I really wanted to see Star Wars when it first came to theatres over the long Memorial Day weekend in 1977. It was an uphill battle though. It may have been coming to a galaxy nearby, but the closest theatre showing it was at the Yorktown shopping mall, almost an hour away. My parents had never heard of the movie and as I was only finishing up the first grade, my opinion on cinema was not yet taken seriously. Still, I managed to cajole my dad into taking me opening weekend. I spent the night at my grandma’s house in LaGrange. The plan was to pick me up first thing in the morning and we’d catch Star Wars at a matinee before heading home to Schaumburg.
We got to Yorktown early, but the parking lot was already packed. My dad was a salesman and spent much of his time on the road. Slowly circling a mall on a Saturday morning was not his idea of fun. I could hear him mumbling low under his breath as we searched for somewhere – anywhere – to park. The line for Star Wars stretched out of the theatre lobby; outside and around the building. My dad continued to grumble. Can’t believe this… this is crazy… all these people… just to see a movie… The line slowly moved forward. We finally got to the box office.
“Six dollars?!” he roared. “This is a matinee!” The young guy in the ticket booth was wearing a yellow coat like Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football.
“It’s opening weekend, sir,” he explained. “All movie showings are full price on the opening weekend.” My dad gestured at me.
“But he’s only six!” he cried. To be technical, I was seven. However, I knew the drill. If I was six, I got in for free. But not today.
“Sorry, sir,” said the boy behind the glass. “It’s opening weekend.” My dad continued to pantomime protest. If we had been at a ball game, I’m sure the umpire would have changed his call. However, Howard Cosell Junior was having none of it. He waited impassively behind the glass while my dad – grumbling again – took out his wallet and pushed six dollars through the hole. Our tickets popped out of the stainless steel counter and we walked inside. The popcorn smelled good and I almost asked my dad if we could get some candy. One look at his expression and the words died somewhere in my throat.
“Six dollars…” I could hear him say over and over. “Six dollars for a movie…” We stalked past the concession area and waited behind a velvet rope. More and more people filled the hallway. I was basically at butt level and getting a bit nervous as the crowd closed in. My dad picked me up and sat me on his shoulders. Packing us in like sardines… six dollars… He shook his head. The doors opened and a crowd of people poured out of the theatre, laughing and whooping, making comments and quoting things that made no sense.
The ushers quickly cleaned the theatre and finally opened the floodgates. My dad waited for the teenagers to push past. That turned out to be a mistake. The whole audience was teenagers except us. My dad always likes to sit near the back of the theatre, preferably to one side. Those seats were taken, of course. In fact, the only two seats together were in the first row, right in the center. My dad just stood for a long moment, hands on his hips. He sighed and we sat down, leaning way back to stare up at the billboard sized screen. I heard one more refrain of “six dollars” before the lights dimmed and the movie began.
In retrospect, we had the best seats in the house for Star Wars. I remember just staring – mouth agape – as the gigantic Star Destroyer cruised into the opening scene. It just went on and on and on; endless spectacle. The whole movie was like that. I blinked in the garbage compactor scene; it hurt because I hadn’t dared close my eyes for an instant up to that point. The final space battle over the Death Star can best be appreciated front row, center, at a full sized movie theatre. I felt my stomach fall into my legs as we dropped altitude and dipped into the trench to fire our torpedoes. It was just like being there. I was glad I didn’t have any popcorn. When the Death Star exploded, so did the audience. Everyone was cheering the screen and applauding, even my dad.