Bud Kennedy

‘Star Wars’ 1977: a long time ago, in a Fort Worth far away

The Star-Telegram’s Arts section cover was all Star Wars the weekend the movie opened in Fort Worth.
The Star-Telegram’s Arts section cover was all Star Wars the weekend the movie opened in Fort Worth. Star-Telegram archives

The local movie theaters of Star Wars memory are gone.

When the already-legendary movie finally made it to Fort Worth June 17, 1977, after a three-week Dallas head start, it replaced The Sting at the Village Opera House.

For the next 10 months, audiences lined up at the Opera House, a 500-seat showplace meant to revive single-screen movie palaces.

Don’t bother looking. The Opera House lasted less than 20 years before giving way along with most of the other 1849 Village shops for a hotel off South University Drive.

But for one week that summer, until Star Wars opened at Six Flags Mall in Arlington, the Opera House had a “Fort Worth area exclusive.” Patrons paid $3.75. Some had already seen it at Northpark mall in Dallas.

That was a different era for movies, and for newspapers. The Star-Telegram’s two long-standing arts columnists, the late Elston Brooks and retired Perry Stewart, wrote completely different reviews for the morning and evening editions. But both lavished praise and rated the movie four stars.

Stewart, always understated, wrote thoughtfully and cautiously about how the movie is “a boy’s adventure yarn in the most traditional, unabashedly entertaining sense.”

The Force was already taking hold. Stewart called the movie “something of a sensation … There will be comics, calendars and all manner of toys.”

Brooks’ column later in the movie’s run began with a bombastic: “Oh, wow!”

“Let that two-word accolade stand tall in summation for Star Wars, easily the best movie in town this summer and perhaps destined to be the best of 1977,” Brooks wrote: “ … Terrific fun. And visually stunning.”

Elsewhere on that page were ads for New York, New York; Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, and Final Chapter: Walking Tall. Beneath Brooks’ column, the Meadowbrook Drive-in had the R-rated Breaker! Breaker!.

The art-house Borzoi, demolished not long afterward on the West Freeway at Clover Lane, was showing Harold and Maude. Some screens were still showing Smokey and the Bandit or Slap Shot, and the county’s nine drive-ins still had Rocky, Jaws and Taxi Driver.

On the same weekend Star Wars opened, the Star-Telegram also advertised for Spencer’s Palace, a “million-dollar discotheque” two blocks north of 1849 Village, where no doubt one of the conversation topics was oil millionaire Cullen Davis’ upcoming murder trial.

Country music’s Jerry Max Lane was playing the Speak-Easy club on Camp Bowie Boulevard in Ridglea. Next door, the I Gotcha Club had Fats Domino.

Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams was the No. 1 song in Billboard, but the Star-Telegram carried WBAP/820 AM’s ratings (No. 1: Luckenbach, Texas [Back to the Basics of Love].)

Stewart’s column ended with a summary that holds up today: “The fact is, Star Wars is the screen rarity: a film for the entire family. … The problem, after you come out of the theater, is remembering that you’re not 12 years old anymore.”

(And I’m not 22 anymore.)

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.