Thursday, May 19, 2005

May 21, 1980

I was 13 in 1980.

I'd just finished junior high and was preparing to be dumped into high school as a freshman in the fall. My friend Tim had moved on ahead of me and we were no longer that close... One of my other best friends, Jeff, and I decided to see the premiere of the long awaited sequel, The Empire Strikes Back.

I was getting too smart for my own good. I bought a magazine a couple months before the movie came out that was filled with photos, interviews, descriptions of various plot points... I was mercilessly spoiled by the time I saw the movie on May 21, 1980.

I was 13 in 1980.

I was an avid Star Wars junkie... I had T-shirts, I had glasses from Burger King, I had action figures. Lord, did I have action figures. My parents even drove me to Maryville one day (a small town south of Knoxville) just to find a Jawa action figure (the one with the real cloth cape! not the loser one with the plastic cape).

I had the Death Star Action Playset. Ok, yeah, I played with them less and less as I moved through Junior High but the figures and things were still treated with reverence.

I read the comic books. I read the magazine articles. I even cut the pictures out and pasted them on poster board to make my own collage. I built the models, I destroyed the models. I cobbled parts of old models together to make new ones.

I could feel my imagination flowing.

I was 13 in 1980.

My friend Jeff was actually interviewed outside the movie theatre that day by a local TV station. He was about 4-5 inches shorter than me, so when they showed his head talking, all you could see of me in the shot was the bottom of my chin down. I remember I was wearing one of those mesh shirts we used to wear back then so you could see my pseudo-pubescent chest as well.

I wish I could recall more about the actual film experience, but I do remember being disappointed that I already knew the little green frog-like guy was Yoda, and that the group would eventually meet up on a cool Cloud City.

The first scenes were great - after 3 years of endless viewings of the original in release and re-release it was kick to see the characters do something different. Luke and Han riding on some weird ice kangaroo across the snow. Different. Leia's hair. Different.

And the ending? Much, much different.

I was 13 in 1980.

I was the epitome of innocence. I'd taken my first step into a much larger world with the blooming of my sense of fantasy, of the out-there, of the possible. I'd gone briefly through junior high (they'd restructured the school system and our class only had 2 years there) and was ready to start the next phase of my life in high school.


I can remember this part as if it were yesterday.

I sit in the theatre chair, feet up with my chin pressed against my knees. Luke and Darth culminate their lightsaber fight on a gantry in Cloud City. My heart is literally pounding with excitement and adrenaline. There is no music to this portion, which heightens the tension. They move from left to right, Luke gets a shot to Darth's shoulder, then Darth cuts off Luke's right hand.

Whoah! That was...creepy. Star Wars isn't supposed to by creepy! What's going on??

Pound, pound, pound.

They trade barbs. Vader exhorts Luke to abandon his friends and join him. Luke refuses, defiant, in pain. He desparately tries to inch away.

Then the bottom falls out.

"Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father..."

"He told me enough...he told me you killed him!"

"No, Luke. I am your father."

My jaw literally dropped - fell open and hung there. What???? This isn't true? This is impossible!!!

Luke apparently shared my sentiments.

And I felt all the anguish of a young boy truly moving into a larger world as the son cried out in rage and sorrow at the truth. Then dropped away.

Those roughly 2-3 minutes of the movie stick with me to this day. I feel my heart pounding in my chest, I feel the rush of cold as I heard what Darth said. To an older person, it would've been recognized as a good plot point, and interesting twist.

To a younger child...a younger me...I probably wouldn't have understood the significance.

I was 13 in 1980.

I was the perfect age to see that, now, everything was different.

Postscript: I continued to read and re-read that original copy of the Star Wars novelization. It began to get dog-eared and a bit tattered. While I bought the Empire novelization, of course, it never quite got to the point of extreme usage as the original. It still remained one of my prized possessions.

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