Past Times

‘Star Wars’ a fan favorite from the beginning

Fans waited in line to see the original “Star Wars” in 1977.
Fans waited in line to see the original “Star Wars” in 1977. News & Observer File Photo

Excitement over the opening of the latest “Star Wars” movie has likely stirred the memories of folks who were young in 1977 when the original movie made its debut. N&O writer Dawn Maria Clayton spoke with eager movie fans that year as they waited to be a part of history.

You might have thought it was an invasion from outer space. In a way, it was.

A crowd of hundreds lined up Thursday afternoon outside the Valley Twin theaters at Crabtree Valley mall to see “Star Wars,” an intergalactic flight of fancy that promises to outdistance Flash Gordon and take a bigger bite out of the American pocketbook than “Jaws.”

Both the 2:30 p.m. and the 4:45 p.m. showings at the Valley Twin were sellout crowds. For the 4:45 p.m. showing, people even braved the rain to see the stellar fantasy.

“Star Wars” was dubbed “the Jaws of 1977” by Valley Twin theater manager W. Sandy Jordan, who also called it “a space age western.”

In fact, said Jordan, “by every indication, it will be bigger than ‘Jaws.’”

Ironically, the “Sorcerer” playing next door at the other Valley Twin theater, featuring “Jaws” of 1976 star Roy Scheider, attracted only a small audience Thursday afternoon.

People were so anxious to view what may well be “the year’s best movie” starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness, that even popcorn and Milk Dud sales suffered.…

“They all want to get in to see ‘Star Wars,’” Jordan said. “They don’t take time to stop.”

“I haven’t seen anything like this before,” said Charles T. Casale, 14, who told his friend, Jim Moore, 12, “this is better than the ‘Planet of the Apes,’ man.”

Gaither C. Frye, 24, said he liked the special effects and the realism. “The lines were as corny as real life,” Frye said. The N&O July 2, 1977

Of course, it was just the beginning of the “Star Wars” phenomenon, and in due course a sequel came along. N&O writer Jane A. Welch caught up with fans waiting to see the 1980 movie.

Thirteen-year-old Perry Calhoun brought a note to school Wednesday excusing him from the last 10 minutes of class. The Force had gotten him.

The Force drew Perry to the Cardinal Theater at North Hills and the first day of the “Star Wars” sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back.”

“It was great,” he gushed after the movie. “It was better than ‘Star Wars’” – which Perry saw eight times. Before the sun set Wednesday, he had seen “Empire” twice.

“I read back in February that it was going to start May 21,” he said. “I thought it was going to be forever.”

Perry wasn’t the only impatient one.

Hundreds of Star Wars fans of all ages – the theater management couldn’t say how many – clamored to the first day’s showing….

Tickets sold for $4. An “Official Collector’s Edition” program sold for $2.95. A box of popcorn was $1.

Iona Lineberger, an N.C. State University student from Salisbury, got in line at 3:30 p.m. for the 7:30 show.

Why all the bother?

Ms. Lineberger laughed nervously. “Well, you see, I saw ‘Star Wars’ eight times. I just love fantasy,” the pest control major said.…

University of North Carolina students Rick Curtis and Dan Johnson drove to Raleigh just to see “Empire.”

“It doesn’t start until June 20 in Chapel Hill,” Johnson said.

Curtis saw “Star Wars” seven times. Would he see “Empire” as many times?

“Probably not,” he said. Not that he wouldn’t like to, he said, it’s just that the price was too high for him.

“I’ll see this one three more times,” he said. “I can’t wait for the other,” referring to a promised sequel’s sequel. The N&O May 21, 1980

N&O columnist Dennis Rogers was among the fans there on opening night. He shared his experience with N&O readers.

No one could have known how successful “Star Wars” would be when it was introduced in 1977. “The Empire Strikes Back” will be even bigger.…

Our hardy band had been planning for the occasion for at least a week.

The plan was to send someone out to the theater early in the day to buy the tickets, and then we’d all show up at the right moment to avoid the long lines. The theater put the whammy on that notion when they announced that tickets would not go on sale until 45 minutes before the show began.

Being civilized folk, it did not seem like much fun to simply stand in line twiddling our collective thumbs, so we had a party.

Ginny Carroll, our very own Earth Mother, decided we would be well-fed, so we had dinner while waiting in line.…

I don’t know what people thought when we showed up with the folding table. I’m sure they were baffled by the huge picnic basket. I know they were stunned by the white table cloth. And only a Jedi Master would know how to react to the candles.…

There was a noticeable ripple through the crowd when the tickets went on sale. Life surged as we moved forward, ready – even eager – to pay the $4, surely among the highest ticket prices ever charged for a movie in Raleigh.…

But even those prices did not deter us. It was an audience come to enjoy a pure moment, and it would not be deterred.…

It is a simple story, good against evil, and it is as complex as that struggle has been over the eons.

It is going to be a wonderful summer. May the force be with you. The N&O May 26, 1980

News & Observer columnist Josh Shaffer gives his short explanation for the very few who have never seen Star Wars.

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