Disney+ has another one of those lovely ambience shows. This one is clips from the Star Wars universe—all the live action movies—with no dialogue or score, just sound effects. I love these things, as I’ve established. What struck me this time, though, was when they showed the iconic clip from the very first movie of Darth Vader emerging from the smoke. Now, I am older than Star Wars but only barely; the first movie came out about six months after I was born. So I didn’t see that moment on the big screen until the rereleases when I was in college. But watching it this time, I imagined being there in that moment and seeing something that would be so iconic for the rest of my life.
Oh, it’s probably already happened for all of us. Especially if you’re enough older than I am that you saw that moment in 1977. I genuinely think at least one or two MCU moments will have that weight, though that’s a conversation not everyone wants to have. But the one that comes to mind for me is the time I sat next to a complete stranger basically not breathing during the last fifteen minutes of the movie. I can’t know yet, but I think that’s the sort of thing that will last in pop culture.
Many of these moments are surprising ones, I suppose; Darth Vader, obviously, but I’m also thinking about being in the theatre for Citizen Kane. But some of them are pure spectacle—being in the theatre for the burning of Atlanta in Gone With the Wind. I suppose a couple of mine are Spielberg moments; I saw both ET and Raiders of the Lost Ark in the theatre, so you get both the flying bicycles and the opening of the Ark, though frankly I was four when I saw that movie and I still don’t watch the opening of the Ark.
Crucially, I think, most of these movie moments are from popular favourites. That’s kind of the point. So fine, you’ve seen every Wes Anderson movie in the theatre and have never seen a Star War. You are probably still at least aware of things like the Death Star trench run. And you have missed this particular shared experience. The whole point of this is that they are moments that mean a lot across a wide spectrum. Now, yes, Citizen Kane has sneaked into that slot despite its complicated history, but mostly, we’re talking blockbusters, here.
These are not moments where you necessarily tell your children that You Were There. Your children’s reaction will likely be, “Okay, you saw a movie.” But movies are in many ways a communal experience, and sharing that moment is the purest communion. That’s why they’re surprising and why they’re spectacle. They’re moments that are great in the movie that will stick with you—and with everyone else who was there. That will be used on clip shows for decades to come. You saw the Batplane rise up against the moon, you saw the Beast become a man, and you were entertained.