1977: The Big One
By Troy Brownfield
It is, I suppose, inevitable that the Flashback would eventually take us to 1977 for one particular foundation-shaking moment in the history of popular culture. I wasn’t quite four, but it would have a huge impact on me nonetheless. Let’s for a moment throw out prequels, CG series, video games, expanded universe novels, comic books, and even all but a few toys. Let’s focus, instead, on that time when “Star Wars” was new.
1977 in general: At the movies, you were seeing . . . ah, who are we kidding? “Star Wars” stomped everything else. A baseline of 270 million (and remember, that’s 1977 bucks), and the nearest competitor was “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” with $82.75 million. The next two were “Saturday Night Fever” and “Smokey and the Bandit”. In terms of music, disco and soft rock were up top, with the #1 song held by, surprisingly, Rod Stewart with “Tonight’s the Night”. Other big hits were by the likes of Andy Gibb, ABBA (“Dancing Queen”), Emotions (“Best of My Love”), and Thelma Houston (“Don’t Leave Me This Way”, an authentically great disco song). The top five TV shows from the 1976-1977 season were “Happy Days”, “Laverne and Shirley”, “M*A*S*H”, “Charlie’s Angels” and “Six Million Dollar Man”. “Wonder Woman” and the short-lived “Logan’s Run” would show up that year as well.
1977 in Comics: Man, 1977 in comics was a big year. WaRP Graphics, Eclipse Comics, “2000 A.D.”, “Heavy Metal”, and “Cerebus” all started. John Byrne and Terry Austin became the art team on issue #108 of “X-Men”. Important character debuts included Huntress, Black Lightning, Machine Man, the Imperial Guard, Sabretooth, Spider-Woman, the Starjammers, Dawnstar, Cerebus, Judge freakin’ Dredd, and many more. And of course, Marvel kicked off a comic based on the little movie that we’re going to address.
I Wasn’t Quite Four: I wish I could say that I had crystalline recall of the first time that I saw “Star Wars”, but I don’t. I remember seeing it with my dad after seeing commercials on TV. It didn’t take much to convince Dad to see a movie like “Star Wars”. Sunday mornings in our house were when we watched “Star Trek” and “Space: 1999”; they aired back to back on a local station. Nevertheless, that didn’t prepare me for “Star Wars”. My lingering impression of the first viewing is a kind of sensory overload. I have much better recall of seeing it at a drive-in just a couple of weeks later. By that point, I was pretty much a “Star Wars” freak.
Like many at that time, I got big into the toys. I had the famous “Early Bird” set, and I recall that when the figures arrived locally we had to wait in line behind a rope (like 54!) and could only get three figures at a time. I already had Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, and R2 from the set of four; Mom went back a couple of times to fill out seven more from the original 12. It would still be a while before we found that damn Jawa. Mom was so thrilled when she found it that she bought me two.
So, What Was It?: At this point, mired in things like sequels and spin-offs and merchandise and the parade of years, it’s kind of hard to lift the veil and figure out why THAT, and why THAT in THAT way. The first thing, of course, is that it was GOOD. Seriously, it’s a great action film. And it’s funny. There’s some real humor and genuinely fun interactions between the characters, something that the frequently dour prequels never quite caught up to. Clearly, there’s some truth the heroic quest motifs that Lucas has discussed repeatedly in the years since, but I think that the culture embraced it as a good, larger-than-life time at the movies more than anything else.
Certainly, it’s become a fundament of “our” culture, something that’s spawned a million references. And even if we’ve seen it many, many times . . . even if they run on Spike! on a near loop . . . there’s still something special in the original aura of those movies.
My sons are five and three, and they haven’t seen the movies yet. My wife and I decided to let them watch the first one (the real first one) soon. I’m very curious as to what their reactions will be. Will it mean less, knowing that there exists a pantheon of effects-pictures as close as their dad’s DVD shelves? Will it mean less since they’ve grown up in a house that’s fairly stuffed with the history of pop culture? Will it mean less that they wouldn’t have to wait three years to see “Empire”? What would it mean?
I have one guess. I think that it would mean one more Brownfield family movie night. It would mean popcorn. It would mean a million questions between the two boys. And it would mean that I got to share something special from when I was small with my boys before they themselves get too big. “Star Wars” may not be the thing that immerses them in movies and genre and collecting the way that it did me. But it will be something that we get to enjoy together. And as far as this kid, I’m sorry, as far as this dad is concerned, that’s more than good enough for me.
How about you, gang? First memories, devoid of the baggage. Love it? NOT love it? Seen it with your kids? Talk, please.