Star Wars Openings, Past and Present


Star Wars Openings, Past:

STAR WARS (1977) – I’d read about “Star Wars” crossing the Atlantic, on a 747, possibly listening to Fleetwood Mac on the god-awful earbuds you rented from the airlines for $4, back then.

I was 14, and the summer holidays were upon us. We were returning Stateside to visit my grandparents, and drive across the country.

In England, word of this new “Star Wars” phenomenon was slow to arrive.  But Time Magazine was all over it. The article made it seem (to me, anyway) that Star Wars was a science fiction western thingy. I’m not sure what I expected, but something like modern-day “Firefly,” I suppose.

I was deeply into science fiction back then – mostly Asimov, Niven and a few other favorites. I’d discovered it a few years ago, thanks to a BBC radio dramatization of “Nightfall.” This “Star Wars” thing seemed to be in right up my wheelhouse, so I saw it at the first theater I could, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

I arrived late. The theater was half-empty. RT-D2 was already traversing the canyon, about to become the captive of the Jawas. I’d missed a good portion of the setup. I didn’t care. I was hooked.

I remember the glitches: the visible mattes around the Tie Fighters and gun emplacements in some of the Death Star attack sequences; the terrible shadow effects of Luke’s land speeder. I secretly want to see them again.

I possibly saw Star Wars 10 to 15 times, in various theaters, in the US and the UK.


THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980) – I saw it in London, at one of the giant Leicester Square theaters, with the girl who’d soon become the first love of my life. Like me, she was studying Astrophysics at Queen Mary College, London.

“Empire” was a perfect date movie, thank you Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. Like thousands of other young men, my arm grew numb (to the point of wanting to gnaw it off) while executing the patented “reach around the back of the seat” maneuver that lasted the entire length of the film.

Once “Empire” was over, we popped across Leicester Square to see “Battle Beyond the Stars,” to keep the date going. That would not be the last tragic dating mistake I’d make.

I don’t think of her any more, when re-watching it. But I’m glad we shared “Empire.” At least for a little while, it became her and my “our” film.

The New Musical Express review spoiled the big Darth-Luke reveal in their review, by the way. It was totally on purpose, and their reviewer promised – promised – to spoil any surprises in the third installment, they hated Star Wars that much. One of the more douchy moves by the self-appointed “cool kids,” that.

Fortunately, I’d already seen the film. Possibly twice. But I stopped reading NME and switched back to Melody Maker.

To this day, “Empire” remains my favorite of the franchise.


RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983) – I’d moved from London to Wisconsin in 1982, to finish college. Not yet at Madison, though. I started at Kenosha’s UW-Parkside, though I lived in Racine (the sixth floor of the Racine YMCA were the UW-Parkside “dorms” back then). Life had changed dramatically. At the grand old age of 20, I was heartbroken from a doomed relationship. I believed Wisconsin was a temporary stop. I couldn’t see being stuck in this midwestern podunk forever. Possibly I’d move out East, or back to Europe, once I finished my Econ degree.

I saw “Jedi” on my own, at a strip-mall cinema, on a hot summer day. I enjoyed it, but the sameness (“another Death Star blown up?”) and the cuteness (Ewoks) got to me. I think I only saw this a couple more times, in the theater.

I will say this – I re-watched “Jedi” for the first time with my daughter, then age 5, a couple of years ago, and have grown to enjoy it more. A lot more. Partially, this was time and distance (to say nothing of the prequels, in-between). But my daughter adored it, and fell in love with the Ewoks, in particular. I didn’t find them nearly as annoying, anymore.

Have I mentioned how my daughter came to love Star Wars? If not, I will. POINT BEING, the original trilogy became out “Hey, dad – let’s play catch” moment.


THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999) – I was 36, and married to the love of my life for three years already. The hype and the hope leading up to Phantom menace was incredible. Of course it would be awesome. The trailer proved as much! My hit indy comic book “Dork Tower” even ran a special cover!

I caught the premier at Madison, WI’s grand old Orpheum theater, on State Street (wow, did I love living in Madison). Judith came along, as did our pals Lori and Randy, from Pegasus Games. The theater was packed. The excitement was palpable. Our friend William – dressed in full Jedi regalia – took part in a pre-screening lightsaber battle on stage. It was all kinds of awesome.

As for the movie? I was blown away! OK…the crawl was a bit naff…economics and blockades and shit……but that opening scene…Jedi acting like JEDI, man! And Ewan McGregor’s Alec Guiness impersonation! And man oh MAN the ending battle with Darth Maul! And even that pod racing scene…that was pretty cool, wasn’t it? I bet it’d make a great game! By the end of the movie, I was pumped. I couldn’t wait to see it again.

I saw it again, a few days later. I realized it wasn’t a very good film.

I never saw it in theaters again.


ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002) – I have absolutely no memory of where I saw this, nor who (if anyone) was with me. For all the actually worthwhile moment that were in “Menace,” “Clones” supplied equal amounts that literally had me cringing. Elan Sleazebaggano’s “Death Sticks”; Dexter Jettster’s diner, where Obi-Wan went noir; getting the keys (figuratively) to the Clone factory on Kamino without even needing photo ID; “I hate the sand”. I could go on. I never saw this movie again, in a theater or on DVD. (When my daughter watched it, I was in Poland.)

One day I will most likely watch it again.

Today is not that day.


REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005) – Never saw the whole movie. Snuck in halfway, after seeing “The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” in another theater at the same multiplex.

Yes, I was 42 years old, and still sneaking into movies.

“Hitchikers” depressed me. “Revenge” made things worse. Got in to it in time for the battle on the Lava Planet. Was able to catch such classics as “You were my brother, Anakin, I loved you,” “She died of a broken heart,” and, of course, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Some folks tell me this is the best of the prequels. Others disagree. One days I’ll watch it in its entirety. I bought it on bluray for $9.95. I thought it’d be an insult to George Lucas not to.

But I know the plot. I know what happens. It’s not a chapter I feel compelled to watch.


Star Wars openings, Present:

THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) – Early word is good. Very good. Some pals have already seen it. This Thursday, I check it for myself, just to make sure. Just to make sure there’s nothing I need warn my daughter about. But while I’m on pins and needles, this isn’t the viewing I’m most excited about.

The next day, I see it with Daughter, Age 7.

Good or bad, it will be the most memorable Star Wars opening weekend of my life.

– John




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