Mark Hamill Luke Skywalker
Harrison Ford Han Solo
Carrie Fisher Princess Leia Organa
Peter Cushing Grand Moff Tarkin
Alec Guinness Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi
Anthony Daniels See Threepio (C3P0)
Kenny Baker Artoo-Detoo (R2D2)
Peter Mayhew Chewbacca
David Prowse Lord Darth Vader
James Earl Jones Voice of Darth Vader

Directed by George Lucas. Written by George Lucas. 1977. Running time: 121 minutes.

sw_may1.jpg (10267 bytes)It was a hot sweltering African summer that Saturday in January 1978 when my parents took me to see a matinee show at the local cinema. I had turned ten years of age four months before and the movie was called Star Wars.

In the fog of time I had forgotten exactly why I had wanted to see this particular movie. Maybe I didn't want to see it, but my parents thought that it might be something I would enjoy. I can't remember expecting anything in particular from it, nor of friends who told me about it. But that's all beside the point - the point being that I did see it.

So in a hot cinema packed with hundreds of other kids, the cinema darkened (after a showing of the old classic Warner Bros. Duck Dodgers in the 25th Century cartoon - yup, back then they still showed cartoons before the so-called main attraction and yes, they didn't have any of today's glitzy multiplexes) and a huge spaceship to the accompaniment of a rousing soundtrack floated across the vast expanse of space with lasers a-firing.

Our jaws literally dropped to the ground. For once there was silence in the kid-packed theatre (and I am sure the parents who were there sighed a collective sigh of relief) and my life was forever changed . . .

Melodramatic? Isn't it only second-rate "self-help" books that proclaim to change your life? Nope, I was hooked on sci-fi and there was little anyone could do about it and I remain hooked on it to this very day. Instantly my dreams were infused by other imagery and my taste in comic books immediately shifted from those old Harvey comics (Ritchie Rich and the like) to the more sci-fi flavoured Marvel Comics. When my parents bought me the Marvel adaptation of Star Wars, it quickly grew dog-eared from repeated readings. What 2001 meant to a previous generation, Star Wars meant to a younger (thirtysomething today) audience - sans the dope, of course . . .

Seeing Star Wars back in South Africa in 1978 at the age of ten was the best time and place to have seen it. Television was only introduced into the country in 1976 and the first cheap television sets bought and sold were only Black & White ones. The Broederbond, the apartheid National Party's secretive think tank (?) has resisted the idea of television in the country because they feared that exposure to overseas ideas and norms would be a bad influence. (Ironically, in the end, it was a "bad" influence in the way they had foreseen. Shows like The Cosby Show softened the extremist racial thinking of many Whites in the country and paved the way for the reforms of petty apartheid that ultimately led to the 1994 democratic elections that would see Nelson Mandela become president of South Africa.)

My movie diet until then consisted of pirate movies and gladiator epics, Star Wars was my first real contact with the wonderful world of science fiction. Sci-fi shows such as Space 1999 and Thunderbirds would only be shown later on our television. I sought out science fiction books and were introduced to the worlds of Ray Bradbury, Arthur Clarke, Larry Niven and so on.

sw_may4.jpg (13355 bytes)Not only did Star Wars herald the end of ideologically imposed isolationism for me; it also offered escapism from the ominous rumblings in the background from the adult world. The year before Black consciousness leader Steve Biko was killed while in detention by White security policemen. The year before that (1976) saw the Soweto uprisings - Black unarmed students taking to the streets against armed riot police. Such events were distant in the safe cocoon bubble apartheid has created for us, but they still represented something ominous and disturbing.

Into this scenario, stepped Star Wars. Immediately afterwards there was a deluge of similar sci-fi movies hoping to cash in on the then craze: Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Star Trek - The Motion Picture and I saw them all. But Star Wars retained a special place in my psyche. Today I own the so-called Special Edition versions on video (I didn't particularly like what they did with the so-called Holy Trilogy in those films, but I got them cheap) and I have seen them all countless times.

While I can understand what the movie means for others of my generation, I remain constantly amazed at the dedication and fervour Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi evokes in a much younger generation that never even got to see them on the big screen until about two years ago with their re-issue. Maybe it's the pure innocence and child-like wonder they bring out in one. I seriously doubt whether Episode One - The Phantom Menace will duplicate the awe it inspired in me back in that sweltering cinema back in 1978.

And I have only one thing to add: George, it doesn't really matter whether you actually went to the trouble of making a new film in the series, because we'll always have that sweltering afternoon. Thanks . . .


Copyright © May 1999  James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page




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