By Ashley Lodato

If you, like me, were lucky enough to be of movie-going age on May 25, 1977, you might have had the privilege of seeing the very first Star Wars film in the theaters. I was in second grade — a prime age for seeing Star Wars — and, as luck would have it, I had hair long enough that I was later able to twirl it into the enviable coif of two Danish rolls on the side of my head.

As if seeing this first Star Wars film were not thrilling enough by itself, I had the added fortune of watching it at a drive-in theater, on the bouncy vinyl bench seat of a 1970 sky mist blue Ford Falcon. Although the drive-in theater in my hometown has long since been converted into boat storage, during the 1970s and 1980s it did a brisk business in the old school of drive-in theaters, with films (we called them “movies” back then) viewed on a giant white screen and heard through a speaker attached to the car window.

One might argue that drive-in theaters rightfully deserve their bad rap, but for a 7-year-old it was a magical experience to watch a movie from within a car (especially back in the days when vehicles were not equipped with DVD players and Wi-fi, since both of those had yet to be invented).

There was something decidedly social about this arrangement. Despite the fact that we were insulated in our little Ford bubble, and everyone around us was insulated in their own little Buick or Chrysler bubble, it still felt like we were watching the movie together, in a way that is different than experiencing a movie in a traditional theater. 

I get this same feeling when we attend Celestial Cinema, Spring Creek Ranch’s annual outdoor film festival. Despite the fact that when the lights go down the only people I’m aware of are my offspring trying to sneak candy out of my eyesight, I still feel like I’m watching a movie as a member of a community.

Knowing that this year’s Celestial Cinema on Friday and Saturday (July 29 –30) will feature Star Wars: The Force Awakens fills me with a sense of nostalgia for that open-air screening, the minor inconveniences with weather and temperature and sound quality, and that inexplicable feeling of camaraderie and community that comes with sharing an experience under the stars.

Celestial Cinema has weathered its challenges over the past two years, with fires, power outages and windstorms, but it’s quickly becoming a beloved institution. Assuming the force is with us, we’ll all be out there with lawn chairs and blankets, enjoying one or both of this year’s movies.


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