I went to see the long-awaited Star Wars sequel this past weekend with my wife and daughter, and inevitably I found myself thinking back over the years to when I saw the original.
“Star Wars” — and back then, that was its full name, no “A New Hope”– was the first real movie I ever saw in a theater. By “real” I mean a new release played in a theater that actually showed first-run films. My parents and I had moved to Texas about a year earlier, and although most people would consider College Station in the mid-70s a small town (its population was about 15,000 at the time) it was about 10 times the size of the town we left in central Pennsylvania.
My hometown didn’t — and still doesn’t — have any fast-food restaurant chains, let alone a movie theater. The nearest cinema was the next town over, and it showed whatever movies it could get. “Jaws,” the biggest film of 1975, didn’t arrive until well into the nation’s Bicentennial.
My parents took me to see movies in that theater twice — Disney’s G-rated “Million Dollar Duck” and, a few years later, “Herbie Rides Again.”
My parents didn’t have much interest in movies, or popular culture in general for that matter. In fact, it always seemed to me that my dad thought entertainment had stopped progressing after the 1950s. Glenn Miller had done the best songs, and Katherine Hepburn had delivered the best performances, and everything that came after was pretty much a waste of time.
Perhaps because of their small-town roots, or perhaps because they were older than many parents of children my age, my mother and father were more cautious about how much violence and sex they allowed me to see on TV. My mother frowned on the original Star Trek series because it was, as she saw it, weird and violent (she always walked in during the mandatory fight scene that the network forced Gene Roddenberry to add in every episode). “Starsky and Hutch” had too much violence, sex and general crudeness. “Laugh-In” was too risque, even though my grandmother watched it faithfully.
When I asked to see “Star Wars,” it was the first time I wanted to see a PG-rated movie. This was no “Million Dollar Duck.” Given the implied violence in the title, my father decided — or, more likely, my mother decided — that he would take me. He sat silently through the whole thing, and didn’t say much afterwards. I think he understood why I liked it, even if he was generally unimpressed. I knew he would rather be somewhere — probably anywhere — else, but as was so often the case, he never complained.
The only time I recall him mentioning “Star Wars” at all was several years later, when he argued that movies had become all about special effects rather than great acting. No one in Star Wars was a very good actor, he said. They had special effects to carry the show, unlike Kate, who had to win over audiences with the sheer virtuosity of her performance.
Having endured Mark Hamill’s sophomore effort, “Corvette Summer,” I found it hard to argue his point.
It is, of course, ironic that I associate “Star Wars,” which set up the story of one of the greatest family dysfunctions in film history, with spending time with my dad. Unlike Darth Vader, my father had no dark side.
I could rattle off a long list of more significant father-and-son experiences, and I know I’m fortunate to have so many. But that day was the last time we went to a movie together, and though he lived another three decades, I believe it may be the last time he ever went to the movies at all. Seeing the series revived after all these years, I couldn’t help but think of that day once again, even though I suspect my father never gave it a second thought.