“5-25-77” is an important date in cinema history, especially for Star Wars fans. That’s the day the original Star Wars opened, and after that, movies (and the world) would never be the same. 5-25-77 is also the title of an autobiographical film by writer-director Patrick Read Johnson. The movie is a poignant tale about Johnson’s younger days, when he was a movie fan and aspiring filmmaker living in Wadsworth, Illinois.
Inspired by films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, Silent Running, and Jaws, Patrick makes films in his backyard with an 8-millimeter camera, with the help of his good friend Bill. His grand opuses include sequels to Planet of the Apes and Jaws, as well as The Visitor, an original tale about an alien stranded on Earth. His movies may be low-fi productions, but they have a lot of heart.
Patrick is passionate about cinema, and his goal is to make it to Hollywood and become a filmmaker, like his heroes Stanley Kubrick, Douglas Trumbull, and Steven Spielberg. Because his family is struggling to make ends meet, he believes he’ll never get the chance to realize his goal, and he just might be stuck in rural Illinois forever. Except for a small circle of friends, no one quite understands his love for, and obsession with, movies and the people that make them, who he considers his heroes. But fate, in the form of Patrick’s supportive and determined Mom, and a guy named Herb Lightman (the editor of American Cinematographer magazine, one of Patrick’s favorites) has a surprise in store for him, and a little film called Star Wars is about to change his life forever.
5-25-77 is inspired in part by character-driven movies like American Graffiti. The film was a passion project for Patrick Read Johnson, who wrote a script based on his formative years in Illinois when he’d first dreamed about going to Hollywood and making movies. Johnson did eventually make it to Tinseltown, where he worked on films like Spaced Invaders and Dragonheart. During that time, Johnson met Gary Kurtz, who produced Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. He originally pitched the film to Kurtz as a coming-of-age story set in the 1970s. Johnson told Kurtz about his visit to Hollywood as a teen, and that he’d been one of the first people outside the inner circle at Lucasfilm to see a rough cut of Star Wars. Kurtz suggested to Johnson that this incredible story needed to be included in his movie.
Johnson wrote the first draft of the screenplay for 5-25-77 in 1999. He started shooting the film in 2004, having raised most of the funds for the production himself. Despite losing the backing of one of his main investors, he soldiered on and initial production for the movie was completed by 2006. Additional shooting and special effects work continued for several more years.
Johnson managed to screen almost-finished versions of the movie at conventions and events throughout the intervening years, building up enthusiasm for the project among Star Wars fans. He also managed to get the stamp of approval from none other than George Lucas, who viewed a rough cut of the film, and gave his blessing for footage from Star Wars to be included in the movie.
One of the main issues in getting 5-25-77 released was that Johnson needed to secure the expensive rights to the songs used in the film, from artists like 10cc, Queen, Ringo Starr, Argent, and The Alan Parsons Project. Johnson felt strongly about including the original versions of these songs in the movie. The music in 5-25-77 is really like a character in the story, and the songs add a great deal of atmosphere to the film.
Thankfully, in 2020, a company named MVD Entertainment stepped up to the plate and helped with the financing for the film, allowing it to finally be distributed. After a span of almost 20 years, the movie was released to theaters in the fall of 2022. A streaming and home video release followed later in the year.
Thanks to a wonderful group of actors, including John Francis Daley, Colleen Camp, and Austin Pendleton, and a dedicated behind-the-scenes crew, Johnson’s project finally saw the light of day. The film is truly a labor of love, and a valentine not only to Star Wars but to a time before sci-fi and Nerd Culture were a part of the mainstream.
5-25-77 is a moving, funny, beautifully acted, and heartwarming story of friendship, love, and realizing your dreams. This visually striking tale is also a celebration of the love of film, often evoking the sense of wonder and joy that’s emblematic of the movies that influenced Patrick Read Johnson, such as 2001, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Star Wars.
A film with this much heart and soul poured into its creation deserves to be seen.
It will resonate, not only with Star Wars fans but anyone who has a real passion for movies.
-Photo: Image from “5-25-77” poster (fair use)