A Long Time Ago in a Theater Far, Far Away ...

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Several readers can relate to Alan’s note about first seeing Star Wars at age nine:

I was seven when Star Wars finally made it to Kingston, Jamaica. I knew very little about the U.S. and had no idea what the film was about until my parents took me to the drive-in one night. It was my first movie theater experience, since we were relatively poor and rarely indulged in things like movies. Life in Jamaica in 1979 centered around trying to get enough food for dinner and staying safe in what was a country racked with civil unrest. I didn’t know that, of course, because I certainly didn’t have television.

It made a tremendous impression on me. I remember my sense of awe in that first shot of the Star Destroyer chasing Princess Leia’s ship. And the first shots of Darth Vader strangling the captain terrified me. I don’t remember much else from that initial viewing, but I’m sure my jaw was on the floor most of the time.

Eventually I moved to the U.S. and got a VHS copy of Episode 4. I think I watched it about 50 times with my cousin. To this day I can probably recite about 80 percent of the dialogue.

There’s a certain generation of people aged about 40-45 who share this collective experience and will instantly recognize lines like “stay on target” and “you’re all clear, kid. Now let’s blow this thing and go home!” I can (and do) recite entire scenes together with some of my friends and I’m sure it grates on younger and older people alike.

So now I’m really looking forward to taking my eight-year-old son to see Episode 7. There’s no substitute for seeing it in a theater. Maybe they should have special viewings for us middle-aged guys who found the first movie so amazing!

Another reader:

I was six years old when my uncle took me to see Star Wars. We went on his motorcycle. What I remember most—aside from the motorcycle—was the scene where the four heroes were caught in the trash compactor. I was terrified by the mysterious creature under the water and by the walls slowly closing in on them. However, it was also the first time that I can remember really realizing that movies were “make believe” and that there was no real danger. It was a combination of fear and exhilaration comparable to a roller coaster ride.

What I’m looking forward to most this weekend, more than the nostalgia of experiencing those characteristic Star Wars sights and sounds, is feeling a bit of that roller coaster excitement again.

One more reader:

My dad is a scientist and a major science fiction fan, and when Star Wars hit theaters in 1977, he took me to see the movie. I was three years old and brought my stuffed rabbit to the screening. When we walked in to buy tickets, they let me in for free, remarking that I might not understand much of the movie.  

I still remember the overwhelming thrill when, just after the titles rolled up into space, the massive imperial starship passes overhead for what seemed like ages.  Though, at three, I did not understand the whole movie, I loved the droids, the twin sunset on Tattooine, the massive alien skeleton in the desert, and above all else, I had a new hero; I wanted to grow up to be Han Solo, rogue pilot of the Millennium Falcon, with his trusty copilot Chewbacca.  

You can imagine that, after a first theater movie like Star Wars, no film in the theater has been able to thrill me so absolutely since. I am daring to hope that this one will do some of the epic, sci-fi things that made the first two films great. On opening day, I will be waiting in the darkened theater with terror and hope—hope that I might feel just a bit of what the first movie made me feel ...