Tuesday, November 22, 2022

5-25-77: It was a Long Time Ago…

Forget about May the Fourth/Force. 5/25 is the real birthdate for Star Wars. If you grew up in the late 1970s or the 1980s, it completely changed how you related to movies. It certainly blew Patrick Read Johnson’s mind. He eventually went to Hollywood, caught on as a special effects guy and directed films like Spaced Invaders and Angus. Johnson revisits his pivotal introduction to Star Wars and the awkward high school moments before and after in 5-25-77, which releases today on DVD.

Initially, Douglas Trumbull was “Pat Johnson’s” idol and
2001 was his touchstone film. We see him laboring away at his backyard sequels to Jaws and The Planet of the Apes, but he never quite finishes anything. He is sure he has to leave Wadsworth, IL, so he can apprentice under Trumbull in Hollywood, but he has no idea how to get there. Then he meets Linda, an actual prospective girlfriend, who somewhat distracts him with other common high school concerns, but she can’t shake his filmmaking ambitions.

Thanks to Johnson’s indulgent mother, Johnson eventually makes it to Hollywood, but he is clueless when it comes to networking. However, he gets to see some early footage of
Star Wars thanks to Herb Lightman, the editor of American Cinematographer magazine. Johnson tries to become a prophet hailing the coming of Star Wars, but his classmates would rather act like they are characters in American Graffiti, or maybe a rowdier 1980s teen comedy.

is a love letter to Stars Wars (and Close Encounters, Silent Running, and 1970s science fiction in general), produced by Gary Kurtz (Star War, Empire Strikes Back, and Dark Crystal). It is achingly earnest, to the point of being overly self-serious. Johnson’s thinly fictionalized self is also a walking face-palm, who often makes the film an excruciating viewing experience. The ample examples of Johnson’s half-baked DIY filmmaking ingenuity also get to be a bit too cute.

However, it is joy to see Colleen Camp (
Clue) as Johnson’s over-protective mother Janet. Everything about her performance rings ever so true. As usual, Austin Pendleton is wonderfully dry and acerbic, but in a nebbish kind of way, as the not-quite-totally-jaded Lightman. Emmi Chen also portrays Linda with a great deal of energy and sensitivity, but it would be difficult for a teenaged Sarah Bernhardt to develop much chemistry with John Francis Daley’s manically geeky Pat Johnson, but that is largely due to how the elder director Johnson presents his teen analog.

is such an amazingly textured period production, it is clear Johnson grew up in the 1970s and might have a time machine to revisit the era. The film is touchingly sentimental, but it tries way too hard. Frankly, this film is exhausting, especially given a running time over two hours. Viewers in the mood for some light-hearted Star Wars nostalgia should check out Joe Nussbaum’s satirical short film George Lucas in Love instead. A little too much in several ways, 5-25-77 releases today (11/22) on DVD/BluRay.