Saturday, June 15, 2013

Ghosts of Hattiesburg: Theaters that once showed "Star Wars" and that are now gone but not forgotten ...

Every single theater, drive-in or cinema that I ever saw "Star Wars", its sequels or its prequels in, has been swallowed by the relentless march of time and is no more.  Just as Disney has purchased "Star Wars" from Lucas and is planning on rebooting the franchise so too will the new movies to come be played in theaters that the old movies never saw.  I thought some would find this interesting, those who like to see urban decay and "what ever became of ..." type pics.  Here are some pictures of how the movie houses of my youth are today ...

Cloverleaf Cinema Twin

The Cloverleaf Cinema Twin, where I first saw "Star Wars" in the fall of 1977, had died the slow death of a theater stuck in a mall that had long ago lost most of its businesses and in turn become a rented out office space and business lease facility.  Opened in 1972 as a first run theater by United Artists, the Cloverleaf Cinema Twin was later (crudely) converted to a triple screen by taking space for the third screen from the existing two screens (making the third screen in between the other two).  

By the late 90's, after losing business to the Turtle Creek 9 for years, the Cloverleaf Cinema Triplex gave one last go at it and became a discount movie house charging only a dollar a show.  The Triplex finally shut its doors and turned the projectors off for the last time in 2004 ... just a few years after having shown both the reworked "Special Editions" of "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back", both movies which, in their original format, had played on the same screens way back in 1977 and 1980.  What was interesting is that when the local radio and news announcers told us of the demise of the Cloverleaf Cinema Triplex invariably each and every one of them mentioned that it had been place where they had first seen "Star Wars" back in 1977.

Here is the entrance to the old Cloverleaf Cinema in the old Cloverleaf Mall.  You can see one of the stage door / emergency exits there to the right.  I couldn't get into the mall there to take a pic of the inside as it looked like most of that entrance had been remodeled and may now be an entrance to a business office complex.


The Gulf States Hardy Court Cinema Twin

The Gulf States Hardy Court Cinema Twin in the Hardy Court shopping area on Hardy Street was where "Return of the Jedi" first appeared in 1983.  My friends and I piled into his mom's big Dodge passenger van and we all went to see it.  That was probably the largest group of kids I'd ever gone to see a movie with, there were six of us, if I remember correctly ... ages 12 to 15.   This is the theater where I also saw "Blade Runner", "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan", John Carpenter's "The Thing" and Toho's version of "Star Wars" that we all know and love as "Message from Space."  

In college, I had friends who worked at this theater.  Sometime in the late 1990's or early 2000's the theater closed its doors and is now a laser tag arena.  I've played laser tag there a few times with my children, it's kind of creepy and eerie to have a birthday party in the old projection room and be able to look out on the twin screen area knowing that in the past there were rows of seats down there and now there's just futuristic laser tag obstacles splashed with fluorescent paint to fluoresce under the batteries of black lights.

The sign has changed some over the years for Hardy Court but the ad marquee is the same one that used to advertise what movies were playing at the Hardy Court twin cinema oh so long ago.

Here's the entrance to the old Hardy Court Cinema Twin.  You can still see the exterior poster displays where movie posters were displayed showing what was (then) currently playing.

Broadacres Cinema

The Broadacres Cinema, opened in 1975, was originally a twin screen facility.  Two more screens were added in 1980 and two more in the years to come giving it six screens and almost 1200 seats.  This is where I saw "Star Wars" when it returned in the summer of 1979 along with the first trailer / preview for the upcoming sequel "The Empire Strikes Back."  

Almost two decades later, this is where I would see the Special Edition of "The Return of the Jedi".  Owned by O'Neil Theaters, the Broadacres cinema closed its doors in 2006 when it could not compete with the newly opened "The Grand" (the cinema building is still there but it's slowly being turned into a storage facility).

Here's what the Broadacres Cinema looks today ... cracked pavement on the parking lot with grass and weeds growing through the cracks, buckled pavement and even some big car swallowing pot holes.  Work crews are converting this old cinema into ... something.  A sign said that it was going to be a storage facility but that didn't make a lot of sense.  I guess time will tell what it eventually becomes.

Here's another example of how badly this site has been allowed to deteriorate ... this is one of the parking lot lights, grown over now with weeds.  These lights haven't been lit in almost a decade now ...

Here's the back of the cinema, it was considerably grown over a year or so ago.  Some of those are exit doors from the cinema screens.  I guess they cleared up the landscape when they started to recondition the building.

This will give you some sense of how hard it is and was to get to the Broadacres Cinema.  that's the cinema lower left corner with the big parking lot.  It was way off the beaten path.  The big building a little to the right is the old Woolco department store.  In t his area there used to be a gas station, convenience store, Kroger grocery store, Woolco, Broadacres Cinema and a bank.  For a while in the 1970's this area was the main shopping area for residents who lived in North Forrest and the surrounding areas, even when south Hattiesburg seemed to grow in dominance for a while.

At one time it was thought that Hattiesburg would expand towards the north so this was prime real estate.  When Hattiesburg instead exploded to the west this area was left to wither and dry up.  The Woolco went out of business long ago (early 1980's) and is some kind of trucking company now.  The bank is now a Greyhound bus station, the Kroger was bulldozed to the ground long ago and is just a slab to those who remember what used to be there.  A bingo hall was built several years ago but some criminal activity there closed it down and nothing has been there.  They did build a Cracker Barrel restaurant near the old bank and that draws a lot of traffic off of the highway.

There are a lot of other areas here that are important to my teenage years and young adult years ... the Lost Road, the Inn on the Hill, the old Sharky's Shuck and Jive, Krystals, and the loading dock of the old Woolco building but those are all stories found on ... Tales From The Driver's Seat.

The Beverly Drive-In Theater

The Beverly Drive-In theater, first opened in 1948, was long a historical land mark in this area.  It was at the Beverly where I saw the summer re-release of "Star Wars" in 1978.  I remember seeing James Bond's bid for "Star Wars" cash, "Moonraker" when it first came out.  The Beverly Drive-In theater had a sister drive-in a few miles away, the Broadway Drive-In theater.  It was there that I saw the Italian "Star Wars" known as "Star Crash."

The Beverly Drive-In was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In November of 2010, the Beverly Drive-In was completely destroyed in a fire. 

The Broadway Drive In theater was demolished long before the Beverly burned down.  The only way to see where the old Broadway Drive In used to be is to have been old enough to have gone there and still be able to go to that general area.  A look on Google Earth or Google Maps shows the rough outline of the drive in's parking lot.

The Beverly in less than prime condition but before it burned to the ground.  There was a goofy / miniature golf in front of the drive-in, there where the chainlink fence is.  The original owners built their house below the main screen and lived there.  I was lucky enough to talk to one of the owners and visit the interior of the house back in 1990 when I did a college project based on the Beverly.

Here is the Google maps view of the Beverly from a few years ago. 

Just for fun, here's an aerial view of where the old Broadway Drive-In theater used to be, it's the scraped raw spot there in the lower middle.  They've since built a business on it.

Avanti Twin Cinema

The Avanti Twin Cinema was old when I moved to Hattiesburg in 1976.  Hard to get to, facing Hardy Street from a narrow sidewalk and with little or no parking I guess it was intended as a walk-to theater for the college crowd at the University of Southern Mississippi across the street.  "Jaws" played there first run in 1975 but I saw only one movie there as a child that I remember and that was Dino De Laurentis' "King Kong" (the then modern remake).  

Fast forward to 1992.  

I was lucky enough to see "Star Wars" one last time at the old (nay, by then ancient) Avanti twin screen theater across the road from the University of Southern Mississippi.  The theater had been taken over by the college and turned into a student organization run movie house that showed old movies like "Jaws" or "Apocalypse Now" for a meager fee to any active student with an ID.  It was my senior year in college and for one last showing, one showing only, the student body showed "Star Wars" the 1977 original film.  I rode my '84 Honda VF500F Interceptor up there to the 9:00 showing that night.  The theater was packed and I sat, once again, near the rear so that I could see the whole screen.  I mouthed the script silently, I cheered when others cheered.  I boo'ed when others boo'ed and at the end, when the credits rolled, I stood with the others and clapped.

While the theater was emptying, I sat back down and stayed through the credits.  I stayed past the squiggles on the screen until the screen went white and the projector shut off.  It was only then that I got up, walked down the aisle, exited from the side door and stood there where I'd parked my Honda.  I felt sad ... like I'd just said goodbye again, this time forever, to a good friend.  Fifteen years after it had first entered my life and my imagination, "Star Wars" was still a blockbuster movie and I had gotten to see it one last time, in an old theater, in the way that it was meant to be seen.

The Avanti lasted about a decade and a half after that but was used less and less frequently by the student body.  It was torn down in the name of progress to build an intersection and the demolition of that theater took place in June of 2006.

The Avanti Twin Cinema used to stand where those purple trees are now ... demolished in the name of progress. 

United Artists Turtle Creek 9

The Turtle Creek 9 was a huge cinema plex, larger than anything that Hattiesburg had ever been part of before.  Opening in 1994 with the then brand new Turtle Creek Mall the Turtle Creek 9 was where I saw all three of the "Star Wars" prequels as they debuted in 1999, 2002 and 2005.  The Turtle Creek 9 was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina in the early fall of 2005, repaired, briefly opened for a year or two and was then shut down for good in 2007.  Currently it is being used as a church.  Yes, a church, in a mall, and the concession stand still works.  

The showcase movie poster panels outside the theater, the panels that used to advertise the movies then currently playing now hold posters advertising for the church.  Turtle Creek Mall, the mall that killed Cloverleaf Mall and was its replacement is now on its last legs ... you can tell a mall is new when it has a toy store, a book store, a music store and an arcade.  You can tell the mall is dying when the arcade, book store and toy store are all just memories and have been replaced by such crowd rousers like the "As seen on TV" store and a premium mattress store. 

Here's the exits from two of the cinema screens.  I've come down that ramp there late at night on many occasions but sadly no longer ...

The main mall entrance leading to the Turtle Creek cinemaplex on the right.  That's another ex-theater exit door there on the right in the corner.

Here are the "Now Showing" movie poster advertisements outside the old theater ... now used for ads by the church to attract new visitors and members.

Not sure what the old ticket booth is used for now, if anything, but the marquee there above the church sign shows inspirational message scrolls.

Looking inside the locking flex-gate you can still see the massive concession stand lit.  The entrance to the cinema screens was at the top there, where the two green lights are, up a small flight of stairs and with screens to your left and right down hallways.

Here's the old theater in its entirety ... main entrance, ticket booth / office and the advertisement posters on the wall.  Hard to believe that this is now a non-denominational church ... in a mall.

Here's the original theater marquee as it stands today.  Dick's Sporting Goods is just behind me in another building that's seen its fair share of companies and owners over the years.

As luck would have it, I had an old photo of the UA Turtle Creek Cinema marquee back when it was the major theater for the area.  I took a picture mainly because someone incorrectly listed a movie as "Laser of Disguise" instead of "Master of Disguise."  I'm glad I remembered this picture as it shows you what the old marquee looked like before it became a church.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Seeing "Star Wars" for the first time ...

A few months before "Star Wars" started being spoken about I had been uprooted from my classroom in Jackson, MS and with my family we had moved to Hattiesburg, MS in the late fall of 1976.  I had lost all of my friends, I had been put in a new public school already in session during the year, dumped among kids I didn't know and here I was, a stranger in a strange land.

Everyone has a favorite movie in their life.

For some people it is "Gone with the Wind."  For others it might be "The Wizard of Oz" or "Casablanca" or "The Godfather" or "Jaws".

For me that movie was "Star Wars".

"Star Wars" was a movie that will always hold a special place in my heart.

It was 1977, the spring of 1977 and I was in second grade, Mrs. Ross' class, at Thames Elementary School in Hattiesburg, MS, when "Star Wars" came out of nowhere taking me totally by surprise.  

I began to see pictures of "Star Wars" ... early publicity shots, press release photos, just bits and pieces, teasers … The entertainment media back then was primitive ... almost stone age in comparison to what we have today.  Back then you couldn't get on your home computer or your smart phone and look up "Star Wars" ... you had to search for it in periodicals like "People" magazine and "Time" magazine and "Newsweek" magazine.  You had to find these magazines at stores like a bookstore, a news-stand or a grocery store magazine rack and then you had to thumb through them by hand to see if they had any info you wanted.  If these magazines had any info then you had to take what little tidbits they gave you because that was all that you were going to get.  There were no message forums to join and share information, what you held in your hands was it and that was all you were going to get until you were lucky enough for something else to come along your way.

"Star Wars" teased me to no end ... here was some new space action movie that looked hella cool and all I could find out about it was a few pictures that kept getting passed around and printed in magazines and a few paragraphs giving only the simplest of plots and outlines.  “Star Wars” quickly became a runaway train, smashing anything in its path and everyone was getting onboard except me.

On May 25, 1977, "Star Wars" was released in limited theaters and instantly started making waves.  Suddenly there was a movie out there that everyone was talking about ... but it wasn't playing where I lived in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  I’m not even sure that it was playing anywhere in Mississippi at that time and if it was then it wasn’t anywhere close.

In the summer of 1977 I remember going on family vacation once again to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, just like we did almost every year at that time and just like we did every time that we went on vacation to Tennessee we stopped by my grandmother's brother's house to visit him and his wife.  While we were there, my father wanted a haircut so we found a barber shop and that's when I got my first real taste of "Star Wars" in the May issue of "Time" magazine.  

Already calling "Star Wars" "The Year's Best Movie" and already about seven weeks old at the time, it was still the freshest bit of “Star Wars” news that I had.  In fact, until I read the article in the magazine I had no idea that the movie was actually out at that time.  The two page color spread of X-wings and TIE fighters fighting it out in space, Han Solo and Chewbacca and a group of Stormtroopers all amazed me.  These were new pictures, pictures of “Star Wars” that I hadn’t seen before.

My imagination had just been captured.

I had to see this movie! 

I sat there staring at the pictures and reading the limited text of the article while my dad got his haircut.  I remember the barber was nice enough to let me keep the magazine, because this was July and that was May’s issue, and my dad gave him an extra dollar for the magazine just to be nice.  After we left, we passed by a large cinema on the other side of the road and there, in big red letters, were the words "Star Wars" ... 

"Star Wars" was out!

"Star Wars" was playing here!

The movie that I really, really wanted to see was here, now, playing in the city where we were at!

In Chattanooga, TN!  

And we were on vacation!  

I asked my father if we could see “Star Wars” and he said that we’d think about it.  Later that day he reverted to typical father to child logic of "Let's just wait until it starts playing back home to see it" and that was it.  The only problem was that "Star Wars" wasn't initially taken as a serious movie ... it was in limited, perhaps even cautious, distribution, at first, and once it caught box office fire more and more theaters carried it but it was a slow, unstoppable fire that was just starting to burn.  Even Gene Shallot of the "Today" show had only good things to say about the film and his scathing commentary was normally the kiss of death to many promising movies.  I remember seeing his review of the film sometime after the summer and the short clips he displayed in his segment and my appetite was ravenous for "Star Wars" ... but it still wasn't playing in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  From July to September I was teased with bits and pieces of “Star Wars” … I thought I could tell some of the story, I thought I could tell the good guy spaceships from the bad guy spaceships but there was still so much that I didn’t know about the movie, about the story …

Sometime in September I saw my first television advertisement for "Star Wars" ... what people today would call a "trailer".  "Star Wars" still wasn't playing nearby but at least I was seeing the advertisements for "Star Wars" about once a week on the local TV stations, if I was lucky to catch them.  If I was in one end of the house and heard the music and special effects of the commercial you had better not be in my way because I was breaking my neck to get from one end of the house to the other just to catch a few seconds of the commercial / trailer.  

Eventually "Star Wars" did reach Hattiesburg, Mississippi in the late fall of 1977, a good four or five months after it first started playing in major parts of the country.  To sum it up, I first heard about "Star Wars" while I was in mid second grade.  I didn't get to actually see it until I was early into my third grade year at elementary school.  Back then gas prices and inflation were out of control.  You didn’t load up the car and drive 90 miles away to see a movie.  Back then, nobody liked to waste gas or money, in fact, Bell South advertised their phone service with the tag line of “Let your fingers do the walking” meaning call stores or theaters to see if they have what you want before you drive all that way rather than get in the car, drive over there and look and waste gas and be disappointed.

Waiting on "Star Wars" to start playing at my local cinema was like waiting on Christmas to come around again ... all the while knowing that I was going to make out like a bandit when I woke up that morning.  The anticipation of "Star Wars" was palpable, there was electricity in the air and "Star Wars" was generating it all across America.

And then it was here ... “Star Wars” began playing at the twin screen cinema located in our local mall, Cloverleaf Mall.  And what did my dad say when I asked him to go see it the first weekend that it opened?

"That seems to be a pretty popular movie.  Let's wait a week or two ... let the crowds die down so we don't have to fight all of those people just to get tickets and get a good seat."


I felt like Charlie Brown feels when he goes to kick the football that Lucy is holding and she yanks it away at the last second and he goes flying onto his back.  If the Force had been strong with me I would have Force choked my father on the spot … but I didn’t know about the Force or that you could Force choke someone so ...

One week turned into two weeks and the crowds didn’t die down they just got bigger.  Everyone was going to see “Star Wars” not just once but twice, three times, four times … even more!  Long lines at the cinema were common place when we went to Cloverleaf Mall and I used to go stand by the cinema, wishing I could see that movie, looking at the movie poster, seeing all the people standing in line for each and every show. 

Two weeks turned into three weeks. 

My friends at school were all raving about “Star Wars” and one friend had even seen it three times now. 

That was it! 

That was frigging it!

When my dad got home that Friday night I begged him and my mom to take me to see “Star Wars” and for about 20 minutes I was “that child” but I had finally had enough.  It was a movie.  I knew it was more than that but to my parents it was just a movie.  I wanted to see it.  I’d been wanting to see it for about half a year now.  I’d been patient.  No, I’d been beyond patient.  I’d been almost Job-like in my patience but now my patience was at an end, an absolute end.  I think that was the first time that my dad realized just how serious I was about seeing this movie … or what it meant to me to go see it.

And so, about three weeks after “Star Wars” first opened in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, at the end of October or the first part of November 1977 I finally did get to see the movie that I’d waited so long to see.   My dad took me, 8 years old, and my sister, 5 years old, to see it on a cold, gray Saturday matinee.  We stood in line for nearly 45 minutes to get tickets and when we did we had to sit near the back of the theater but that was fine with me since it was a really large screen and the speakers were at the rear of the theater.

What waited for me inside that theater was anything but cold and gray.  What waited for me inside that theater was beyond anything that I had imagined or could have imagined.  What was waiting inside that theater was a mental reset for a wonder-filled eight year old boy’s mind.  What was waiting inside that theater was a complete reprogramming of my fertile little imagination.

I remember the first time that I saw "Star Wars" ... mind blowing is too small, too incomplete of a term to describe the experience.  I'd seen movies before ... mostly Disney flicks like "Escape to Witch Mountain" and "Follow that Dinosaur" and the animated "Robin Hood" ... to me, movies were just big shows, a movie screen was just a big TV screen.  You got popcorn and a drink, you sat in the dark and you watched the movie.  Movies, to me, up until that point in time, were just big TV shows without commercials.  That was what was cool about movies … they were just like TV shows that didn’t have any commercials.  Big TV shows.

"Star Wars" was different ...

"Star Wars" wasn't a movie, it wasn't a big TV show on a big screen ... it was an escape from everything that sucked in the 1970's.   “Star Wars” was a ticket to ride to a galaxy far, far away.  "Star Wars" was an experience; it was a two hour vacation of the senses, of epic storytelling, of thundering music, of ear shattering sounds, of eye melting special effects and it transported you to crystal clear vistas the likes of which you had never before seen.  Outer space, vibrant colored planets, a world that was a desert, a giant metal space station the size of a small moon and a lush jungle planet from which our heroes would fight back from.  Screaming blaster bolts, hissing light sabers, whining spaceship engines, booming explosions all carried out to an orchestra background that not only captured perfectly the sense of the action of the movie but a soundtrack that moved your very soul.

“Star Wars”, in short, was pure magic made real.

"Star Wars" became a pop culture supernova ... it was the perfect storm that appeared at the perfect time and America, let alone the world, was never the same after.  "Star Wars" appeared at a time of great doom and gloom in America.  After years and years of political corruption, Watergate, OPEC, problems in the Middle East, energy crises, inflation, pollution, and a whole host of other grim situations America was ready for something that made us feel good, something that we could root for and cheer for.

"Star Wars" was just that.

The nation, and perhaps the world, needed a "feel-good" movie and "Star Wars" filled that need for many, many people.  It was a simple tale of good and evil, of struggle, of loss and ultimately of good triumphing over evil in a classic way but "Star Wars" took it so much farther.  "Star Wars" appeared on the scene and took command of everything ... references to "Star Wars" soon appeared in everything from church bulletins to politics and political cartoons.

 "Star Wars" was unlike anything anyone had ever seen or experienced before ... going into "Star Wars" for the first time obliterated any preconceived notions of science fiction, obliterated any established frames of reference that you may have thought that you had in regard to movies, to visual effects, and to soundtracks.  

"Star Wars" wasn't a movie, no, it was an event … a once in a lifetime event.  It was like being at ground zero of a pop culture supernova.

From the opening title logo scrawl to that first view of Princess Leia's eleven engine ship racing across the screen getting chased by that huge Imperial Star Destroyer that filled the screen and seemed to go on and on forever ... the fierce battles in the corridor of her ship, the secret message being loaded into R2D2, the escape pod, the desert planet, the hunt for the droids, the death of Luke's uncle and aunt, the cantina, the Falcon's escape, the destruction of Alderaan, the rescue of the Princess, the gunfight in the cell block, the garbage compactor, the heroes getting chased through the Death Star, the death of Obi-Wan, the gun turrets of the Falcon blasting the pursuit TIE fighters, the Rebel base in the old stone temple on Yavin, the preparation for the attack on the Death Star, the final battle and the awards ceremony for the heroes.  "Star Wars" was a fairy tale brought to life, torn from the pages of a child's story book and given life by hundreds of talented individuals ... like Disney's "Fantasia" where Mickey Mouse uses magic to animate ordinary items into an orchestra of motion and action, George Lucas used magic to bring to life a fairy tale like nothing ever seen before.
Our first glimpse of what would become an iconic pop-culture starship ... the Millennium Falcon.

Like I said, it was a primitive time of media entertainment ... once a movie was gone it wasn't going to be in stores on VHS or DVD six weeks after it left the theaters ... it was gone for good.  There were no VHS or DVDs back then, laserdisc was just starting to be available but it was super 

(One of my favorite scenes in the 1977 movie. I still prefer the unedited lift-off sequence to the CGI version.  One thing George Lucas should have learned long ago is "just because you CAN change something doesn't mean that you SHOULD.")

Kids today are so spoiled ... seeing a movie in a theater has, even for me, become a rarely used option these days especially with people being obnoxious and rude, cell phones, outrageous prices and the advent of high quality, easily affordable home theater setups.  I'd rather just wait until the movie is released to direct sales and rent a copy from Redbox or Netflix and watch it at home than I would see it on the big screen and pay $40 to do so.  For me, now that watching a movie is an option at home, it makes it more fun to do so.  I can hit the subtitles, I can pause the movie if I need to go to the bathroom or get something else to eat or drink, I can rewind and watch a scene over again, I can even stop the movie, walk away, go to bed and come back later and pick right back up where I left off.  You can't do that if you go see a movie in a theater ... and I guess for a while there that was part of the magic as well.  For a while, "Star Wars" was only available in the theater and you had to experience it that way if you were going to experience it at all.

 If you don't believe that seeing "Star Wars", the first movie,  was an experience, imagine the feeling of sitting there in that theater back in 1977 when the first Rebel fighter begins its attack run on the Death Star trench ... the screen tilts crazily, green laser bolts flash from surface anti-spacecraft guns trying to destroy you, speed blurs everything, space careens around you as you, put into the pilot's seat of the lead fighter for the point of view, scream down out of space, drop into the trench and level off in a dizzying array of aerobatic skill ... you were there for that and it was magic.


“Star Wars” was different because it was made different.  In fact, several technologies had to be invented in order for “Star Wars” to even exist.  “Star Wars” wasn’t just the same old tricks with a new coat of paint, no, “Star Wars” was a whole new breed of film.

"Star Wars" was space opera ... not the dark, gritty, no-nonsense, moral-imposing approach to stories like Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" or  the special effects laden tree hugging cult classic "Silent Running" (even though "Star Wars" shared the same kind of colossal special effects as those two movies) , "Star Wars" instead was just good, clean fun.  It was something that you could sit back in the theater seat, grab some popcorn and a Coke, throw your mind into neutral and just lose yourself in it.

“Star Wars” was a first … unlike “Star Trek” and “2001” and “Silent Running” or “Logan’s Run” or “Planet of the Apes”, all of which were science fiction that had to be interpreted or which told a moralistic play and drove home a lesson … “Star Wars” could simply be enjoyed and that, probably above all else, is what made it the success that it was.

“Star Wars” entertained.

It didn’t preach.

It didn’t warn.

It didn’t threaten.

It didn’t try to influence your social or political behavior or change you as a person.

... and it didn't require you to think a whole lot in order to "get it".

“Star Wars” was just space opera for space opera’s sake.  It was fun … for fun’s sake.  When you went to see “Star Wars” you didn’t feel like you had just been shoved down on the front row pew of the church of science fiction and that the preacher was about to make you really uncomfortable for the next two hours of your life … no, when you went to see “Star Wars” you felt like the only thing missing was a seat belt on your theater chair.

"Star Wars" was a movie that was like nothing ever seen before or I'd dare say ever since.  Something like "Star Wars" was a once in a lifetime chance to experience and those who did not experience it like I did are poorer for the loss.

"Star Wars" smashed the box office like the Death Star smashed the planet Alderaan.
Another shot of the crowds waiting to see, to experience "Star Wars."

"Star Wars" wasn't a movie ... it was an amusement ride, a visual and audio roller coaster ride that lasted almost two hours.  Long lines formed to see "Star Wars" and it soon broke all box office records, becoming the highest grossing motion picture of all time edging out even “The Godfather” and “Jaws”.  "

Star Wars" became a hero of a film, setting new records, winning new awards, storming our lives and "Star Wars" seemed to be here to stay.  Week after week the words “Star Wars” were displayed on the marquee of the local theater.  Every day, in the movie advertisement section of the local newspaper was a large ad for “Star Wars”.  Other movies came and went but in Hattiesburg at the twin screen cinema located in Cloverleaf Mall, week after week the title "Star Wars" stayed on the billboard marquee.  It made me happy, as a child, to see that "Star Wars" was still playing week after week at the same cinema.  It seemed like something that I could count on, like an anchor in my life.

Six months "Star Wars" played in the same theater on the same screen.

After six months I soon started to think that "Star Wars" would never leave ... that "Star Wars" would always be a part of my life, that anytime I wanted to go see "Star Wars" that I would be able to do so now or next week or three months from then.  After a year, "Star Wars" was still playing in the same cinema, day after day, week after week, and it seemed like it would never go away.

Oh, while "Star Wars" had played at that little twin screen cinema in the Cloverleaf Mall I must have gone and seen it about twenty-five times, probably on average twice a month and sometimes when I went to see it I just didn't leave ... I camped out in the theater all afternoon.  I went and saw “Star Wars” by myself because “Star Wars” became a personal experience, a personal journey and I didn’t care to share that with others. 

I remember that I would watch one viewing of "Star Wars", stay through the credits, use the bathroom, get some more popcorn, another drink, and I would just sit back down and wait until the next showing began and then I would watch it from start to finish again.  In those days, you could get away with that, especially if you were a little kid.  Not so much today but when you could it was glorious to be a kid.

I would do chores for "Star Wars" money ... I'd cut the grass or do housework or help wash my parents' cars and when I got my allowance I would get my parents to carry me to the mall, drop me off, and pick me up after the show or shows if I was staying all afternoon.  Times were different back then, I wouldn't let my children go to see a show by their selves at 8 years old and just leave them all afternoon but back then you could, at least in Hattiesburg, Mississippi you could.

And then ... one day "Star Wars" left Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

I'm not sure when it happened because it seemed like "Star Wars" had been playing forever but when I saw that the cinema marquee no longer showed "Star Wars" as playing there I felt incredibly sad as a child, like a good friend had moved off and that I would never see them again.  

And like that, "Star Wars" was gone, replaced with something else ... I don't remember what movie finally replaced "Star Wars" because what ever had replaced it had turned that cinema from a shrine of experience back into just an ordinary, boring cinema ... just a big TV screen showing a big television show with no commercials.  When "Star Wars" left Hattiesburg, Mississippi, it took with it something magic, something special, that was never again to be seen or experienced in the way that it had been.

And then it was back!

“Star Wars” was re-released for the summer of 1978 and the magic was there again.  This time, “Star Wars” played at the Beverly Drive-In Theater.  There was a new movie poster and my father, my sister and I went to see “Star Wars” again for my birthday.  The screen was bigger but the speakers that you had to hang from the window of your car, the summer heat with no air conditioning and sitting there in a car all made “Star Wars” not exactly what it had been just six months previously but it was still “Star Wars” and I loved it.  I was nine years old and “Star Wars” was back for a visit on the big screen.

In the summer of 1979, “Star Wars” visited again … this time at the Broadacres four screen theater set way back in a war torn parking lot that was hard to get to and located behind the Woolco store.  That was the time when previews for next summer’s sequel to “Star Wars”, titled “The Empire Strikes Back” were also being shown.  Immediately there was a feeling that the sequel wasn’t as stunning as the original … even the preview, presented to amaze and tease, did really neither.  The characters looked different, the locations were different, the action was hard to follow in the preview and ultimately it felt like someone had just taken bits and pieces of “Star Wars” and thrown them together in new ways.  We were used to the desert world of Tattooine … now we had an ice planet with big ice monsters, we had an asteroid field (was that the remains of Alderaan?) and some city in the clouds.

After seeing the preview for “The Empire Strikes Back” and then watching “Star Wars” again in an enclosed cinema building I felt like I really was saying goodbye to a childhood friend … to my best friend.  I felt that the new kid on the block, coming this time next year, may have been moving into the same house with the same address as my old friend that I was saying goodbye to but this new kid, this sequel, wasn’t going to be the same as the friend that I had spent the last three years with.  The new movie didn’t excite, it didn’t grab me and whisk me off to places I’d never been before and so when “Star Wars” left again, for the last time, in that summer of 1979 a part of me left with it too.

The theater, which had once again become a kind shrine of sci-fi experience, once again became just a building where they showed movies.

I was ten years old.  I’d now seen “Star Wars” over twenty-five times in three different locations.  “Star Wars” and I had been best friends for the better part of three years now.  That’s a long time to a child.  Those were magical years, golden years that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

36 Years Ago Today: 5-25-1977 to 5-25-2013

Welcome to my new "Star Wars" blog ... launched thirty-six years to the day (May 25, 1977) after the original release of "Star Wars" the movie in theaters.  

That's "Star Wars" ...  

Not "Episode IV: A New Hope" ... just "Star Wars" from a time when there was one movie and only one movie.  Back before the dark times ... before the sequels and prequels ... a time before the magic was lost.

"Star Wars" - just ... "Star Wars"

I can still remember what seeing this poster in the marquee display at the Cloverleaf Mall twin cinema used to do to me, walking past it, seeing "STAR WARS" in those slide on black letters on the display out front ... it was enough to make a eight year old boy's heart race and imagination soar.

Years passed.


And yet, my love for this one movie never died.  It suffered, it faltered, sometimes it even went a little cold but it never died.  Over the many years since 1977 I've often thought back to that time in my life ... those wonderful years of 1977 to 1979 and having those memories I thought it might be nice, maybe even important, to share those memories with others who were there, with others who might have forgotten or who might want to remember again the magic that George Lucas brought to the silver screen a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

So ...

I decided to start a "Star Wars" blog, filled with memories of my childhood and what it was like to be a seven year old kid when "Star Wars" hit the big screen in 1977.  I decided to do this because if I didn't separate the "Star Wars" memories from the rest of the things I wanted to talk about then the "Star Wars" memories would rapidly drown the "Angst and Speed" blog.

The three years of time that stretched from December 1976 to December 1979 will always be a golden age of childhood for me ... a special time of magic and wonder and excitement and awe.  This new blog of mine is called "The March of the Twelve Backs" and the title is taken from the name of the card stock that the original twelve Kenner Star Wars action figures used back then.  

The original "12 Back" card circa 1978 showing the super ultra-rare telescopic Lightsaber (very few figures arrived with these) and the first three vehicles designed for those new three and three quarter inch sized action figures.  The artwork was 

The action figures were in such demand, hell, anything with the "Star Wars" name on it let alone toys, were in such high demand that Kenner didn't even have pictures of the final figures to show ... so they did some beautiful full color artwork of the characters that would be represented by the action figures and put this artwork on the card backs of the original 12 action figures along with a description of what each figure was and the equipment that came with it.  Hence, the term "Twelve Backs."  I know, given thirty-six years later that there are hundreds of Star Wars figures out there from all six movies and all the other Star Wars related shows and specials and games and novels but back when "Star Wars" hit the big screen there were only twelve action figures.  Period.  And three toy vehicles.  Period.

Star Wars affected people around the world like a cultural supernova.  There was magic and awe in the air, people lined up around the block to get to see "Star Wars" and they saw it multiple times.  "Star Wars" was magic, pure and simple, and it was a real kind of magic.  I'm a huge fan of the original 1977 "Star Wars" movie ... the first release ... before George Lucas re-released it and stuck the tagline of "Episode IV: A New Hope" into the prelude scrawl across the stars.  For me, there was only one "Star Wars" and that was the original, 1977, unedited release.  Everything after that pretty much blew sweaty Bantha genitalia.

There was a very palpable magic in "Star Wars" ...  Lucas was hailed as a visionary at the time but as the decades would slowly prove George Lucas was much less a visionary than he was a revisonary ... often with terrible results.  Lucas said that when he made "Star Wars" he set about to "Give a fairytale to a generation that didn't have any fairytales."  

Of course, my generation had fairytales.  We had the classics like Aesops and others. 

What Lucas really meant was that he was going to give a fairytale to a generation that had no fairytales because the generation that he was talking about didn't believe in classic, traditional fairytales.  No.  That generation was the generation that spawned all of the bleeding heart liberals and tree hugging, environmental whackos and with tthat in mind Lucas set about to turn "Star Wars" into the biggest, whine-fest of a liberal fairytale that the world had seen.  What started out as a simple tale of good versus evil with good triumphing over evil must have really messed up Lucas' mind and laid his hippy spirit low ... After "Star Wars" became the cultural phenomenon that it did there was speculation and talk of how evil Darth Vader was.  Vader's rapid rise to one of, if not the, most iconic villains in movie history probably threw Lucas into overdrive to correct that perception.

How is "Star Wars" a liberal fairytale?


Taken as a whole, the six movies put together tell the story of Darth Vader, aka Anakin Skywalker, and how it just wasn't his fault that he turned out to be evil.  You see, in a liberal mindset, devoid of logic and thinking and filled with emotion, there really isn't any such thing as good and evil ... instead there's just different shades of gray.  No one is evil, no one is responsible for what they do or did, rather they're all victims of bad childhoods, not getting a pony for their 8th birthday, growing up in a single parent family, unfair child labor, competing in violent pod races ... to a liberal anyone who does something bad is never at fault ... instead, it's their circumstances which are to blame for their behavior.  

Liberals are the kind of people who, when one person takes a gun and shoots another person then the person who used the gun and pulled the trigger isn't to blame ... no, they are just the victim of all the bad things that happened to them in life and we must explore those circumstances, compassionately, in order to arrive at the real truth of the situation.  Oh, and it's the gun's fault for shooting the other person.  Liberals love to blame inanimate objects and give them animate traits and since liberals really can't punish a handgun they instead try to punish the company that made the handgun ... rather than punish the person who actually pulled the trigger and shot the other individual.  In the liberal mindset the real crime is that the gun exists in the first place.  If the gun had never existed or been manufactured then the person wouldn't have used it to shoot another person.

For some of you reading this, I've just introduced you to the incredibly stupid world of liberalism.  I've come to realize that most liberals are simply suffering from advanced mental retardation.  You cannot be a liberal unless you are severely mentally retarded because what they use for logic makes no real sense at all and defies everything else that we know is sound and true.

Darth Vader / Anakin Skywalker is a perfect example of liberal logic.  

Anakin was from a single parent home and over the six different movies we come to find out that Darth Vader, once considered cinema's reigning black armor clad prince of evil, was not so much a tremendous villain as he was just a tremendous fuck up.  After he is thrust into greatness at Naboo he consistently fails to live up to expectations after that.  In the second movie he is shown to have severe mommy issues.  In the third episode he is refused what he wants, he breaks the rules of those who have taken him in and ultimately his greed and desires destroy everything around him.  He was supposed to bring balance to the Force, according to a prophecy, but instead he destroys the Jedi order ... almost.  

In Episode IV Vader is tasked with retrieving the stolen plans to the Death Star and he fails in that ... it's only when the plans come blundering back his way does he get a chance to redeem himself.  Often touted as the greatest star pilot ever, Darth Vader, given all of his experience in starfighters and his command of the Dark Side of the Force, can't even protect the massive Death Star from one single Rebel X-wing piloted by a daydreaming teenager (who we come to later discover is his son), a teenager who is only a fledgling in the powers of the Force and no where near the level of mastery that Vader is.  

In Episode V, Vader is tasked with finding the rebels and when he eventually does they escape!  Our heroes leave Vader, literally, empty handed at the end of the movie.  Oh, he caused the rebels a lot of grief in Episode V and even managed to split up the merry band of friends by giving Solo to Boba Fett but in reality Vader really didn't do any permanent damage to either our band of Rebels or the Rebellion.  In Episode VI, he is charged with protecting the Emperor and the new Death Star.  Vader fails again, on both counts.  In the end, after getting his ass kicked by his now acknowledged son, Vader wusses out, attones for his sins, turns sides, kills the Emperor and, well, the rebels win (with the help of lots and lots of tree hugging teddy bears with sharp sticks).

"Star Wars" (1977) is an amazing film.  

Taken as a whole, the story given to us in Episodes I to VI leaves a lot to be desired and ultimately disappoints in a huge way.  Someone said that when it came to Episode I: A Phantom Menace, that Lucas just went "pants wetting insane" and that's not hard to believe given that Episodes I to III pretty much were Lucas giving the middle finger to everyone who had believed in him since 1977.   Each of those five movies (Episodes I to III, Episodes V and VI) took the "Star Wars" name and franchise and ruined it more and more with each new movie released until by the end of the entire six part story the original magic that was "Star Wars" was pretty much dead and buried for all time.  Some of the highlights of Lucas' epic failure in even basic story telling include the fact that Vader built C3PO, Luke is Vader's son and Leia is Vader's daughter ... oh, yeah, and The Force is just like the flu, it's caused by tiny germs in your body.  The flu can bring you down and make you miss work but if you've got Mitochlorians in your bloodstream, you can jerk an X-wing out of a swamp and set it down on dry land.  Oh, almost forgot ... Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader was immaculately conceived ... no father, his mother just got pregnant with The Force or The Holy Spirit whichever you want to liken that to ala the Jesus story.

This Robot Chicken Star Wars skit had me rolling on the bed laughing because it was so true.   

The original 1977 "Star Wars" movie was (and still is) the best.  

By far.  


My new blog, "The March of the Twelve Backs" will be recounting the memories of the magic and awe that George Lucas brought into the world in May of 1977 ... the first and last time that he did so.  The blog will be about memories of a time when magic was real and of a time when that magic was everywhere.  If you were a kid way back then and you were lucky enough to see "Star Wars" in the theater back in 1977 then you know what I'm talking about and I think you'll like this new blog.

If you're one of those people who think that "Empire" is better than "Star Wars" or that the prequels were any good then I doubt you and I have very much to talk about.

Anyways, welcome to "The March of the 12 Backs"!  


Friday, May 17, 2013

Leading up to the Storm ...

Starting in the late Summer and early Fall of 1977 I began to see television commercials for "Star Wars" and I was hooked.  "Star Wars" was like nothing that I'd ever seen before ... it wasn't a movie, no, it was liquid magic painted on your eyes with a high tech brush.

The quick images, eye candy, the music and the sounds were often caught incomplete with me hearing the commercial start in the other room, dropping everything and running to catch what I could of the commercial while I could before it ended. 

Sometimes I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and I got to see the entire commercial from start to finish.

Thirty seconds ... that's all it took to blow my seven year old mind right out of my skull.

Remember, back then there was no Internet, no Youtube, no DVR, no rewind.  TV stations were limited, the Big Three networks and a few other channels, no where near the hundreds of channels that we have today.  These early advertisement commercials played at random times during the day and night and if you missed them, well, you missed them.  If you missed them and your friends didn't, well, you'd know about it the next day at school.  Yeah, back then sometimes childhood was just bucket loads of steaming hot disappointment.  

Kids today are so spoiled ... media and information sharing has come so far in the last four decades that kids today have no idea of how hard it was way back then to find a new picture of this movie, to see a trailer again or to find out any information at all.  "Star Wars" opened in a limited number of theaters and slowly added to that as 1977 rolled on.  Big cities got "Star Wars" but smaller cities and towns had to wait so even though "Star Wars" opened in May of 1977 it wasn't until October or November of 1977 that "Star Wars" reached Hattiesburg, Mississippi, opening in the Cloverleaf Mall Twin Cinema (now long out of business).

Here are two television commercials that aired advertising "Star Wars", the first was an early promo.

"Star Wars" early promo commercial

The second commercial was run more often ...

"Star Wars" trailer

And a brace of TV spots that I remember the most ...

"Star Wars" TV spot