Star Wars (1977)
STAR WARS IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE 1984 MERCURY TOPAZ
by Christopher Cantwell
There is a VHS tape somewhere (probably in a landfill in Texas, though it breaks my heart to write that) that is a recording of the first ever network airing of Star Wars from February 26th,1984.
It’s something that my mom and dad—skirting ambiently along the banal zeitgeist of suburban America at the time—decided to be an event of enough renown that they should record it using the family VCR. Recording a television signal with a VCR was no easy task at the time, and so I’m forever indebted to my parents for doing it. The reason this recording is so important to me is that it was my very first exposure to Star Wars.
I was born in November of 1981. I missed Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back completely, and was only one and a half when Return of the Jedi came out. So this TV recording was, in many ways, a door. From here, my mom bought me a Stormtrooper action figure from the Skaggs Alpha Beta grocery store (back when I still sat in the front seat of the cart). From here, my babysitter Gary who lived next door gave me an entire case of some of his Star Wars toys the day before he moved away. From here, I begged my mom to see Return of the Jedi at the dollar theater in either ’84 or ’85; the dollar theater that was in the vast and empty parking lot of Collin Creek Mall off US-75, where I remember walking into the theater too early and seeing the very end of the movie first. From here, I bought more toys, rented the THX-remastered versions when they came out (“The Original One Last Time”), saw the Special Editions in the theater, whiled away summer days in rural Texas by playing video games like X-Wing (“You MUST register!”) and TIE Fighter (“Mission-critical craft under attack!”), read novels and comic books on my bed and in the backseat of the car, and eventually experienced the mass-suicide of the prequel trilogy in which Childhood as we know it was silenced by a clinical guillotine blade.
Why did I do all this? Sure, Star Wars is a cultural phenomenon, and has probably implanted itself on every boy in some way for the last 37 years. It’s got the mythology, and the universal themes, and the blah, blah, blah. Anyone could write pages upon pages about how Star Wars is a powerful film. I could write about how Star Wars might be one reason I’ve lived in Los Angeles for the last ten years, because it helped inspire me to tell stories of my own.
But that’s really boring, isn’t it? Truthfully, every subsequent Star Wars experience I’ve had (and that includes meeting George Lucas himself) has never lived up to that VHS TV recording. I love the first movie. I love MY videotape recording of it.
Here’s what I remember: the tape goes in, the first thing I see is a TV bumper version of the Star Wars title zooming up the screen as mock spotlights shine over it. The movie starts like everyone remembers it. I’m probably laying on the floor in a blue and gray afghan my grandmother knitted me (the blue and gray schema is for the Cowboys, but to this day, I barely know anything about that team, or really the sport in general). A particularly magical part of this tape occurs when the commercials begin. This is when a black cube with yellow borders spins out of a star field background, and a famous person inside the cube tells me what they love about Star Wars. Debbie Reynolds talks about being Carrie Fisher’s mom. The Flintstones say they loved the movie. Magic Johnson tells me he “dug R2.”
In my head, Star Wars is supposed to have commercials—the film and its commercials have been wedded as one story. There is a part in Star Wars where a guy eats a Kit-Kat and roars like a monster. Then there’s the part in Star Wars where a football player tells me he is a “coffee achiever.” At one point in the movie, kids sing the jingle for Nature Valley Chewy Granola Bars (which I can still sing in its entirety). There’s also another droid that nobody else remembers: the Leggs pantyhose droid that makes beeping sounds and just looks like a large pantyhose egg container with flashing lights. I love that character.
For me, Star Wars will always be brought to you by the 1984 Mercury Topaz. There will always be ads for Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan and a sitcom starring Suzanne Pleshette. Star Wars will always have two title treatments: the famous one, and the way my mom wrote it in blue pen on the tape label.
Sadly, that tape is most likely gone, a probable victim of two house moves by my parents over the years. But God bless the Internet. Up until I wrote this article, I only knew that I had a VHS recording of Star Wars that was somehow important because famous people talked about it during the commercial breaks. With a few cursory searches, I figured out that I once had the February 26th, 1984 first-time network TV airing from CBS.
Apparently, Mark Hamill did some sort of prologue about the Star Wars phenomenon before the movie started, and also wrapped up the movie at the end. CBS seemingly did this to fill out the three hours of air time they’d blocked out. I just learned about this now, as it wasn’t on my tape—I suppose my folks thought it was bullshit and didn’t hit record until the actual movie started. However, this “wrap-around” is on YouTube as well, and gives the airing some notoriety among extremist fans. This is good, because some guy sells cheap DVD-R’s of the original airing from his Paypal account.
I just bought one.
Christopher Cantwell is a filmmaker and screenwriter living in Los Angeles. He is the co-creator, co-executive producer and co-writer of AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, set in the early 1980s in Dallas. The show’s season finale airs on Sunday.