Thursday, July 31, 2014

My STAR WARS (A 1977-ish Story)

Let's start this story in 1975.  (and end it in 1983)
Original 1977 Comic Books, Star Wars #1 and Star Wars #2

Beginning in September 1975, my last two years of Elementary School (5th & 6th Grades), were spent trying out this new-fangled idea that some Orange County schools were trying to alleviate a lack of classroom space called "Year-Round" School (since they were already using portable classrooms).  The idea was that the entire school would be divided into 4 regional areas and each group would attend school for nine weeks and then have three weeks off for "Summer" vacation, called "Intersession Breaks".  This plan allowed for each grade to have 4 full classes, but only needed to utilize 3 classrooms at any given time because there was always one group rotating the Intersession Break period.  Every time we came back to school, we had been rotated to the next available classroom for our grade level.  Our actual Summer Break was for just one week around the First of July, (and occurred for the entire school, as were Winter and Spring Breaks), and was the time period in which one moved up a grade level.

Since I have mentioned that I attended school in Orange County, I admit I grew up as a "local" to Disneyland, but that was back in the days before Annual Passports, and even before Single Day Passports.  As a kid, a trip to Disneyland was (if, lucky enough), perhaps an annual event, at best.  Just driving by Disneyland on any local freeway (such as I-5, 57, or 55 fwys) in which one could spot the Matterhorn was exciting.  Virtually no one went weekly or monthly as they do today.  During my 5th & 6th Grade years, I celebrated my 11th & 12th Birthdays in early June by having an authorized weekday off from school, with a couple friends, to attend a local theme park on an uncrowded day before the Summer season---and at that age, I was too cool for Disneyland, I chose Magic Mountain (pre-Six Flags) instead.

So when my Elementary School switched to year-round, they offered an alternative version of traditional Summer School for every Intersession;  a two week (of the entire three break) topic-themed class.  Since these were classes that ended by noon-ish, like traditional Summer School, and since they were nearly 50% field trip based, I ended up enrolling in at least 6 of the 8 sessions I was eligible to attend during my 2 year of Year-Round School…especially the session that was themed to "Music" and  included, finally, a trip to Disneyland.  (Unfortunately, the field trip was closely controlled, and we were only guided to the music-themed attractions of the day: Bear Country Jamboree, Enchanted Tiki Room, it’s a small world, and America Sings)

So then, the 8th and the very last of my Intersession Breaks began the week that Star Wars opened, and from May 23rd through June 3rd, was enrolled in the off-season class.  Star Wars was all over the news once it opened on Wednesday May 25th, and immediately I wanted to see this ASAP… the problem was that all the news stories were how this movie (that was only showing on 32 screens across the ENTIRE country) had lines that wrapped around blocks and multi-hour wait times or sold-out showings.

Week #2 of Intersession classes had the traditional Memorial Day holiday on Monday, so the week began on Tuesday.  Immediately after Tuesday's "class", my next-door neighbors, Kenny & Chris invited me to go see Star Wars with them, as they were going to a midday showing at a semi-local theater (which, of the 32 nation-wide, was one of the only 3 theaters in the greater-LA region).  My Mom & Dad were still at work, so without having to seek approval, I naturally agreed.  There was no line at the only Orange County theater showing Star Wars, midday, on a weekday, during its first week, so I got to see it for the first time on May 31, 1977.  I don't think I even told my parents I had gone, until the next day…

The next day, June 1st,  I spent the morning in class, as usual during Intersession, however my parents spent the morning at the funeral of my Great-Grandfather.  When they arrived home afterwards, I was already there, and since most of the day had been consumed already, they opted to stay home from the last couple hours of work and suggested we see this new, cool movie… "Star Wars".  I told them "YES! It was awesome!"  I think they were surprised to learn that their 11 year old son had already seen this film without them.  Never-the-less, I saw it for the second time that day.

One of the original 1977 Star Wars t-shirts that 12-year old me once wore, and still owns to this day.  Never realized until now that the pink/purple Star Wars logo included "77" to the right of itself---very cool.  (FYI. Very wrinkled because it has been in storage for over 35 years!!)

When my 6th Grade class met again on June 13th, to resume the last 3 weeks of the regular school year, my 6th Grade teacher, Miss Thomas, had seen the film and raved about it to the class…unbelievably, I was the ONLY student who had seen it during our break (and already twice)—but that made me "cool" in my teacher's eyes, so I like to think!  (I was probably geeking out a little bit when I brought the vinyl record to class the next day to show off—er, I mean show everyone the pictures inside the record jacket, of this cool, new movie).

Tan & Yellow '77 era t=shirts; White PJ top; Red 2014 Millennium Falcon shirt for reference; Original '77/'80 Comic Books;  8/77 Rolling Stone Magazine; All 3 Original Trilogy Sketchbooks and Original Trilogy action figures.

Year-round school ended with the end of my 6th Grade year 3 weeks later, during that Summer of 1977.  Waiting until September to begin Junior High allowed me to travel the country with my Uncle… and while visiting his friends in Houston, I got my 3rd opportunity to see Star Wars.  I am pretty sure I was likely wearing one of my 3 Star Wars t-shirts from the day, which I still own today, 35+ years later (and I surprised to find I own a Darth Vadar & R2-D2 pajama top from the original movie, as well….who knew!?).   Before it left theaters altogether, I saw it 6 times.  Quite an amazing feat for a 11/12year old in the days before VHS, DVD, or BlueRay movies in your own home.

In September of 1977, I was enrolled at my new Junior High School, in the 7th Grade Advanced Placement (AP) Science class.  During one of the first few days of class, we had a trivia contest.  Question: Who are the 3 Leading Actors from Star Wars?  I answered first, but was denied a correct reply, because the teacher was looking for the answer of: Carrie Fischer, Harrison Ford and … (???)Peter Cushing!  Of course, I answered with the 2 former actors and Mark Hamill, "obviously" the correct answer… but still hold an appreciative grudge about this event to this day, mostly because this is still such a fun story to share.


I absorbed every bit of information regarding "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" as each approached their own release dates (May 21, 1980 and May 25, 1983, respectfully).  In those dark days before the internet, the task of finding information was not nearly as easy as I think it is today.  (Example: No one would ever have known if Harrison Ford had been injured or if any shooting days been delayed for any reason, during the era of the first trilogy).  When "Empire" opened, I had to wait until it opened for wide release before I could see it, but I was there on the opening day of wide release, waiting in line at my local movie theater.

The beginning of this Star Wars story strayed away for the obvious topic at the beginning, referencing Disneyland during the pre-Disney purchase of the franchise, and even the pre-Star Tours era.  While I was able to attend the 60-hour opening weekend party for the original Star Tours attraction at Disneyland in January 1987, let me finish by sharing a final story connecting me to Star Wars long before the public Star Wars & Disney connection.


If I was finishing 6th Grade when Star Wars opened in 1977, reason would have it that I was completing 9th Grade three years later when "Empire" opened, and that I'd be graduating 12th Grade after another 3 years, just as "Jedi" was opening.  Yes, I was a High School Senior in May 1983, just as "Jedi" opened.  I had also just gotten a job at Disneyland in April 1983, as a Toy Soldier (from the 1961 Disney movie, "Babes in Toyland") to march in the '83 Summer parade celebrating the entirely rebuilt "New Fantasyland" at Disneyland.

First thing I realized… that entire "New Fantasyland" project I had watched being built for at least a year prior was gonna be re-dedicated on May 25th, 1983 and as a person just recently cast in the Summer parade as a Toy Soldier, I was asked to participate in the ceremony as a Toy Soldier in the re-dedication festivities for that very morning.  Second thing I realized… that my High School tradition of Senior Ditch Day was set for that very same day, May 25th, 1983.  I had made a career out of missing as many days from High School as I thought I could get away with and still pass, so this definitely was a day I was looking forward to.   Lastly… I realized that "Jedi" was set to premiere on, you guessed it, May 25th, 1983.  Come hell or high-water, I was determined to see one of these trilogy movies ON OPENING DAY!

On May 25th 1983, I woke very early, showered and drove to Disneyland…  I take great pride in sharing that I was the 3rd person (as a Toy Soldier) to walk across Sleeping Beauty Castle's drawbridge after, (for only the second time ever) it was lowered during the New Fantasyland re-dedication.  Post ceremony, I entered the park as a guest to ride the brand new, never before seen attraction, Pinocchio's Daring Journey, on its opening day.  Immediately afterwards, I left Disneyland to join my High School "Senior" friends who were also "ditching school" that day and joined them at the same movie theater I had first seen "Empire" at, three years earlier.  After waiting in line with them for a couple hours, I saw "Jedi" on its opening day, thus completing the original trilogy, yet with a Disney connection that most others would have to wait years or decades later to do.  

 My Own "Key to Fantasyland", given out to those who participated in the second drawbridge lowering, for the Re-Dedication of Fantasyland, when it was redesigned and rebuilt in 1983---the EXACT SAME DAY "Jedi" opened!


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