A long time ago (yesterday), in a galaxy far, far away (Hollywood), about 3,000 people mobbed the courtyard of an ersatz-Oriental palace to watch a robot, a computer and a prince of darkness stick their feet and wheels in a slab of cement.
This was the ceremonial confirmation of something many on the planet Earth already know: that "Star Wars," the super aci-fi spectacle, has gone beyond being the biggest movie hit of the year, beyond being a showbiz bonanza of colossal proportions, and all the way into .Hyper-Hype.
The nation has gone "Star Wars" crazy. It's a pop-cultural phenomenon to make Farrah Fawcett-Majors look like small tomatoes. The film has already grossed $77 million in this country, still has the rest of the world yet to conquer, and is now expected to out-run "Jaws" as the most successful film in history.
It also became the first movie ever, yesterday, to return to Mann's (formerly Grauman's) Chinest Theater during its first run, a vacancy having been created when the picture "Sorcerer" bombed out.
Some of the people in front of the theater on Hollywood Boulevard had waited three hours in the searing sun to see not only C3PO and R2-D2, the two cute androids of the film, but also an actor impersonating Darth Vader, ultra-arch villain. Cries of "We want Darth" went up regularly as the time for the ceremony arrived and passes.
They screamed for these machines and mythical characters with a fervor usually reserved for sexpots and potentates. They screamed while a hired disc jockey bellowed into a microphone, "We are witnessing history here, ladies and gentlemen . . . the first time ever that a mechanical man from another planet has put his footprints in cement at Mann's Chinese Theater.
Actually, the droids are not the first machines to enjoy an honor previously reserved for humans. Herbie the Love But, a Volk-swagen who has starred in a series of Disney films, beat them to it in July.
But Herbie the Love Bug is no match in the hearts and minds of Americans for the tall, gold-covered C3PO, played in the film and at the ceremony by actor Anthony Daniels, and that beeping garbage can of computer R2-D2, who is beloved in the way Shirley Temple was to another generation.
"R2," as he is called, had to be helped onto the wet cement by producer Gary Kurtz, an unflappable executive who also inscribed "R2-D2" in the wet cement with a long gold-colored stick.
Yes, there will be more "Star Wars" films, Kurtz had said earlier. He was wearing a "May The Force Be With You" button, as were hundreds of others.
"We could go in 14 different directions with this," Kurtz said. "The earliest we could have another film in release is two years. It will be a separate story - we want to do a different adventure each time, not 'sequels' as such - but with the same characters.
Kurtz was asked about reports that =Star Wars" could bring in $100 million in the next year from the sale of movie-themed toys and T-shirts alone. "Yes, it could," he said. "We saw some laser swords demonstrated at Kenner Toys in Cincinnati recently that were just great."
The crowd, meanwhile, was getting restless. Many were in full "Star Wars" regalia - one man in hairy "Chewbacca" mask (they retail for $40), a young woman in a homemade cardboard Darth Vader chapeau. Lots of "Force" buttons and one T-shirt that said, "I have the hots for Han," referring to another character in the film, Han Solo. Even some reporters - about 100 were on hand - wore "Star Wars" T-shirts.
Adolescents seemed to predominate; it was a field of suntanned acne. There watched and cheered while workmen prepared the fresh cement, a bloch right next to Betty Grable's, who had left not only her hand and foot prints but also the outline of "my let."
Nearby were Sonja Hennie's skate prints and one slab that said, "All Happiness - Judy Garland, who once owned the theater, started the footprint gallery in the early '20s; in recent years, it hasn't been quite so zealously maintained, but if remains a top tourist attraction.
Naturally, as for all such events, preparations continued until the very last minute. A large man from Fox warned reporters and cameramen, "When these robots come through, this is gonna hve to be cleared," as they milled inside the courtyard, stepping all over Ava Gardner.
"These robots" were being treated like royally, and with John Williams' portentous and Wagnerian soundtrack score booming over loudspeakers, the whole thing took on the air of a kitsch coronation.
It was the androids day, all right. When a Mann's executive took to the poeium, the crowd groaned, fearing a speech. Instead, they got a burbling disc jockey, who was booed roundly.
Finally the crowd did get its androids, and people roared. Daniels, as C3PO, moved slowly; it must have been about 150 degrees in that metal suit. There was no little man in this embodiment of R2-DR; he ran by remote radio-control, and had quite a time getting over the courtyard to the slab honor waiting near the box office.
After the ceremony, and below moviegoers could pass between two "Ming Dynasty Chinese Heaven Dogs" and into the theater, the characters were taken inside for prearranged interviews with local TV newscasters.
They were all curtained off inside an alcove adjoining the men's room. When one reporter tried to enter, Mann's executive Bill Hertz told him he was not allowed.
"Is this press' or isn't it?" asked the reporter.
Hertz's angry reply to that question probably deserved to be written in cement itself. "This is not 'press,'" he said. "This is television."
In the alcove, poor little R2-D2, his bleeps and lights squelched now, was sitting a corner, a woman casually leaning on him in order to watch the interviews. And to think that only a moment earlier he'd been the bellic of the ball.
And to think that only a few moments later the lights in the theater dimmed, "Star Wars" began again, and R2-D2 and his pal C3PO were up there on the huge movie screen, tempest-tossed by attacking raiders and about to embark on an adventure that has turned out to be greater than anybody could have predicted.
"This," C3PO declared with his characteristic sophiscated accuracy, "is maddness!"