What I Felt at ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ Premiere in 1980 That Younger Fans Never Got To
Today, May 4 is Star Wars day. Even if you aren't a fan of one of the most popular movie franchises of all time, you've probably heard of "May the Fourth Be With You." That silly pun has become a national sensation over the past 10 years.
There are several generations of Star Wars fans, most of which grew up watching the original trilogy at home on video, rather than in the theater on the day they premiered. I can tell you from my own experience, that seeing A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in the theaters when they were originally released, changed my life forever.
I saw Star Wars in 1977 at the Bridgton Drive-In. It was a double feature of Disney's Pete's Dragon followed by the movie that was breaking box office records at the time, Star Wars. In 1977, there was no way to know if there would be a sequel, so the movie was simply called Star Wars, rather than Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope.
What I saw on that screen in the first few minutes of the movie was breathtaking for a six-year-old kid. This was unlike anything I had ever seen! Spaceships battling in outer space, laser swords, a big buy in a black suit with a breathing problem and this mysterious thing called the Force.
We drove away from the Bridgton Drive-In and my mind was blown, I don't think my parents cared too much for it though. But three years later, at the age of 9, they took me to see The Empire Strikes Back.
To this day, this is the best of all the Star Wars films. Period. There's a big reason why too that anyone who was born after Empire was released never got to experience it.
The big cliffhanger of Empire is the moment that Darth Vader reveals to Luke that he is his father. I remember the people in the theater at the old Maine Mall Cinemas erupting with gasps at that moment, just like I did.
This video from 1980 that someone shot in the theater actually has the crowd's reaction when they hear the now famous line.
That is the best movie cliffhanger of all time. That revelation by Darth Vader had us debating on the school playground for three years about whether or not Vader was really Luke's father. I was adamant he wasn't, but I found out I was wrong when Return of the Jedi hit theaters in 1983.
Most people who watched the original trilogy after 1983, already knew the big secret that Darth Vader was Luke's father. When I was a kid, we had to wait three years to know for sure. Knowing that huge plot point cheats the younger generation of Star Wars fans out of the best moment in movie history.
I'm just glad I was there for it.
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