read between classes, and more often than not, they were Star Wars books. I read the Han Solo trilogy entirely at school. No one ever talked to me about it though :(

My very first memory of Star Wars was watching what must have been a marathon on TV. I was three, but I vaguely remember the scene where Obi-wan dies, and then later the speeder bike chase from Return of the Jedi and thinking "This movie is really long!".

On a side note, before I really understood what it meant I used to say "Help me Obi-wan Kenobi, you're my only hope" to our dog, whose name was Oly (Oh-lee).
Jordan Hamessley
23. Jordache
Random anecdotes:

I had a Star Wars birthday party when I was in third or fourth grade and I was really pissed off that Mark Hamill didn't show up.

I also avidly collected the Bend-Ems action figures and had all of them except Boba Fett.

I had two cats named Luke and Leia and a dog named Jedi.

Oh yeah, and I was Yoda for Halloween.

I miss being a kid.
24. LAJG
@19: My parents wouldn't let me see it when it came out because they thought I would be too scared. Even though I was upset with them at the time (since all my friends had seen it), they were probably right.

I finally saw the first movie when it was aired on tv. I saw Return of the Jedi in the theatre when it came out, and saw Empire Strikes Back when we finally got a VCR a couple of years later. Luckily, I don't worry too much about spoilers!
David Betz
25. RDBetz
Seeing Star Wars was my first official date with my future wife. When we saw The Empire Strikes Back she was 8 months pregnant with our first child.
26. Onambarwen
I don't remember a time when I didn't know about Star Wars. My dad is geek, so I grew up sci-fi. But I remember when I was about 10, my brother made an AD&D campaign for my sisters and I where we were training to become jedi knights.

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