In 1977, my father and I snuck out of the house to see “Star Wars” one night. Mom knew where we were going, but we needed to employ covert techniques so my brother wouldn’t know. He was 2 years younger than I was, so Mom and Dad didn’t think he was quite ready for Darth Vader’s throat crushing ways. Truth be known, I wasn’t quite ready for him myself. That night started a tradition of sleeping with the covers all the way up to my chin so that if Darth Vader should wander into my room at night, at least he wouldn’t be able to find my neck. I think that particular nocturnal practice was still a frequent occurence by the time “The Empire Strikes Back” opened 3 years later. This Friday (May 21) marks the 30th anniversary of the release of this, the greatest of all Star Wars films.
A few weeks before the film opened, the Topps trading cards hit G&G Pharmacy in Wheaton, IL and we gobbled them up. The neighborhood kids spent hours theorizing about what we were seeing in these images. We had already been getting glimpses of the new characters thanks to the commercials for Kenner’s line of action figures. We didn’t know what a “Hoth” was but we knew that a new figure had Han Solo wearing a “Hoth Outfit.” And what exactly was a Lando? Then there was Yoda. I first heard his voice during a WGN radio broadcast and it sounded like Grover from Sesame Street had joined the Star Wars cast.
I don’t think I saw the movie on opening weekend, that wasn’t as big of a deal in 1980. I do remember where I saw the film…the Woodfield shopping mall. My Grandpa took me and two of my cousins. It was an amazing moviegoing experience, one that will live with me forever, and I’m man enough to admit that I peed my pants that day because I didn’t want to miss one minute of the movie. I was nine years old, cut me slack. I saw the movie for the second time a few months later, on the night it opened at the beautiful old Wheaton theater. This is before they chopped the theater up into four screens. In 1980, it was one giant auditorium which looked just like Muppet Show theater, complete with corner boxes. The place was packed! My family had to sit in different rows because of the lack of open seats.
We were so thrilled to be seeing Star Wars again. We had no VCR’s yet and the original had not been shown on TV, so it had been awhile. The movie was more of what we loved about the first film, yet it was entirely different. George Lucas had turned the directing duties over to Irvin Kershner and his amazing ability to mix the dark story with several moments of great humor remains one of the most overlooked aspects of the film.
Of course, realizing that one of my favorite movies is turning 30 does make me feel a bit old. I’ll counteract the feeling of my bald spot getting wider by watching the movie this Friday with my son who loves all things Star Wars too.
Happy 30th Birthday, Empire! May the Force be with You!