1977 and all that

Verta_ALongTimeAgo

“This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmm?”

If there’s a bright centre to the universe then, to a six year-old boy, Torquay on a rain-sodden December day, under leaden skies, certainly felt like the place it might be farthest from. Despairing of anything else to do with two damp, bored boys, my father decided to take us to the movies. It was a decision that ultimately would scar me for life. I stepped into the cinema and took my first step into a larger world. That was the day I saw Star Wars for the first time.

I’d been exposed to very little in the way of publicity. I was unburdened by expectation. I was blown away. It was like being shaken awake. I’d seen sci-fi films before. I’d watched old Flash Gordon matinees at the Odeon in Bristol. But I’d never experienced a galaxy so far, far away and yet so recognisable. Not polished and glossy but used and rough around the edges. It was an immersive experience of a fully realised vision of an alternate reality from a long time ago. The fact that I can recall so much of that day speaks to it’s impact. I’ve never once since gazed at a sunset without thinking back on it. Or automatic shop doors for that matter.

The toys, the books, the duvet cover. All that came after. And all of that, I left behind. In thousands of years, archaeologists might find on Lyme Regis beach the victims of our all-powerful DIY Sarlaac. All left behind. And yet I carried Star Wars with me everywhere. I was even occasionally cocky with it, as when, 10 years later, I said “Nice of you guys to drop by” to the brave chaps who came to rescue us after an unscheduled overnight stay on the Cuillin ridge in an ice storm. I’m grateful that they didn’t leave me there, though they’d have been entirely justified in doing so. I didn’t even have the innards of a frozen Tauntaun to keep me warm.

And then, in the June of 1980, the second instalment hit screens in the UK. The day was balmy. The queues were long. And I was bored with the wait. Some other would-be Correlian smugglers were playing nearby around some benches while their parents waited a lot longer than 12 parsecs for the doors to open. Whining like a Tatooine farmboy, I implored Mum and Dad to let me join them. They let me go. It was a decision that left me scarred forever. The benches were those heavy-duty ones that are most commonly used to memorialise lost loved-ones. One of them had a hole in it’s back. We were climbing backwards through it and out over the top of the bench. I lost my grip and, reaching out in a panic, I pulled it over onto my head. These benches weigh about 160lbs and this one smacked me right in the mouth. It snapped my top front tooth off at the gum. I swallowed it. My lower teeth all went straight through my bottom lip. A member of staff saw what had happened and pulled me out from under the bench, picked me up and looked a little horrified at the amount of blood now covering the both of us. A kind lady fetched a wad of tissue to staunch the flow as my parents appeared to see what all the commotion was about. I can’t rightly claim we were made of sterner stuff in those days but, after a brief debate, it was decided we would go ahead and watch the film. So transfixed was I by what unfolded on screen that I must have tuned out the pain as I have no recollection of that at all. But I do remember the film in exquisite detail. It must have perked me up considerably because we went for tea at my grandparents after that (I can’t have eaten much) and only after that did we go to the hospital.

Jedi came along 3 years later and had much the same effect (although without the accompanying bloodshed). And then they stopped. Oh sure, there were spin-offs and re-releases and, in 1999, the first of the prequel trilogy. But none of this ever hit the mark like the first three movies did with me in that heady 6 year period. And still I carried Star Wars with me. It’s there staring back at me every time I look in the mirror.

And this year, almost 38 years to the day from the first time I ever saw Star Wars, I will sit in a cinema with my own children as the lights dim and it’ll be 1977 once more.

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