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Sep 22 2013

Seeing Star Wars In 1977 (Or Was It 1978?)

Star Wars Poster Style CUntil recently, whenever I was asked about my first experience seeing Star Wars, my answer had always been that I saw it in Elkin, North Carolina during the summer of 1977 at the age of 4. Recent reflections, mostly due to the creation of this site, have made me reconsider that answer and dive deeper into my past. The location is not in question. The fact that Star Wars was the first film that I ever saw in a theater is also not in question. However, there are just too many inconsistencies with regards to the timing of the release of the Kenner Star Wars toys and other memories for me to have seen Star Wars in 1977. Consider the following:

Topps Star Wars Trading Cards 1977 (eBay Seller)

Topps Star Wars Trading Cards 1977 (Image Courtesy eBay Seller star_l-o-l_wars)

My first exposure to Star Wars came at the home of my babysitter. Her children had the blue border Topps Star Wars trading cards. Upon seeing these cards, I was instantly intrigued. As a fan of robots as they were depicted in the short-lived television series “Project UFO,” I was unable to figure out why R2–D2 did not have a clear dome with lights inside. After all, in my young mind, all robots were the same, regardless of the universe in which they reside. Who was “Grand Moff Tarkin?” Grand Moff sounded a lot like “Grandma” but he was a man, not a woman. While staring at all of these exotic images, many questions formed in my mind. The children of my babysitter seemed to know a lot about Star Wars and I recall having many fun Star Wars discussions with them.

Kenner Vintage Luke Skywalker, Ben Kenobi and Landspeeder (courtesy ratherchildish.wordpress.com)

Kenner Vintage Luke Skywalker, Ben Kenobi and Landspeeder (Image Courtesy Star Wars Action Figures Doing What They Do Best)

My next exposure to Star Wars serves as the basis of my theory that I actually saw Star Wars in 1978. I traveled with my parents to the home of some old friends in a nearby city. Their friends had a couple of children who were a few years older than me. They had Star Wars toys! As I had spent lots of time staring at the Topps Star Wars trading cards, it was amazing for me to see those characters come to life in the form of toys. I distinctly remember the children having Darth Vader, Ben Kenobi, Luke Skywalker and the Landspeeder vehicle. As part of our play, we pretended that the Landspeeder had broken down. We had Luke under the hood of the Landspeeder using his lightsaber to “repair” the engine. Also, since there were three of us, we each took a figure and engaged in a three-way lightsaber duel. Because we now know that Kenner was unable to get Star Wars toys on store shelves until 1978 and I played with Star Wars toys prior to seeing the film, there was no way for me to have seen the film in 1977.

Grease LogoFinally, when my parents took me to see Star Wars, they were less than impressed. Because it just drops you right in the middle of the action, my parents had a difficult time following the plot of the film. On more than one occasion, I remember my mom telling people that she would have rather gone next door and seen the film Grease instead of having to sit through Star Wars. Grease was not released until 1978.

The Elkin Public Library (Elkin, NC)

The Elkin Public Library (Elkin, NC)

I wanted to get to the bottom of this mystery, so I recently set about the task of researching the dates that Star Wars had been exhibited in Elkin. Because Elkin was a small town with only one theater, my research was not very difficult. I visited the Elkin Public Library to explore the microfilm archives of the local newspaper, The Tribune. I started with the premiere date for Star Wars, May 25, 1977, and looked at every ad for the Reeves Theater from that date going forward.

Star Wars was first exhibited at the Reeves Theater September 9 through September 22, 1977.

Star Wars was first exhibited in Elkin at the Reeves Theater September 9 through September 22, 1977. (Image Courtesy The Tribune)

Star Wars was exhibited at the Reeves for the first time from September 9th through September 22nd, 1977. While it is possible that I could have seen Star Wars during this engagement, it would be inconsistent with my memories of the events described above. So, I decided to keep digging through the microfilm archives.

Image Courtesy Winston-Salem Journal

Image Courtesy Winston-Salem Journal

For a little bit of historical perspective, The Reeves Theater opened in 1941. It had a single auditorium that seated 250 in the lower level and another 140 in the balcony. In 1977, the Reeves maintained its original single-auditorium configuration.

Growing up near Elkin, I saw plenty of movies at the local theater. However, my memories were not of a single-screen theater called the Reeves. Instead, my memories of movies in Elkin were of a dual-screen theater called the Elk Twin. The Elk Twin had two auditoriums; the larger on the entrance level and another, smaller auditorium upstairs. As I continued to research The Tribune archives, I found an article dated February 8, 1978 entitled “Reeves Theater Has Twins.” This article detailed plans to enclose the balcony of the Reeves Theater and turn it into a second auditorium. On May 5, 1978, the Reeves Theater became the Elk Twin and exhibited two first run films, “The Pack” and “The Goodbye Girl.” Another piece of the Star Wars puzzle had fallen into place. Now, all I needed was proof that Star Wars and Grease were both exhibited at the same time in Elkin.

Elk Twin Star Wars Ad 1978-07-19

Star Wars and Grease played together at the Elk Twin July 21 through August 3, 1978. (Image Courtesy The Tribune)

It did not take me long to find what I was looking for. On July 21, 1978, Star Wars returned to Elkin. Playing on the other screen at the Elk Twin was Grease, having been held over for its second week. Star Wars and Grease would play simultaneously for two weeks, July 21st through August 3rd, 1978. On August 4th, Star Wars was replaced by Damien Omen II while Grease was held over for its fourth consecutive week.

While I have always enjoyed the bragging rights associated with seeing Star Wars in 1977, memories of events and research into the matter leads me to believe that I actually saw Star Wars for the first time between July 21 and August 3, 1978. To more closely pin down the actual date, it is likely that I saw it on a weekend during the 3pm matinee showing. That would mean that I either saw it July 22nd, 23rd, 29th, or 30th. Unless someone actually has a dated photograph of me at the screening, that’s likely as close as I will ever come to pinning down the exact date I saw Star Wars.

When did you see your first Star Wars film? Are you sure?

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2 comments

  1. Your Daddy

    Son, this article is very nice and it brings memories to my mind also…….
    Thanks son for the “Trip”

    1. C. W. Walker

      Thank you, Dad, for taking me to see Star Wars and creating memories that will last a lifetime.

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