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“It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.” - Sir William Osler

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    Sunday, December 20, 2015
    A Long Time Ago, In a Movie Theater About an Hour Away

    When I was in eighth grade my history teacher wanted to teach us the importance of current events. One of the requirements of the class was that we would each get a subscription to Time magazine, choose a subject, and make a weekly presentation about it. The subject I chose was health and science (no surprise there). What is surprising is to look back and realize that back then news magazines were what people read once a week to keep up to date. They're on their last legs now.

    Near the end of that school year (it was May 1977) I picked up my latest issue and looked at the cover. There was a small banner across the upper right corner of the magazine that said "The Year's Best Movie." Curious, I turned to the article.

    It was a science fiction movie, which interested me not at all, but I kept reading anyway. I had never heard of the director, although he had directed a movie I had heard of - American Graffiti. The article talked about filming in Tunisia, as the movie was set on a desert planet called Tattooine. One of the actors had been in American Graffiti.

    I showed the article to one of my friends.

    "Have you ever heard of this movie?"

    She looked at the article and shrugged. "Nope."

    Yes. We're talking about Star Wars. That was 38 years ago. It seems impossible to believe now, but the film which left a massive impression on popular culture and led to (now) six sequels was completely under the radar until it hit the theaters. I don't recall any advance word of mouth regarding this movie at all.

    I don't think I saw Star Wars until July. By that time it was well established as a blockbuster; it stayed in theaters for six months at least. I still recall that day, sitting in the darkened theater, wondering what to expect. Then electric blue letters appeared on the screen.

    A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

    And then came that beautiful blast of orchestral brass which made me jump out of my seat. And we were off. I was completely swept up in the action of the film, the music, the universe George Lucas had created... all of it. I was an instant fan and I think I saw the movie at least four times. My parents got me the album for Christmas that year. I must have driven them mad with my obsession over this movie.

    And then I got over it. I saw The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and enjoyed them, but I didn't obsess about them. I didn't get around to seeing the prequels for the longest, and when I did I found them extremely disappointing. The magic just wasn't there. Still, though I wouldn't call myself a fangirl I do have to credit Star Wars as a major influence on my life. I had never really been interested in film until then; movies were just something you went to with family or friends to pass the time. But after seeing Star Wars I thought the actor who played Obi-Wan Kenobi was great. I had never heard of Alec Guinness. One day I asked my mother if she had heard of him and if he'd been in any other films. 

    "Oh, yes!" she answered and told me about the comedies he'd been in, like The Lavender Hill Mob and The Ladykillers. We didn't have a VCR then, so I had to go through our TV programming guide looking for films of his that I could watch. I think the first Guinness film I saw after Star Wars was Great Expectations (he played Herbert Pocket). And then I saw Oliver Twist, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and I learned of a director called David Lean and an actor named William Holden, and I just went on from there. I would not describe myself as an expert on film, but I love movies and character actors and it's all because of George Lucas and Star Wars.

    To this day when I see patients I mentally divide them into two groups. The line between them is based on their birthdate: before or after 1977. I didn't do this deliberately, I just found myself doing it. It's silly, but that's how much the movie meant to me. So yes, I'm going to see The Force Awakens tonight - I was encouraged to do so by the many good reviews. I'll sit in the theater and wait for that sentence to appear on the screen and cheer Han Solo and Leia (I'm so glad they're back).

    By the way, I still have that issue of Time magazine. I kept it all these years because I just couldn't bear to throw it away. May the magic of movies be with you.