In late 1975 I was 17. While reading Jim Steranko’s excellent genre magazine, Mediascene, I saw a reference to an upcoming film called The Star Wars. There was a tiny black-and-white photo of Ralph McQuarrie’s ominous painting of a man in a black mask looming over a group of heroes (top left image).
Back in those days, science fiction movies inhabited their own special ghetto. Fans expected little, and that’s what we usually got. The Star Wars made very little impression on me.
A few months later, in early 1976, Starlog magazine reproduced several more McQuarrie paintings, depicting early versions of characters and scenes that have since become iconic. That’s when I began to pay attention.
Two images really grabbed me: A desert planet, where a pair of robots (one of which bore a striking resemblance to Maria, the art deco robot from Fritz lang’s silent film, Metropolis); and a scene where white-armored troops brandished some kind of laser sword.
There were other paintings. The characters stood on a cliff, looking out over the same desert world, with twin suns shining overhead. It reminded me of Frank Herbert’s Dune.
My curiosity was piqued.
I continued to follow occasional news accounts in Mediascene and Starlog until late spring of 1977, when Marvel Comics published the first issue of a comic book adaptation of what was now simply called Star Wars.
The art by Howard Chaykin and script by Roy Thomas was interesting, definitely better than most film-to-comic adaptations. What fascinated me was that the two robots were characters in their own right, with dialogue and, it appeared, personalities.
The film opened on Wednesday, May 25, 1977. The next morning the N.Y. Daily News gave it a 3.5 star (out of 4) review by Kathleen Carroll. I was stunned.
You have to remember that science fiction films didn’t get 3 star reviews in mainstream newspapers those days. Most got a single star. Maybe two, if there was a well-known actor involved.
I dragged my girlfriend off to the Loews Astor Plaza theater in Times Square that evening — the film was only on 32 screens nationwide and just two in Manhattan. While we waited for the movie to begin, I paid $3.50 for a glossy souvenir booklet for the film. Major films did that back then; it cost almost as much as the $4.00 ticket price.
Looking through the booklet, I got my first real look at images from the film itself. I remember thinking, “It looks like they put a classic Marvel comic book on the big screen.” Then, as now, Marvel meant quality and authenticity.
A few minutes later, the lights dimmed.
As Star Wars began, John Williams’ soaring orchestral score filled the theater, one of the very first equipped with Dolby stereo.
Suffice to say, I’ve been a fan ever since.
There have been a few rough patches (Ewoks, Jar-Jar, and much of the prequels), but I have faith in director J.J. Abrams. He’s a fan. He’s also a talented director who knows how to please an audience.
Speaking of audiences, there are still people out there who scoff at Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings, comic books, and anything related to science fiction and fantasy. We call these people mundanes, because that is the kind of life they live.
Mundanes sneer at those of us who are enthusiastic about the fantastic. They just don’t get it. They never will. Their loss.
Star Wars and other genre fare like Marvel’s The Avengers are popular because they are modern day fairy tales. And to paraphrase author G.K. Chesterton, “Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”
I am seeing The Force Awakens later today.
Afterwards, I’ll be ready to slay more dragons, in whatever form they appear.