Later this week, a whole lotta Boomers are hoping to travel back in time, not just to a galaxy far, far away, but back to a time and place when they had their whole lives ahead of them, and they discovered a science fiction movie that told the resonating story of a lonely teen-ager who became a reluctant but resourceful warrior.
In the spring of 1977, when Star Wars was initially released, I really only had two responsibilities: film reviewer of the Stanford Daily and co-rush chairman of the local Kappa Sigma fraternity chapter. Thanks to credits both from advanced placement tests and work I had done at my previous school, UC Irvine, I had actually fulfilled my coursework at Stanford by the end of the previous quarter.
I was living the dream of what I’d always said about Stanford – that it would be a great place to go to school, if only we didn’t have to take classes. By the time that last quarter rolled around, I wasn’t.
I combined my two avocations and, using the connections I’d garnered as a movie reviewer, arranged with the manager of the spacious Century 21 theatre in San Jose (see photo) to bring a contingent of Kappa Sigs and rush candidates to Star Wars’ opening night. No other fraternity had such a prestigious rush event. Even that night, before anyone had seen the movie, there was a sense even then that something special was about to debut.
That much was clear when we showed up at the theatre on that cool, spring night. The line already stretched out into the theatre’s parking lot. I’d checked in with the manager, who told me to create a separate, shorter line with my group. He also insisted that we tell anyone who asked that we were queueing for another movie entirely, so as not to inflame those who had been waiting longer.
Keeping that secret wasn’t easy, and before long, I was accosted by a young man who’d found out that we were actually seeing Star Wars too. He wanted to surreptitiously join our line, but he’d been directed to me. I courteously but insistently explained to him that he could not join us, and he courteously but insistently argued that one more person couldn’t make a difference.
We were going back and forth, each of us intractable, up until the moment that I noticed the guy first glance over my left shoulder and then glance over my right shoulder. His expression paled and his determination faded. I turned to see what he had been looking at and saw that behind my right shoulder stood Kappa Sigma Doug Greenwood at 6-foot-6-1/2 and behind my left shoulder stood Kappa Sigma Dave Fullerton at 6-foot-3. They had come up behind me and stood silently but menacingly. It should also be noted that Doug had grown up in rural Alaska and while he was undeniably sweet, he didn’t have the best orthodontics and basically looked like he spent much of mealtime tearing at raw meat.
Without a word, Greenwood and Fullerton achieved their fraternal mission. The guy suddenly stopped arguing and said, “I’ll go wait in the other line.”
To this day, we remember that night. After all, who can forget the opening crawl, followed by the battle cruiser seemingly flying above our heads? To me, it had been as simple as pulling some strings and creating a special event for Kappa Sigma. But the subsequent impact of Star Wars was so great that if you poll my fraternity brothers on the best nights of their undergraduate years, that premiere will make any list that includes social, sexual, or academic milestones. (This is why, even as recently as last week, I rib my friend Andrew for skipping the event to study.)
It will be undeniably hard to capture the magic of that night. The prequel trilogy didn’t come close. You can’t unearth the surprise of buried treasure twice.
But because it was so special, because it was so magical, and because we are so optimistic, come this week, we’re all going to try.