The Empire Strikes Back was at last unleashed upon the American public on May 21, 1980. The closest theater showing it was the Dadeland Twin, right across the street from the Dadeland Mall/Shooting Gallery. It had two large auditoriums, one with a balcony, one without.
No, we did not camp out for tickets nor did my parents pull us out of school to see the film this time. Instead, we rather stupidly decided to truck on down to the theater that weekend, Memorial Day weekend, as though nobody would be there. Of course, when we drove on the highway overpass from which you could see the theater parking lot, there was a huge line that extended from a crowd literally packed around the building. There was no way in heck we were getting in. (You still couldn’t buy advance tickets in 1980.)
Naturally, I was disappointed. This meant I had to endure a whole ‘nuther week before we would have another chance.
My dad left on a business trip that following Tuesday. At school on Wednesday, I was hustled off into another classroom with all of the girls and got the “You’re A Woman Now” lecture. Fortunately, I had already read “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret,” so I knew WHAT that was all about. I came home from school with my free pamphlet from Kimberley-Clark and my mom says, “Want to go see the movie?”
“What movie?” I ask. I was also a bit confused because Wednesday was supposed to be CCD, the Catholic religious education class you have to take to be confirmed in the church.
“The new one. Star Wars,” she says.
Well, homework can wait! And CCD? It was the last day of it anyway before summer and we never did anything the last class. (Please forgive me, Lord.) Oh, but wait…
“What about Dad?” I ask.
“If we wait for him, we’ll never see it,” Mom says.
Oh, okay. So Mom packed my brother and I into the dragon wagon for the 5 p.m. show. We got to the Dadeland Twin and while there was a line, it was a significantly smaller one. I was sooo excited. At last I was going to see The Empire Strikes Back!
I practically almost wet my pants when we got tickets. Nothing was going to stop us now!
In the lobby, we went to get popcorn and soda. My mom saw this promotional poster by Boris Vallejo for Coca Cola that you could get for 25 cents if you bought a soda or something. So, she bought one. Originally, it was supposed to go up in my brother’s room, but somehow I ended up with it. Don’t know how that happened. In any case, it’s a beautiful piece, one of the nicest promotional pieces ever made for the movies.
We hustled into the auditorium that quickly filled up even though it could seat hundreds. I was amazed at the crowd’s diversity. Old, young, of every race and background. There was even a woman in full Miccousoukee Indian dress who sat a few seats down from me.
But that was nothing compared to the film. I recall that the theater wisely chose not to show any trailers. It went right to the movie.
My experience seeing Empire for the first time wasn’t so much sitting at the edge of my seat as it was hiding behind my hands. To my 10-year-old self, the movie was constantly putting the characters into peril and I just couldn’t bear to see what happened to them. It was kind of traumatizing, actually. These were characters I loved. They were almost like friends to me and to see them get beaten, chewed, hacked, and frozen was scary. I kept praying, “Please don’t let any of them get killed off.”
As it turned out, poor Han Solo got stuck in carbonite. How awful! But I was sure, because of the way the movies always worked, that Han would be rescued by the end of the movie. Right? Right? Oh, wait, I guess not.
Then of course, came the mother of all surprise revelations. For generations of youth who had known this all of their lives, they cannot appreciate the utter shock of Darth Vader telling Luke he was Luke’s father. I mean, nobody saw this coming. My initial reaction, aside from feeling like I’d been punched in the stomach, was, “He’s lying.” I thought Darth Vader was willing to say anything to turn Luke to the Dark Side. But by the end of the movie, they had that telepathic moment and I thought, “Wow, maybe Vader is telling the truth.” And if that was the case, then Obi-Wan was the one who was a liar!
Empire wasn’t all angst though. I fell completely for the Han and Leia romance. What I thought was an impossibility turned out to be oh-so-right. It didn’t hurt that Harrison Ford was way hot in that movie.
When we walked out of the theater, the first thing I said to my brother was, “This has turned into a soap opera!” The surprise revelations, the cliffhanger ending…it might as well be a cooler version of “As The World Turns.” I also said I was disappointed they didn’t rescue Han. Immediately, my mom and brother got on my case for my newfound crush on Han. I tried to deny it, but I guess they saw right through it.
Empire was a challenging, amazing film. However, we didn’t realize we were about to be cursed.
When my dad came back from his business trip, he was steamed we went to see Empire without him. My dad refused to go see it and didn’t see it until it came on television in 1987. The sad part is, I didn’t see it again until then either. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the movie or my family didn’t like it. It’s just that as far as they were concerned, you only needed to see a movie once and that was it. My dad lost interest after we saw the flick without him.
My brother got the novelization for his birthday from someone and as soon as he finished it, I devoured the whole thing. By now I knew the books are never quite like the movie, so I took it all in stride. And as it turned out, the book was the only way I recalled the movie for a long time. I re-read it a bunch of times in 1981 and 1982.
Empire was re-released twice between after its initial debut, in 1981 and in 1982. You have to remember that most people still did not have cable television in their homes and the burgeoning home video market, dominated by the Betamax, was still a small one with limited movies available at high prices. Empire came and went without our going to see it both times. I lobbied hard for going to see it, using my dad’s lack of a viewing as my selling point. But there was always something else that had to be done first and back then, the re-releases didn’t last very long, only a couple of weekends. Bah!