Forty-five years ago today, a movie debuted in theatres that would literally change the world. That movie, of course, was called Star Wars and it would impact not just popular culture, but politics, science, and so much more over the next few months, years, and decades.
From the action and adventure to romance and pathos, there are probably infinite things to love about Star Wars, but maybe its most undeniable trait is how personal it becomes to everyone. Even people who don’t like Star Wars can tell you about Star Wars, and fans can tell you every little detail — favourite characters, favourite movie, where they were when they first saw it, the first toy they got, how it connected them to friends, family, everything. Star Wars isn’t just a movie. It’s a way of life, which began on May 25, 1977.
We write about Star Wars a lot on Kotaku, and on our sister site Gizmodo, so celebrating this anniversary was a bit of a challenge. The answer? We asked folks around the office to share their best or favourite Star Wars memory. Here are the results. And, below, please feel free to share yours. We’d love to hear them.
Star Wars: The Naboo Swamp
Andrew Liszewski, Senior Staff Reporter, Gizmodo
When The Phantom Menace hit theatres in 1999, buying tickets online and picking your seats ahead of time was the stuff of science fiction. If you wanted to see a movie on opening night, you had to wait in line at the box office to buy tickets in person, and for a movie like Star Wars, that meant you were probably facing a very long line.
After scouting our local theatre the night before tickets were to go on sale at 3:00 p.m. the next day, a friend and I were dismayed to see a line had already formed, forcing us to rush home, grab some meager provisions and lawn chairs, and have our parents drop us off out in front of the theatre. When all was said and done, we waited a total of 19 hours to secure opening night tickets, but that overnight experience felt more like a month-long odyssey. Some line waiters set up a full-on LAN gaming system with desktop PCs to while away the hours, while most of us just chatted about movies. (This was still years before the iPhone and iPod.)
The theatre refused to allow anyone to use its bathrooms, so behind the megaplex quickly became known as the Naboo swamp — at least until morning when the sunrise made discreet bathroom breaks in the shadows impossible. Those who’d arrived the night before initiated a self-regulated numbering system based on when you’d arrived, which would prove very important the next day as the line grew considerably. Controversy over line cutters eventually brought the local police to keep the peace, who also honoured the numbering system, bouncing people out of line not holding one of the precious pieces of white paper marked with a number in black Sharpie. The last three hours of the line wait were spent standing in an absolute downpour and had I owned a car at the time, I would have walked away from it all hours before the box office opened. But opening night tickets were eventually secured, new friends were made, and to commemorate what my parents refused to acknowledge as an impressive achievement, I went on to see The Phantom Menace 19 times in the theatre — once for every hour I’d waited in line. (I didn’t have a lot going on that summer…)
Star Wars: Out of the Box
Cheryl Eddy, News Editor/Senior Writer, Gizmodo
I’m old enough to have seen the original 1977 film in the theatres… like, in 1977. (But, I’m not old enough to really remember the experience!) However, I do vividly recall having the Kenner Princess Leia action figure that came out with the movie — basically a Barbie in the likeness of Carrie Fisher, with Leia’s white outfit from the movie. Her hair came coiled in her signature side buns, which my sister and I immediately unravelled, and she barely looked like Princess Leia after that, especially once we started dressing her in Barbie clothes. I guess it was an early lesson in some of the first movie tie-in merchandise, and the age-old dilemma of “do I preserve this toy in pristine condition” or “do I give Princess Leia a mohawk.” The choice back then was clear but now I see the same doll going for $US2,000 ($2,776) on eBay.
Star Wars: The Parents Strike Back
Germain Lussier, Senior Reporter, Gizmodo
I think I have more Star Wars memories than non-Star Wars memories. Seriously, I’ve gone to premieres, been to Lucasfilm, met Harrison Ford, you name it and I’ve probably done it. But when I think about my favourite one I go back to the beginning. Christmas circa 1985 or so.
At five years old, Christmas means one thing: presents. And that year, my parents wanted to mess with my brother and I. So I wake up, nudge my little brother, and we go see what Santa left under the tree. To our surprise, there are two presents. We’re shocked. Mum and Dad wake up and are like, “Well, that’s not a lot of presents, we wonder why that is.” And, of course, Santa left a note. It said something about us not being good boys this year and it was devastating. Then, after a few minutes, my parents found a second note. It told us to go into the garage. There we found two giant garbage bags filled with presents. We were spoiled, and happy, but had also learned a lesson.
Here’s where I realise I was kind of an arsehole kid, though. When we finished opening the presents, I was a tiny bit bummed. The one thing I wanted most wasn’t there. I knew I should have just shut my mouth but when my mum asked if I was ok, I told her I didn’t get the thing I wanted most. That’s when she said, “Wait, what’s that behind the couch?” And there I found one more present. A big one. A Kenner Millennium Falcon.
Only later did I realise two things. One, my parents were basically just ripping off A Christmas Story. And two, I wish I’d kept that Falcon in the box.
Star Wars: Like My Father Before Me
Sabina Graves, Staff Writer, Gizmodo
When I was a child I used to think R2-D2’s name was “Arturito” like what we called my cousin Arturo when he was little. “Ito” is a diminutive descriptor like “lil’” in the Mexican/Latin American regional language I grew up speaking; it’s a common nomenclature at the end of a name for kids. I didn’t realise it was spelled R2-D2 until I got a little older. It’s a thing! And it’s more recently even used for Baby Yoda, who is still referred to as Yodito at large over Grogu.
I guess that’s one memory that crystallizes how I thought Star Wars was part of my culture from the start of my life. I know it sounds weird but hey, I felt validated when I grew up to find out Leia’s hair buns were inspired by my ancestors, revolutionary Mexican women in real historical rebellions. My papa loved the films known in Mexico as La Guerra de las Galaxias and when he came to America, he bought the movies he knew and understood in his native language to assimilate and learn English. So I honestly can’t even tell you what even my earliest memory of Star Wars is, because it was my teacher too, entertainment I latched onto that was a universal language between my dad and I — that to this day connects us whenever a new show drops. We talk about new episodes every week when they hit streaming. Sometimes we’ll watch them together — like, there was no way I was going to miss out on my dad losing his mind when Boba Fett came back. And we can’t wait for Andor! Coincidentally, Diego Luna was a literal child star in soap operas my family watched and is from Mexico City like them.
Star Wars: The Rise of Baby Yoda
Robert Bricken, Editor Emeritus, Gizmodo
I’ve been a Star Wars fan for the vast majority of my life. My earliest movie memory is stumbling out of a screening of The Empire Strikes Back, shaken to my six-year-old core, trying to reconcile a world where Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s dad. But it also felt like Star Wars has pushed me away many times over my life. After a plethora of horrible Expanded Universe novels, I gave up on the franchise… only to get sucked back in by the 1995 action figures (still some of the worst ever made). When The Phantom Menace came out, all the figures I’d bought before seeing the immensely unsatisfying movie stared back at me in disgust, and Attack of the Clones pretty much did me in. Then Disney bought the franchise, rejuvenated it with The Force Awakens and a plethora of truly great Marvel comics, and I was back in. But that’s also when I started falling out, because that’s when far too many Star Wars fans revealed themselves to be sexist, bigoted arseholes dedicated to screaming their garbage across the internet.
I won’t go into all their horridness, because this is supposed to be a happy memory. Suffice it to say, as many of you know, it’s hard to be a fan of something when half of your fellow fans are awful. Which is why my favourite Star Wars moment of recent memory was that final moment of the first episode of The Mandalorian. I felt so many things when Baby Yoda was revealed (and yes, he will always be Baby Yoda to me): wonder at the amazing, completely lifelike, non-CG creature of the screen; delight at his utter, irrevocable cuteness; joy that even after all this time, in a world where I am paid to know all Star Wars news as soon as possible, I could still completely surprised. But most of all, I felt the sudden, brief silence as all Star Wars fans shut up because we all agreed Baby Yoda ruled.
Star Wars: Tales From the School Bus
Michelle Ehrhardt, Consumer Tech Editor, Gizmodo
When I was six or seven years old, my Dad sat me down to try to show me his VHS copies of the original Star Wars trilogy. And while I’ve since grown fond enough of the series to have once held a consistent freelancing job writing only about Star Wars (RIP Geek.com), I hated them at the time. The ‘70s audiovisual quality and disco aesthetics weren’t for baby me, even if the practical effects still held up.
As I grew up, I learned to love the original trilogy and respect it for its place in cinematic history. (Shoutout to Return of the Jedi for laying the foundation for Avatar: The Last Airbender’s ending a few decades early.) But it’s still not what turned me into a Star Wars fan. As great as the original trilogy is, its fairy tale plotting wasn’t the hook my teenage self needed. Instead, I got into Star Wars through the now de-canonised expanded universe.
Part of this has to do with timing. The movies were old when I was growing up, and the EU was still in the midst of coming out. I’m sure I’m not the only millennial whose first proper introduction to Star Wars was a video game. But I was also one of that slightly rarer breed of kids who would read Star Wars novels on the school bus. And recency bias was not enough to make me subject myself to the shame of reading a Star Wars book in public.
Short for “expanded universe,” or “extended universe” if you’re weird, the EU wasn’t just an excuse to keep the licence and merch going into the ‘90s and ‘00s, although it definitely was that. It was also a fully fleshed-out space fantasy universe in its own right, and that breadth is what grasped me as a kid. While the movies were strict western-samurai-Campbellian-fairy-tale-adventure-war epics (ok, that’s a lot), the EU could be anything. There were zombie apocalypse stories, pilot-focused military dramas, grand spiritual lore dumps, and rom-coms. And that clicked so well with Star Wars’ appeal to me. Jedi are fun, the effects are good, and you grow to like the characters. But it’s the setting that’s truly unique.
It’s a bit of a mistake to compare Star Trek and Star Wars. Aside from being set in space and having coincidentally similar names, the series have little in common. But the question of which is better is nonetheless an inescapable part of nerd culture and does get at the heart of what I love about Star Wars. While the pop sci-fi that preceded it was often utopic and clean, Star Wars pioneered the idea of the “used future.”
Star Wars props, except in certain idyllic prequel scenes, are dirty, always on the verge of falling apart, and look liable to explode at any moment. Artist John Powers put it best in his essay “Star Wars: A New Heap,” where he described the Millennium Falcon as a flying saucer turned slum.
And that was my Star Wars hook as a kid. As much as Han Solo is a roguish criminal with a heart of gold, he’s also very much a car guy desperately trying to convince you his ageing Camaro is cool, even as it spews smoke on a simple drive to the post office. This galaxy, as wondrous as it had the potential to be, could also be a regular place where regular people lived. A far cry from the overarching Arthurian plotline of the Skywalker family.
The Star Wars expanded universe ran with that car guy part of the Star Wars galaxy, populating it with trillions of everyday people just trying their best with what they had. In the EU’s world, you didn’t need to be a Skywalker to matter (looking at you, Episode IX).
And as messy and often misguided as the project ended up being, there was charm to that. There might have been as many or more Dengars as there were Mara Jades, but the galaxy now felt lived-in, and as such, it finally felt like a place worth saving. It was no longer just a playground for space princes to come of age.
As a bullied trans teen growing up in the grunge era without a dad, as he had passed since showing me the original trilogy, I couldn’t relate to the clean friendliness of Captain Kirk’s Enterprise. I couldn’t even relate to Luke Skywalker’s desire to reconcile with his father and be something more. But IG-88, an assassin droid built into a stiff, C-3PO-esque body unfit for his calling, who then gained sentience and solved that particular problem by downloading himself into the Death Star? Just minutes before getting blown up by the Rebellion? Tell me more.
That story, about wires and identity and future tech that somehow also looks like an archaeologist just dug it up, is just one of the many EU stories that completely own. And it’s not something the films would have had time for.
It’s a common joke in the Star Wars fandom that every weird alien to show up in the background of the movies has a whole EU novel dedicated to them. While not entirely true, it sums up the EU’s core strength, which is that it’s an ode to the bit players. Bit players, who like Luke on the farm and their galaxy overall, nonetheless each had the potential to find their own, individual definition of wonder — despite spending half their days desperately in need of a shower.
It’s no wonder that nerds loved it.
So that’s us. Happy 45th birthday to Star Wars.