The most common question the summer of 1977 was, “have you seen Star Wars?” My answer was, ‘“No, I don’t want to see Star Wars!
Why would anyone want to see that when you could go see the new King Kong movie that has a rampaging ape smashing through trains, jumping from building to building and stepping on the mean people who took him from his home. I’ll take Kong any day! Besides King Kong had something Star Wars did not – toys!
I endlessly played with my cone-headed plush Kong, I made puzzles, read the storybook and collected the bubble gum trading cards. I also had a gorilla mask that I’m not sure was actually Kong or just your standard monkey, but with it I was able to be Kong on the playground. I was the eighth wonder of the world! Sadly, no one wanted to play King Kong anymore. They were now pretending to be these new characters like Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker and something called R2-PO – whoever they were.
Okay then, have it your way. I tried to incorporate myself into their adventures but they said I was playing wrong. What did that mean? You can’t keep Kong away! With my giant hairy ape arm I knocked my friends down as they went whizzing by me in their pretend spaceships.
“We’re flying in outer space! King Kong can’t reach into outer space!” They kept telling me.
Knowing they didn’t understand my GROWLING language I had to dumb it down and talk in their native English. “King Kong is huge! Of course he can reach outer space.”
I tried to chase them around some more but it was hard for a chubby 8-year old to keep up with them for any length of time. I didn’t care, Rich-Kong sometimes needed his alone time so I would sit and just watch them play, making “pew pew” sounds as they shot each other with their fingers and making buzzing sounds as they fought with sticks. It was all so absurd.
School let out in June and everyone was excited about their summer vacation. In July my family went on our yearly trip to York Beach, Maine. I loved it there. I loved the smell of the salt air, the taste of salt just by opening my mouth, I loved the salt-water taffy that was sold at every tourist shop. The town’s mascot should have been a salt shaker. I even didn’t mind when beach sand got in my sandwich. Sand just got everywhere and it never bothered me.
There was also the local movie theater in the center of York Beach which I loved. It was built sometime in the forties and looked like what you would expect theaters to look like back then. A gold frame surrounded the three-sided marquee with chasing lights and a box office sat in the middle of the large entryway. There was even a large spotlight on top. But the best thing about this theater was the wafting aroma of fresh buttered popcorn.
(Tangent – I visited this theatre back in 2005. Unfortunately, it had been run into the ground. It looked like it hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint since ticket prices were $3.00. And, sadly there was no more smell of freshly popped popcorn. However, there was a smell I just couldn’t identify as anything legal. Oddly enough, they did just put in a THX sound system a few years earlier. Now, their doors were closing forever that summer. And their last movie was… Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. How perfect would it have been if it were Revenge Of The Sith. I thought about staying to watch one last movie there, but the kid running the whole theater said it wasn’t a good print and most people just walked out. I didn’t want that to be my last memory. End tangent.)
One afternoon when everyone was tired from the beach, my mom suggested we go to the movies. My nose was suddenly filled with the aroma of that buttery popcorn. I was psyched!
“Look what’s playing. Star Wars.”
The smell of the buttery popcorn had quickly dissolved. I had to stand my ground for Kong’s sake. I didn’t want to go.
“We better get back and change. It starts at 5:30.” My mom said.
This was no good for me. 5:30 is when my favorite show, The Monkees, was on. Sorry, I have my priorities. Count me out. My mom found this odd since she figured Star Wars would be right up my alley. But she also knew I loved The Monkees so I stayed at the cottage with my grandparents and watched an episode I’d probably seen 100 times before.
A few hours later, Lisa and my mom came busting through the door. “That was so excellent,” Lisa exclaimed! I thought this was weird since she never liked all this monster and robot stuff but she had so much excitement in her voice. That is when I figured there might be something to this star movie and as much as I tried to fight it, my curiosity was now getting the best of me.
The next day we were out picking up souvenirs for all the neighbor kids. The T-shirt store had an abundance of new Star Wars choices. Lisa grabbed one with Princess Leia. She excitedly told me about all these people on the other shirts. “That’s the bad guy who kills people,” “those were the funny robots,” and “those spaceships fought at the end of the movie”.
My mother asked if I wanted one. I think I do. Do I? Yes, I did! Lisa’s enthusiasm was rubbing off on me. I picked the baby blue shirt with an iron-on decal of a guy with blonde hair and blue eyes like me and a gold robot pointing at something in the distance. I didn’t know who they were but I liked the look of them.
I put it on and felt good about it. Moments later a teenage girl ran over to me and asked if I’d seen Star Wars. I told her I hadn’t. “Can I have your shirt?” she said. This girl apparently liked Star Wars so much that she wanted the shirt off my back. Maybe I should’ve gone to see it yesterday.
I now wanted, no, I had to see Star Wars. Enthusiasm was everywhere and it was infectious. Everywhere you looked you saw something with the Star Wars name on it. The main theme was constantly on the radio and everyone happily hummed along to it.
We came home from Maine and now it was time to think about going back to school. I still hadn’t seen Star Wars and I was starting to worry.
Uh-oh! Am I too late? Even though I knew I had to see Star Wars before school started up again, I was still feeling a little conflicted. I felt like if I saw it I was cheating on King Kong. What do I do?
My best friend, Jim Pruy, kept telling me that it also has a giant ape in it, not as big as King Kong but he carries a laser gun. And there was a guy all in black that wears a cape like my favorite superhero, Batman. Now, Star Wars is all I could think about! It became an obsession. Please won’t someone take me!
It was late August and I was playing in my room one night with my MEGO Superfriends when our downstairs neighbor, Paul Lieberman, knocked at the front door.
“I’m going to see Star Wars again, do you want me to take Richard?”
I dropped my Batman doll and shot right up. Was this about to really happen? I’m not mentally prepared. Do I need to take a nap first? I waited for an answer from my mom.
“Richard, do you want to see Star Wars tonight?”
Before she could finish the sentence I was already in Paul’s car. My life was about to change…