1982: Sci-fi summer.

The Summer That Changed Science Fiction at the Movies

The Summer That Changed Science Fiction at the Movies

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
July 30 2015 7:15 AM

The Summer of ’82

enterprise phasers
From Hell's heart, I stab at thee.

Photo by Paramount Pictures

David: You knew enough to tell Saavik that how we face death is at least as important as how we face life.

Kirk [sadly, resigned]: Just words.

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David: But good words! That's where ideas begin.

In June of 1982, I found myself waiting in a long, long line at a mall. I had just graduated high school, and was spending the summer doing what innumerable kids my age had done for decades: eagerly and nervously anticipating going to college in a few months, working at my part-time job (for me, slogging through the brutally humid Virginia weather at 5 a.m. to deliver the Washington Post to more than 100 of my neighbors), hanging out with friends, reading sci-fi books, going to the mall to play video games, and watching movies.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

And oh, those movies. The summer of 1982 was magic. Magic! The science-fiction movies that came out in those few short months would change the way movies were made. Think I’m exaggerating? Here are a few of the movies that came out in 1982: Blade Runner. The Thing. Poltergeist. E.T, the Extra-Terrestrial. Tron

And, of course, one of my favorite movies of all time, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. When the first movie (Star Trek: The Motion Picture) came out, we hardcore arrogant and smug fans hated it. It was long, boring, and preachy. It was mocked unceasingly and mercilessly for years. But then Khan came out, and all was forgiven; faster paced, big battles, great tension, and far more personal, Khan was what we had craved.

Wrath of Khan
Oh, how my pulse raced when I saw this on the screen.

Photo by Paramount Pictures

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I’m older, less of an ass, and hopefully wiser now, and appreciate the first movie far more than I did as a hot-headed kid. And yet, Khan still touches something primally Trek in me. The music still sings to me (I had the soundtrack on vinyl, copied it to cassette so I could listen in my Walkman, then on CD, and now digitally; a dynasty that’s lasted for electronic generations), and the scenes in the Mutara nebula still put me on the edge of my seat.

All that was ahead of me, though, as I stood in line at the mall with 100 people ahead of me. Over the course of an hour I was joined by my friends, coincidentally, a chunk of my graduating class wanting to see Khan on opening day. By the time the box office opened there more over a dozen of us (100 people from the front of the line), eagerly chatting away with nervous excitement.

Plait 1982
Your host in 1982. Most of that hair was left somewhere in Virginia.

Courtesy of Phil Plait

I had no idea at that moment what lay ahead of me in my life: a disastrous first year at college, dropping out because I wasn’t nearly ready for it emotionally, an ego-stomping year of living at home with my parents as I got my act (partially) together, then finishing out college, going to grad school, meeting my future wife, having a daughter, and everything else that life delivers that is simultaneously mundane and glorious.

I’m not sure any of that would’ve registered with me anyway. I was an immature kid, wrapped up in the excitement of seeing Kirk and Spock on the big screen again.

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Why am I thinking of all this now? Lots of reasons, actually. I just got back from Comic-Con, where I saw old friends again, met new ones, and bumped into some of the people who made the stories that so shaped my own life.

Also, as it happens, this clip of a news segment got posted to a friend’s timeline on Facebook. Watch it:

The mundanity of the descriptions belies the changes that were about to happen. (This was before the Spoiler Alert, obviously.) Watching that clip from 33 years ago (!!), seeing it as if I were that young once again, catching the 5 o’clock local news, made me smile. It was a great summer.

There’s a lot to be said for the present, too. My daughter somehow caught the Trek bug, and is now a full-fledged Federation dork. I’m bouncing in my seat waiting for her to finish watching the original series so we can see the movies together. I cannot wait to see Khan once again, chewing up the Enterprise as thoroughly as he did the scenery, Kirk’s tactics, Spock’s final (heh) scene.

I wonder how much of the movie I’ll spend sneaking peeks at my daughter’s face, to see how she reacts. Passing down our stories is part of what makes us human, and seeing it with her will, I think, make me feel young, as when the world was new.