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5-25-77

****
2022

‘5-25-77 is a valentine to the past, a la Licorice Pizza, but doubling down on the film and Star Wars content to good effect…’

Maybe this is an unpopular view, but films about film-making are not my cup of tea. Sure, as a film-lover, I get what the appeal might be of preaching to the cinematically converted. But Wonder of Me introspection isn’t a great look, particularly at a time when cinemas are struggling due to cash flow and lack of product. With big awards-season films like Babylon and The Fabelmans turning the cameras on the film-making process, a self-congratulation spree risks being a massive turn-off for regular punters. 5-25-77 taps into the opposite vibe; as the title suggests, this film is about the release of Star Wars. But this isn’t the story of a creative figure involved in MAKING the film, but someone was the first to SEE the movie. We have reached the point in cinema where just having seen Star Wars can make you worth a biopic; some twenty years in the making, Johnson’s film makes something fresh and original from that rather goofy notion, and one that is well worth the wait.

Despite my trepidation, Patrick Reed Johnson’s 5-25-77 turns out to be a bittersweet film about how a guy who somehow saw Star Wars long before anyone else, and then struggled with personal and family issues to see the completed film on the day of release. Twenty years in the making, and bearing a credit for the late Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz, this is a long and detailed look at the special role that movies play in our life. John Francis Daley plays our directorial surrogate Pat Johnson from Illinois, using his Super-8 camera in his bid to be the next Spielberg via home movies like Requiem for the Planet of the Apes. His mom, adept at telesales, manages to organise an intro to special effects legend Douglas Trumbull, but when Trumbull turns out to be busy on the day of Pat’s trip to LA, he ends up getting a tour of the studio where Close Encounters is being filmed. And as part of that trip, Pat meets Steven Spielberg and gets to be the first to watch an assembly cut of Star Wars, and the world he once knew becomes a long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away…

The force of nostalgia is strong in this one, and 5-25-77 has tonnes of detail; from Pat’s ecstatic first viewing of 2001 and the score providing a soundtrack to his life, to frustrated conversations with those unwilling to go along with the film’s pretentions, we’re always on the moment in charting Pat’s evolution. We see Pat making his own Silent Running fan fiction, and reading Starlog magazine, but there’s more going on here that just cultural name-checks; Pat has a fairly chaotic love life, and jumps too easily to positive conclusions, and Johnson creates depth by exploring the shallowness of his proxy hero. ‘For some people, movies are what you do when you’re tired of real life. For you, real life is what you do when your not watching movies…’ admonishes Pat best friend, and 5-25-77 manages to suggest the exhausting underbelly of die-hard cinematic obsession.

‘Never f*** with a Kubrick fan,’ Pat offers in a declamatory, defiant ending, as he finally manages to find some kind of balance between his interest in film and his actual existence. There’s lively, winning support from Steven Coulter as his worldly bestie and Colleen Camp as Pat’s mom, and lots of visual inventiveness to dramatise Pat’s journey. Seeing Star Wars being made chimes with Pat’s skills; for Lucas and his crew to be using Steve Austin-Six Million Dollar Man dolls as X Wing fighters pilots creates an instant brotherhood with Pat’s homemade, bespoke efforts. 5-25-77 is a valentine to the past, a la Licorice Pizza, but doubling down on the film and Star Wars content to good effect. It’s an ingenious coming of age passion project that should be required viewing for Star Wars fans who’ll love to see the camera swooping and diving past the original models, but might also appreciate the gentle reminder that Star Wars was only a movie, after all.

5-25-77 arrives on digital/VOD in the United States from November 8th 2022.

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  1. Saw it at the Dominion in London’s West End maybe even in 70mm if I remember correctly. Oh, the days of seeing the big films on the biggest screens – exception Bradford Widescreen Weekend of course. I have vivid memories of Alien and Close Encounters at the Odeon Leics Sq, The Untouchables at the Empire and The Deer Hunter at the ABC1 in Shaftesbury Ave. Not quite the same as catching them as your local fleapit.

  2. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but I still have vivid memories of going to see Starwars. I especially remember the second instalment as by then I was in my mid-teens and could go on my own. I ended up in a musty old cinema at the top of O’Connell Street. Two American girls were sitting in front of me and kept jumping up and down every time Mark Hamil appeared on screen (ie, about every five minutes); it was still a seminal experience. I’d never seen anything quite like Star Wars. The films also tapped into the zeitgeist – mind-over-matter, levitation, ‘The Force’ etc – so much so that I prefer to associate them with a particular time and place and have never watched them since.

    Terminator 2 was the same. You really had to be there. Also, maybe Alien?

    • Yup, I’ll never forget seeing Star Wars in the UK circa 78. It was like every other film you’d ever seen was a rehearsal. Inky black dirty space, lightsabers and blasters, mercenaries, princesses, Wookiees and Banthas. You’re right, it was a technological breakthrough, a quantum leap for storytelling that kids today cannot imagine. I remember seeing my first clip and drawing the two robots from memory. Agree that T2 was probably the closest to the opening night experience. First viewing of Alien was on a black and white portable in Wales, but still intense AF!

  3. ‘For some people, movies are what you do when you’re tired of real life. For you, real life is what you do when your not watching movies…’

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    And while Star Wars is just a movie, the original trilogy is some of the best story telling to ever make it to the big screen. It’s akin to saying the Dead Sea Scrolls are just a bunch of scrolls 😉

  4. I wonder what the change in the way we view movies means for the change in fandom. This all seems very nostalgic. I can imagine young people today wondering what it’s going on about.

    • It seems like a different world, but one that’s fun to remember. This film took me back…

        • Yes, and a full length Jedi cloak I brought back from Africa.

          Would you be interested in 25.4.79? It’s a biopic dealing with my first viewing of Battlestar Galactica? For every dollar you pledge, I’ll match it x1000 and include a free hat and signed photo?

          • I remember seeing Battlestar Galactica when it came out too. I don’t think any of those cinemas exist anymore. In fact, I’m not sure the malls they were in exist anymore. All the landmarks of my childhood have vanished.

            I don’t think I ever saw BG again. Now I’m curious.

            • I had them demolished when you became king of the internet.

              Would imagine it’s viewable somewhere. Think I noted your interest when I reviewed it a year or so back…

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