Celebrating Old School With the Star Wars 40th Anniversary

by Todd King, contributing writer

Star Wars now part of Disney Digital Network

Announced on May 3 earlier this month, StarWars.com will be part of the Disney Digital Network, a new grouping of hundreds of content channels—incluing Maker Studios, Pixar, and Solaris—that were previously scattered across the company. Star Wars will include a new show called "Science and Star Wars," described as "an episodic series that explores, explains, and demonstrates the parallels between the science fantasy of Star Wars and the real-world scientific breakthroughs the saga has inspired." So if they make a real lightsaber, this will be the place to find it out.

What does this Disney Digital Network mean for Star Wars? Not much, I believe—but it will see the original Star Wars programming (like The Star Wars Show and future live streaming events like Celebration) to be distributed and advertised across more Disney channels and probably reaching larger audiences through cross-promotion. Likewise, we might see some of these other channels being advertised on Star Wars digital programming.

Pixar is in there, too, so it's not alone as a movie-centric channel. It is also a business move to show potential partners all its digital offerings to show where new content could fit in. And by placing all of its brands under one umbrella, Disney is displaying its commitment to these brands and showing them working together for the Mouse as a team. What stands out to me is what's not there: Marvel. Marvel movies are the thing (just go and see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), so where is its digital presence here? Could Disney be building up to something with the Marvel brand in a big way later on?

A small update about Star Wars in the parks

Star Wars land construction continues, and we're about two years away from opening day (I can feel the crowds already). In case you missed it in all the Celebration hoopla, here's an official blog post on the latest updates on Star Wars land. The place still doesn't have a name (either the park itself or the planet you're on), but it is described as somewhere on the Outer Rim lying on the edge of the Unknown Regions. Unknown Regions—huh? Those have been mentioned in the Aftermath books, which drops a lot of clues, I believe, will be explored in the next couple of Star Wars saga films. There are theories out there that Supreme Leader Snoke from The Force Awakens may have come from these regions. This "outpost" for Star Wars land may have had a brush with Snoke at some point... maybe.

On June 1, Disneyland also returns Space Mountain to its original form after having been Hyperspace Mountain for a while. It was interesting to see the change for the Seasons of the Force promotion, but it will be good to see the ride return as it was before. It's such a mainstay in the park and will always be able to stand on its own.

Celebrating the 40th anniversary, old school

Here's is a great toy commercial from Hasbro that animates the vintage Kenner Star Wars action figures in a crossover with the 40th anniversary modern editions of those figures in a fun and weirdly nostalgic ad. Check it out:

Star Wars 40th Anniversary – OG Figures Join Forces with Modern in the Ultimate Light vs. Dark Battle. Hasbro. Disney.

Star Wars Celebration 2017 was a great extravaganza (my recap here). And now, "Star Wars day" ("May the 4th be with you"), has passed. But a week from today, Thursday, May 25, marks the official 40th anniversary of Star Wars—it is the day the original film was released in theaters, when the franchise was born, and the day that reinvigorated the world of cinema. For me and lots of kids my age, it was the beginning of our fandom, little knowing how the stories and characters would reside in our psyches for decades to come.

We witnessed a spectacle showing images of good having to fight against evil by varied means. It was an adventure in strange places but with a familiarity to our world where we could recognize our desires, struggles, and fears. Through the characters of Luke, Leia, and Han, we saw aspects of ourselves that we aspired to be and that we needed to grow. Finally, it was simply fun and felt like an outpouring of exultation that swept up most of the world.

I may have been only about 4 years old when I remember seeing Star Wars at a drive-in with my family and gazed in awe at the story on the screen but I could still feel that there was something more going on than just a movie. In a drive-in or a theater, I was a small kid among huge crowds and we all felt connected by this film. It may have felt mysterious but there was no denying that the story and the show moved a great many people for similar reasons.

We all feel a calling to do great things, to discover who we truly are, and to add something good to the world that only we can do. It is no small number of people who crave such things, it is more our nature, our inmost instinct to seek freedom and pursue truth and it seemed that this movie reminded us of those facts. It rekindled our spirit to strive for greater things in the midst of corruption and evil that seemed to surround us. Whether that evil was war and devastation on a global scale, or our own personal struggles and suppressions, Star Wars was a story that brought that conflict together as one journey. After leaving the theaters and drive-ins we believed in ourselves and believed that we could overcome our tribulations if we allowed age-old wisdom to guide us and if we fostered our talents to achieve our aspirations.

These ideas may seem lofty, but Star Wars made us believe them, and it brought us optimism that our lives could get better. The movie didn't do all this by accident. It seemed to believe in the story it was telling, too. It was nearly jumping out of the screen and waking us up. If this sounds too ambitious for its own good, you may have to take a look back 40 years ago to see how this film truly resonated with people all over the world and what a phenomenon it was following its release. I've talked to fans who say that if they had a time machine, they'd go back to May 25, 1977 to see its initial limited release and experience a world being introduced to Star Wars.

What did it feel like, in the context of the world at that time, to see the movie as a new thing. See what some of culture's analyzers thought:

"George Lucas and Star Wars lifted us out of our sort of depression of the 70s and into an awareness and a focus on space and its possible future. This movie stood by itself." – Walter Cronkite

"Timing is everything in art. You bring out Star Wars too early and it's Buck Rogers. You bring it out too late and it doesn't fit our imagination. Bring it out just as the war in Vietnam is ending, when America feels uncertain of itself, when the old stories have died, and you bring it out at that time and suddenly, it's a new game. Also it's a lot of fun. It's a lot of fun to watch Star Wars." – Bill Moyers

My earliest memory is at that drive-in, watching Star Wars while playing with a small X-Wing toy and "flying" it in front of me during the final scenes of the dog fight against the Death Star. I was already pretending to be Luke as the hero pilot. I wanted to play that again and again. We went to see the movie as often as we could, but this was before any home media or streaming to watch the movie at home anytime you wanted after only a couple months of it being released. But there were the toys where we reenacted scenes from the movie or made up our own stories, and there were comic books to have a visual look at the movie again. And there were narrated records.

Star Wars narrated story records and the old VHS. Photo by Todd King.

With the narrated record, we would put them on the machine, listen to the story that used the original soundtrack, and picture the film in our heads. It was a cerebral experience where I not only memorized the dialog but internalized the story. It was a world in which we could play, use our imaginations, and put ourselves and our personal stories into that galaxy. The action figure toys certainly helped us to create our own adventures which you could call the primitive version of fan fiction. We took what we learned from the characters and made new tales and journeys. The movie gave us raw materials on which to build worlds in our minds. It felt like Star Wars belonged to us. [It's pretty easy to find the audio of these records on YouTube so take a trip down memory lane without the need for a turntable.]

Star Wars VHS release. Photo by Todd King.

Now I'm off to go a little old school and watch Star Wars with my old fullscreen VHS tape on a CRT television. Wiggly static lines, washed out colors, pan and scan, rewinding... yeah, this is going to take me back.