My own personal time machine

Say what you will about William Shatner. For a boy growing up in the seventies, there was nobody cooler than Captain Kirk. He commanded a starship, he could win wrestling matches with Gremorian fangor beasts, and he would often enjoy wild monkey love with green alien women.

Yes, I was big Star Trek fan as a kid. I watched every single episode multiple times. I collected and built all the plastic model kits. I bought the Star Fleet Technical Manual and blueprints. Couldn’t get enough of the show. Of course, I was also a fan of the larger science fiction genre, eagerly soaking in movies likeSilent RunningThe Omega ManThe Andromeda Strain and of course, Planet of the Apes. But there was still nothing like the interstellar adventures of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Yet as much as I loved the show, it still wasn’t enough. I wanted to see more space ships. Space ships moving around in space. Space ships moving around in space and shooting at other space ships which were also moving around in space. Yet none of these movies or TV shows satisfied me. Not evenThunderbirds or its younger siblings, U.F.O. or Space: 1999. They came close, but never quite hit the spot.

Worst of all, none of the visual effects of the day were terribly convincing. The phasers of Star Trek, the midget amputees of Silent Running, the domed cities of Logan’s Run, all woefully lacking something. Interestingly enough, as oddball as the visual effects were in Logan’s Run, they earned an Oscar. An Oscar! Little did they know how lucky they were to have gotten that award when they did, because a revolution
was coming over the Hollywood hills.

In June of 1977 I was nearly 14 years old. My brother told me about this new sci-fi movie that had come out. He had read that it was really great, so we had my parents drop us off at the Eric theater in Pennsauken so we could see it. We paid our money, grabbed some pop corn, and sat, waiting to be thrilled by yet another sci-fi movie. The opening scroll went by, the rebel blockade runner sped by, then the imperial star destroyer began to fill the screen from the top down. It just kept coming. And coming. And Coming. Then at last came the end of the ship. No wait! That’s just a big opening in the bottom of the ship! It’s still moving past! Finally the stern was visible, with its engines glowing bright blue.

I wonder if I ever really recovered from that. For that was just the opening salvo in what was George Lucas’s way of kicking down the door of the sci-fi genre and saying “I’ve come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass–and I’m all out of bubble gum.

Star Wars was the sci-fi movie to end all sci-fi movies. It had everything a young fan could want: heroes, villains, talking robots, cool-ass laser swords, bug-eyed aliens, lots of things that blowed up real good, and most of all: space ships moving around in space and shooting at other space ships which were also moving around in space.

And the visual effects were to die for. Finally futuristic weapons looked realistic. Space ships moved beautifully and didn’t have those edge artifacts which plagued previous green-screen work. Creatures didn’t look like guys zipped into foam latex suits.

But the thing that made the whole venture so credible was the fact that things were dirty. This was a well-worn universe. Not the squeaky clean, impeccably lit Enterprise. No, this was the Millenium Falcon with carbon scoring. This was the X-Wing fighters with greasy grime around the edges. Robots with chipped paint. Han Solo’s gloves had years of wear and tear on them. Everything seemed somehow possible.

I left the theater completely enthralled by what I had seen and eager to save up enough money to buy the soundtrack and see it again. I can’t really say if it was truly a life-changing experience. It didn’t change my interests or make me want to become an astronaut or anything. But it did thrill me like nothing else had before. This movie was everything that we beleaguered sci-fi had craved for so many years. It delivered in spades.

To this day I get chills whenever I see that opening sequence. And I get transported in an instant, back to that theater in Pennsauken, back to my teenage self, feeling the thrill agan as if it were the first time. It is indeed my own personal time machine.