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Star Wars in the '70s: Drive-in theaters and Leia hair buns

As the space saga turns 40, CNET's Bonnie Burton reminisces about pretending to be C-3PO on the school playground and picking playmates based on their Star Wars toys.

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When you grow up in the middle of Kansas, chances are good you'll relate to a frustrated farm kid who dreams of a life of adventure. Luke Skywalker would look up at the setting twin suns and wonder what his life could be like if he just left home.

As a farm kid in rural Kansas in the '70s, I daydreamed just like Luke, staring up at the stars watching sci-fi films like "Star Wars" at the drive-in theater. For those who don't know what drive-ins are, they had large outdoor screens, and people parked their cars next to individual speakers to hear movies while enjoying them under a night sky.

At the age of 5 or 6, I saw a double feature of "Star Wars" and "Smokey and the Bandit" (both debuted in 1977) with friends in the bed of a pickup truck, and that night molded my love for Jedi masters, sassy lead female characters and anti-heroes with facial hair. (Though to be honest, for years I mixed up Harrison Ford, who played Han Solo, and Burt Reynolds, who played Bandit. Come to think of it, Reynolds as Han Solo would have made for a hilarious alternative casting choice.)

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The author, around the time she first discovered Star Wars.

Bonnie Burton/CNET

I can't adequately express the fun of watching Skywalker blow up the Death Star on a big screen beneath a sky full of twinkly stars. As an imaginative kid, it was hard see where the Star Wars galaxy ended and our own night sky began. After that experience, I'd stare up at the sky throughout my childhood hoping to see the Millennium Falcon zip by Earth on its way to Coruscant.

Luke Skywalker and Han Solo weren't the only characters who made an impression on me.

After seeing Princess Leia stand up to Darth Vader and shoot at Stormtroopers, all while keeping Han and Luke on their toes, I spent hours in front of the mirror trying unsuccessfully to twist my long hair into the perfect Princess Leia buns. I even resorted to adding brown yarn to my hair so I could make it look more like Carrie Fisher's signature style. I can only imagine what my parents thought when I demanded to pose for school pictures with my quirky Leia buns. Sadly, I didn't win that argument.

When Underoos first came out with Star Wars tank tops and underwear, I begged my mom for the R2-D2 and C-3PO designs so I could always have my favorite droids close to my heart (and butt).

I loved Star Wars so much as a kid I would act out my favorite scenes on the school playground during recess. I'd do my best impression of Star Wars actor Anthony Daniels' British robot accent as I pretended Darth Vader was hot on my trail. My classmates were entertained by my amateur C-3PO improv, but my teachers were less impressed.

Because of my need to throw myself into impromptu Star Wars scenes whenever the urge struck, I even faintly remember taking off all my school clothes and running around the playground in nothing but my C-3PO Underoos.

My family was very frugal -- something I appreciate more as an adult than I did when I was young -- so I didn't have mountains of Star Wars toys to choose from when I wanted to play. In fact, the only Star Wars action figure I remember owning was Chewbacca, which I found abandoned one day on the side of the road.

I certainly made it clear as a kid that Star Wars was king, and I often chose my playmates based on their toy collections. When asked by other girls to come over to dress up Barbie dolls and redecorate rooms inside dollhouses, I was more keen to see if their brothers had the latest Millennium Falcon playset or a collection of Stormtrooper action figures.

By that time, I was already rattling off Star Wars characters' backstories and planet details like a mini George Lucas. I could even do an impressive Chewbacca roar on command. That passion for a galaxy far, far away and everything in it served me well as an adult when I went to work for Lucasfilm. And for the record, I still do the Wookiee roar just for fun.

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