THE STAR WARS YEARS
This is the first installment of a new monthly column called “Growing Up Fanboy”, where I’ll talk about my experiences growing up in a world of fandom in a small city in Upstate New York called Utica in the 70’s and 80’s. I’ll write about a variety of topics such as movies, toys, comics, TV shows, music, games, and different places around the New York area. I had a great time growing up in that era and in that location. Tons of wonderful memories, now I would like to share them with you.
THE STAR WARS YEARS:
One of my best memories as a kid was seeing the science-fiction epic, Star Wars, for the first time. When it first came out in 1977 I was only four years old and I can still remember a few moments in that time in my life when I first saw trailers to the film on TV. The characters stood out the most for me from Darth Vader, Stormtroopers, the droids, and all the creatures in the cantina scene. The film was everywhere from T-shirts to magazines where ever you looked it was there. I really can’t remember a time when there was no Star Wars in this world. I can remember my Uncle talking about the film before I got a chance to go see it. He would tell me about all the cool characters in the movie and all the awesome spaceships and effects. I couldn’t wait to see this movie. Then sometime in the summer of ’77 I finally got to see it. Still to this day I can remember bits and pieces about that day. I saw the film with my Mom, Grandparents, and my Uncle, it was a big family outing. The theater that it was at was one of the main theaters in the city (I can’t seem to remember the name of it) that ran first-run films.
I believe there was only one screen at the theater. This was still a few years before our big mall (Sangertown Square) opened up with only six screens at the time, although we did have a smaller mall (Riverside Mall) that was opened at the time as well which had three movie screens but not sure if they had their theaters built in 1977.
As we entered the theater, I remember sitting in the front row or somewhere close to the front. When the lights dimmed and the projector started to roll, one of the greatest space fantasy stories came across the screen and it was an awesome moment. Although I can’t remember what was going through my mind when watching it for the first time, I just remember thinking this was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. It was larger than life to me, a comic book come alive. The colorful characters, the gigantic spaceships, the sound, the music, everything was just great. Before seeing Star Wars I really only saw Disney cartoons at the theater or Looney Toons cartoons on television. I was never really interested in any live action show or movie unless it was a cartoon, but Star Wars changed that. I was hooked on that film. Once the film was over, I asked my Mom if we could see it again. I think a saw Star Wars in a theater about maybe 10 times during its several theatrical runs. I was just the right age when Star Wars came out. It had a great impact on my life and it was a very huge moment in my generation and also a big moment in motion picture history. It also changed the world of fandom and made a great impact.
Everyone knows that Star Wars changed the world of movie merchandising. Although there were merchandising for films before then, Star Wars took it to another level. Like I said before the film was everywhere. Toys, clothes, posters, magazines, books, cups, masks, etc., you name it, Star Wars was on it. I become a huge collector of the film. After seeing it I wanted everything Star Wars. It was the first thing I was really into as a kid, although before Star Wars I was big into Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, and Hulk, but Star Wars I really embraced and was on my mind all the time.
Like every other kid at that time, the biggest thing I collected was the toys. The first action figure set to come out include Luke, Han, Leia, The Droids (C-3PO and R2-D2), Obi-Wan, Chewbacca, Vader, Stormtrooper, Death Squad Commander, Jawa, and Sand People. I remember collecting them all. All the toys at the time were put out by Kenner. They also put out many of the space ships from the film such as the X-Wing, Tie Fighter, Millennium Falcon, and many others. They also had plenty of playsets for the action figures like the Death Star, Creature Cantina, and later they would put out playsets from the others films like the Hoth Ice Planet, Imperial Attack Base, and Jabba’s Dungeon just to name a few. Also Sears catalog would have an exclusive playset that came with a few figures that didn’t come out in stores yet that they had for Christmas only. I remember getting Cloud City and the Rebel Command Center. Most of these playsets where just cardboard and weren’t plastic like the ordinary playsets.
Another offer Kenner had was if you saved up enough proofs of purchase you can get a free figure before it hit stores. Some of the ones they had were Yoda, The Emperor, Anakin, and some others, but the first one the ever had in this offer was Boba Fett and I remember sending away for him. Now this was a year before The Empire Strikes Back came out and the had this exclusive figure from the new movie. Originally the figure’s missile in the back launch out by pressing a button on the figures back, but they discontinued that figure because some kid shot his eye out (Christmas Story comes to mind) I believe. So, they had to fix the figure for the missile didn’t launched. I think by the time I got it the figure got fixed and I was very disappointed it wasn’t the originally one. Kenner also made some dolls of some of the main characters. I had a Luke Skywalker doll. They also put out micro and die-cast figures, ships, and playsets.
Years later I always wondered why Kenner never made a Grand Moff Tarkin action figure. I always found that strange because they made almost every single character in the film and even ones that you didn’t really see. Tarkin played by the legendary Peter Cushing finally got a figure later on some 20 years later when Kenner was putting out brand new figures from all three films. They also never made a Uncle Ben and Aunt Beru figures.
Other things I added to my collection other then the toys were T-shirts, hats, I had a bed spread from Empire, different glasses and cups that were put out by Burger King and other fast food places. I remember having Star Wars birthday parties all with hats, plates, cups and place mates. I had a Star Wars projector, I had a book and record of the film. I had board games. Also had several books about the movie and another thing that I was big on collecting was the comic book series put out by Marvel. It first started with the comic book adaptation of the film then it went on to have originally stories that followed Luke, Han, and Leia in new adventures battling the Empire. Lots of the stories in the comics were very cool and pretty much stayed true to the films. Marvel kept out the Star Wars comics up until 1986 and I almost have all the issues with missing a few here and there and I collected it up until close to the end.
THE IMPACT OF STAR WARS:
After Star Wars was released, science-fiction hit a big boom. There was sci-fi stuff everywhere. From different types of generic wanna-be Star Wars toys to tons of sci-fi shows on TV. It was a great time to be a kid. I remember tuning in to watch Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers. One thing after watching Star Wars was that I became a science-fiction fan. Anything with space ships, aliens, or robots, I was there. The film changed pop culture at that time and there was so much science-fiction out there in movies, TV, comics, cartoons, it was all over the place. Star Wars even had a holiday special back in 1978 that featured original cast members plus guest stars Art Carney, Bea Arthur, Harvey Korman and musical guest as well like Jefferson Starship. I remember watching it as a kid and in later years not really remembering much about it except a cool cartoon they showed in it with Boba Fett. Sometime in the mid 90’s a got ahold of a copy of the special and say how bad it was, but the cartoon was still cool and the whole thing was funny to watch.
With the big impact that Star Wars had it was very certain that a second film was going to release soon. Around ’78, ’79 there was buzz all over that a new Star Wars film was coming. With Boba Fett showing up in the holiday special and Kenner launching the action figure to the Empire Strikes Back character it was just a matter of time the brand new film hit theaters and I was very excited. Back in the summer of 1979 I remember my Mom taking me to the theater to see what I thought was the new Star Wars film, but it was the re-release of the first film. I think they might have had a teaser for Empire advertising it was coming out next years. I was very disappointed that I had to wait a whole ‘nother for the new one.
Finally in May of 1980, The Empire Strikes Back hit theaters. Now seven years old and in school, I can remember Star Wars was on the brain with every kid at that time, especially when the sequel was about to come out. Gong to see Empire was another family outing and also viewing at the same theater I watched the first one. I believe a year or two later that theater closed down. Empire was just as good if not better than the first film and with the shocking ending of Darth Vader being Luke’s father, as a kid that blew my mind and left me hanging waiting for the next film to see what was going to happen next.
Three years later in 1983 when Return of the Jedi (originally called Revenge of the Jedi) came out it marked the end of the Star Wars series, so we thought. I also remember around that time Star Wars started to die down and other movies, TV shows, comics, or cartoons became the interest of kids in the 1980s. At the time I wondered if there was going to be new Star Wars film ever again. Then in 1999, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released. I was really excited to see a brand new Star Wars movie. But when I saw it I was very disappointed. I wanted to like it but couldn’t. It just didn’t capture the feel of the first three films. The characters weren’t as good as Luke, Han, Leia and others and the film seem to look like a video game or cartoon that was geared just for kids. After Episode I, two more films came, which were better than Phantom Menace, but still didn’t capture the magic of the original trilogy.
Today I always wonder if movies or TV shows I liked as kid, if I’ll still like them when I’m older. There’s been a few movies or shows I liked in the past and seen again years later and wonder why did I like this? Well, Star Wars stood the test of time for me. I still enjoy the movie to this day and never tire of watching it after all these years. It’s my favorite film of all time. I also think Star Wars helped my creative side and after seeing it I wanted to make my own stories of sci-fi/fantasy. Seeing it for the first time got me hooked to movies in general and I wanted to be a part of that world. I was very fortunate to be a part of that area and to witness this great science-fiction epic.