It's not too hard to find a program on TV these days full of special effects, spaceships and aliens. Star Wars just seems to be one of a hundred shows competing for everyone's attention. But what some people don't realize is that Star Wars did it first. Before Star Wars, science fiction was serious and cerebral (not that there's anything wrong with that). Star Wars changed all of that. I was only 8 years old, but I'll always remember what it was like to witness this change take place:
The theater was packed. Shortly after the movie started, there were some chuckles as R2-D2 and C-3PO managed to cross a hallway unscatched during a shootout. Seeing Darth Vader for the first time was an intimidating moment. Soon afterwards, the Jawas appear, everyone laughs at how they sound, Artoo is zapped, and everyone laughs again at how he sounds. We're all pretty quiet for awhile as the story unfolds and the next group of characters are introduced. A lady in the audience actually says, "Awww" when Threepio loses an arm and tells the others to leave him behind in the desert. And then, the cantina scene begins.
Lucas may claim he hated this scene, but everyone in the audience was laughing as hard as they could, and loving every minute of it. This was the first time we were seeing aliens socializing together. (Of course, this scene would have zero effect today. Not only has every 8-year-old kid by now seen hundreds of "aliens" on TV, but the SE tries to cram all sorts of creatures down our throat when Mos Eisley is introduced - now before we even get to the cantina. How could Lucas not realize this diminishes the impact of the cantina when he authorized all of his "improved" changes?)
Next, Han Solo and Chewbacca are introduced. And once inside the Death Star, there's a few laughs when Luke coaxes Han to go along with them by saying, "She's rich." Soon everyone is loving the chemistry between Han and Princess Leia. Her "walking carpet" remark about Chewbacca gets a big laugh. Her hug with Chewbacca after their escape gets an even bigger one.
But the biggest moment everyone seemed to love (next to the cantina scene) was near the end. It's looking like Luke is about to get shot down by Vader's tie fighter. Vader says, "I have you now." And suddenly - there's a laser blast above them. The screen shows Han yelling "Yahoo!" and the crowd goes wild. Everyone is applauding because we like him, and we are so glad that he made the right decision. Having experienced that scene in '77, it's still my favorite moment from the movie.
I was disappointed when I saw the rerelease in 1997. It was my fourth time in the theater, and I was hoping to reexperience it the way I remembered from the '70s. Of course, I didn't like all the changes that were done. But there was something else missing - everyone had already seen the movie a hundred times and knew every line.
Again, the theater was packed. But this time no one laughed during the cantina scene. No one laughed at Luke saying "She's rich." or Princess Leia's "walking carpet" line. And - much to my dismay - no one clapped when Solo triumphantly emerged in the Death Star battle.
The realization that seeing it for the first time in 1977 was an experience that could never be repeated was probably the most disappointing part of seeing the '97 rerelease. I don't even think ESB back in 1980 could repeat the experience. Sure it was a great story that expanded on the characters and never fell into the sequel trap of basically copying the original's plot. But by then, Star Wars clones were a dime a dozen. Aliens didn't elicit laughs anymore like they did in the cantina three years prior.
This is why the original Star Wars will always be my favorite.