I was four months shy of my seventh birthday when “Star Wars” was released on May 25, 1977. I don’t remember how or when I first heard of it, but I do remember that I HAD to see it.
And I did. My father took me to the Loews Astor Place in Times Square — don’t bother looking for it, it’s long gone. It was the best movie I had ever seen, and sometimes I think it may be the best movie I ever will see. We liked it so much that after the audience cleared out, we stayed in our seats and saw it again. My dad not only loved it, he loved getting his money’s worth by sitting through a movie two times. Remember, this was 1977 and it was years before they had assigned seats in movie theaters.
If you ask me, 7 was the perfect age to see “Star Wars.” I wasn’t a toddler, but I was still a little kid. And at the same time, I was old enough to get the jokes and understand the bigger message, but not too old to think it silly.
And of course there were the toys. I remember getting knockoff lightsabers, basically red flashlights with a tube attached, for Hanukkah. I remember forcing my mom the following year to take me to Alexander’s (also gone) to buy action figures. I read the Star Wars comic books from Marvel. My friends and I played Star Wars. We even made our own Star Wars movie at school.
Star Wars had a lasting effect on my life, and on the adult I was to become. It got me interested in movies and helped point me toward a career in Hollywood. All those toys and comic books? Well, now I have a large collection of original Star Wars movie props, production art and a set of mint toys in their original packaging. And last year, I even co-authored a book on the art of Ralph McQuarrie, one of the key Star Wars conceptualists. Like I said, 7 was a perfect age.
A few million years later in 2002, I was invited to a press screening of “Attack of the Clones.” In honor of Star Wars and George Lucas who created it, I will simply say that I didn’t enjoy the film. I was 32 years old, and it just wasn’t for me. However, as I left the theater, I was walking behind two kids who looked like they were about 7 years old. They thought it was the greatest movie they’d ever seen. Did I love Star Wars because it was great or because I was 7? Or both. I choose both.
So where am I going with this? Jump ahead a few more years, and now I’m a dad with two children of my own. And even though their preschool didn’t allow Star Wars or superheroes — hey, it’s Los Angeles and it was a great school — my kids started talking about Star Wars nonstop around age 4. They played Star Wars with their friends. They saw some of the newer Star Wars cartoons. They were desperate to see the movie … and I wouldn’t let them. I was waiting … for my oldest to turn 7. The perfect age for her to see the original Star Wars film.
It was hard for my kids to wait. It was hard for me to wait. And I had to play a lot of defense, making sure nobody showed them “Star Wars” on a playdate or at a birthday party. My son’s friend had older brothers and tried to ruin the movies a few dozen times. But I wanted my kids to wait and see it just like I had. In fact, what I really wanted was for them to see the movie in a real theater. There was just one problem, that movie no longer existed.
About 20 years ago Lucas went back to the original trilogy and made changes, or what he called “improvements,” and the result was the Star Wars Special Edition. This was not the original movie I saw in 1977, but it’s the only version that’s officially available when you buy Star Wars. And it’s the only version that movie theaters are allowed to show. So what does a crazed Star Wars collector do when he wants to show his kids “Star Wars” in a theater at age 7? I tracked down an original theatrical print.
That’s right. Just after my daughter’s seventh birthday, we rented a small movie theater with a bunch of friends and showed “Star Wars” in its original form to my kids. I didn’t watch the movie as much as I watched them. I wanted to see how they reacted to every moment, where they laughed and where they were scared. They LOVED it. It may have been the greatest day of their lives. It was certainly mine. And now they were dying to see “The Empire Strikes Back.” Which meant I had about three years to find a print of it, because I saw “Empire” when I was 10. The perfect age for that.
David Mandel is the showrunner for HBO’s “Veep” and co-author of the book “Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie.” His writing and directing credits include “Saturday Night Live,” “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Mandel is also an ardent collector of original comic book art and Star Wars memorabilia.
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