A long time ago, in a land far, far away…

In the summer of 1977, I went back east to visit my dad. My sister and I were going to join him on a trip to the British Isles. I had heard of this film Star Wars, and when we passed through Manhattan, we saw people lined up for blocks to get into the theater. This being New York, the lines spilled out into the streets and cars were stuck in the ensuing traffic jams. Dad promised we’d see the film when we got back and, we hoped, the lines were a little shorter.

That trip was memorable for many reasons, but the day that sticks out now was this: we were staying in a small town in the north of Ireland. In the town square was a movie theater, and on the marquee it said Star Wars. Having just seen lines around the block in New York City just a few days before, we couldn’t quite believe that the same film was showing at this closed theater in this quiet little Irish town. We looked around the box office and knocked on the doors, but no one was there. A sign said that the theater would open at 5:00 PM, so we resolved to come back. Which we did, shortly before 5:00 PM, to avoid any lines. There were no lines.

The box office opened sometime afterward, and the theater manager (also the guy who sold tickets) assured us that yes, this was the same Star Wars. We asked him when the film would start and he told us in about an hour, so we bought our three tickets and, when it became clear there would be no line, we wandered around the town for a bit, making sure to get there before 6:00 so we could still get good seats.

That turned out not to be a problem as we three Americans were the first people in the theater. We sat and waited. And waited. A few more people came in and took their seats, chatting and eating popcorn. About 6:30, Dad went to find the manager to ask when the movie would start. He came back and reported that the manager told him the movie would start when the people got there. Every few minutes, that fellow would pop his head in, count how many seats were taken, then disappear again. Finally, once the theater was about half-way full — it was well after 7:00 now — the lights dimmed, the projector fired up, and we watched a short comedy about a fat man trying to get into a small boat. When that was done, the lights came back on, a few more people wandered in, and after a good twenty minutes or so the lights dimmed again and the feature began.

Many people have fond memories of their first time seeing Star Wars on the big screen: the whimsical “A long time ago…”, the now iconic Star Wars logo, the opening crawl and that stirring John Williams score. My fondest memory is turning to see my dad all wide-eyed, like a little kid, staring at space ships, and sitting in a theater where the entertainment starts when the people got there.

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