At the time I didn’t realize it was May 25th exactly. I just knew the key facts: I was six years old, it was Wednesday, and my dad was going to take me to the 6:15pm opening day showing of Return of the Jedi.
I was hyped all day long at my 1st grade class at Mt. Rose Elementary school in Reno. I got to home right on time at three and we lived in a small rental right across the street from the northwest corner playground. That was the “big kids” side for grades 4-6. Nowadays Google maps tells me the house isn’t there anymore. It’s just a prime piece of real estate on the corner of Arlington Ave. & Taylor St. When I got home I had to kill time until my dad got there which for a six year old Star Wars fan may as well have been an eternity.
My original love affair with Star Wars started with me listening to a record (LP) the year before, which was obviously just audio and condensed a 2 hour 10 minute movie into maybe 60 minutes. It wasn't one of those old 45s with a book where you'd turn the page when Artoo beeps. This was a full size 33 1/3 RPM LP that was just the audio track from the film. Apparently I had seen Star Wars at a drive-in when it was released, but I was a year old so of course there were no memories there. The Empire Strikes Back was the first movie I can remember seeing in the theater in 1980. My mom took me to see that one but I don’t remember much other than waiting in line, pointing out the poster, falling asleep around the Dagobah training bits, Han Solo in carbonite, and of course the whole “Who’s your daddy?” routine at the end.
But coming up to the release of Jedi (original working title: Revenge of the Jedi) I was in full-out hype mode. Listening to Star Wars on LP so many times and all the Kenner toy catalogs had me riled up and ready to rock. Back in the day we had no internet to house the land of massive spoilers, so what we got instead were things like the Kenner toy catalog with a blacked-out picture and the caption “Jabba the Hutt Playset.” You remember that dude Han name dropped? I mean he’d been mentioned in the two previous movies so he must be big (literally). But there was no way anyone was gonna find out what a Hutt looked like before May 25th.
Eventually my dad showed up on what was still a relatively sunny late afternoon in the Nevada desert. We walked down to the United Artists theater on 1st St. in downtown Reno on the Truckee River. It was only a mile but as a hyped up kid it felt like walking all the way from Anchorhead to Mos Eisley. When we got to the theater there was a line outside, naturally. My dad told me we were getting tickets to see it in Dolby, which was the kickass state-of-the-art audio back then. We got our tickets grabbed seats, and got ready for something that was about to set my own personal standard for movies and pop culture.
To this day when people ask me what my favorite movie is, I always ask, “You mean besides Star Wars?” Because all of those movies to me exist as a separate thing outside of normal filmdom. The correct answer to that question is Raiders of the Lost Ark, by the way. But I digress. As I was about to discover on that fateful May evening, Jedi cemented the Star Wars legacy as not just part of my pop culture persona, but part of my life. For 16 years after this during the most impressionable years of my life, I was part of an entire fantasy universe that consisted only of three films, or about six and a half hours of footage.
Finally the lights went down and the 20th Century Fox fanfare let us know that shit was about to get real.
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...”
RETURN OF THE JEDI
Luke Skywalker has returned to
his home planet of Tatooine in
an attempt to rescue his
friend Han Solo from the
clutches of the vile gangster
Jabba the Hutt.
Oh. Shit. It’s fuckin’ on now. And what followed over the next 2 hours and 15 minutes was incredible. I got my first glimpse of iconic moments that to this day still permeate my memory. Things like:
A new Death Star. Is that legal?
The reveal of Jabba the Hutt.
“At last we have the mighty Chewbacca.” Cheessa...beecha ko wonkae Chewbacca. At least that's what it sounds like to me. Ask me to say it sometime, I do a pretty great impression.
Han Solo falling out of that melting carbonite.
Vanishing 900-year old Yoda.
That speeder bike chase. Hot damn!
Ewoks. And you know what? Fuck off. I liked them when I was a kid. Which of course was the point.
“It’s a trap!”
An actual space battle between Rebel & Imperial fleets. You know, war...in the stars.
Lando as that asshole friend that borrows your ride but brings it back without the side mirror.
The showdown between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor.
And of course, my absolute favorite moment of the film. It’s so good that it gets its own couple of paragraphs in case you weren’t around in 1983 to understand how awesome it was.
Luke Skywalker, alone and walking the plank to certain death above the sarlacc. At the last instant Artoo launched an object into the air, and we all suddenly found out what happened to Luke’s lightsaber after he lost it at Bespin. Turns out he never got it back. Homeboy made a new one.
We all thought it was gonna be blue. Because good Jedi have blue lightsabers and Sith have red. Plus all the marketing posters had Luke (or just the two hands) holding a blue lightsaber. But in that instant ol’ George reminded us once again that you should never be afraid to dream and try something slightly different. And keeping one tiny detail quiet reminded us all how much fun it is to be surprised at the movies over something so simple.
Because that goddamn lightsaber was green.
And then Luke proceeded to spend four minutes showing Team Jabba why one lone Jedi is not to be fucked with. The Wu-Tang Clan of a galaxy far, far away if you will. Even to this day that sequence is the only time we got to see a Jedi totally putting the smack down on scum and villainy until the prequels rolled out sixteen years later. I still get goosebumps when that scene starts due in no small part to John Williams' score which hits all the right beats.
34 years later Luke grew up like I did, a little wiser, a little worse for wear, and showed us how to win a battle without fighting at all yet still inspire hope. But that’s a story for another time.
Way back in 1983 we walked out of that theater and I knew I’d just witnessed a monumental experience that would impact my life for years to come.
It’s the best memory I have of my old man which made it even more special. We didn’t have that many great moments together to choose from, but Jedi is at the top and it isn’t even close. On November 26, 2016 I was watching The Force Awakens with my mom when we both found out he passed away. I thought that was fitting that the two most powerful memories about my old man had to do with Star Wars and not his music. My first theater memory was watching Empire with my mom, and my most exciting one was watching Jedi with my dad a few years later. Both parents are somehow responsible for turning me into a Star Wars junkie. The kind of guy who would opt to get “Jedi” printed on his dog tags in the Army many years later. The kind of guy who built a lightsaber hilt out of plumbing parts that was mistaken for a bong during a barracks inspection.
For me the Star Wars universe isn’t just some movies I saw a couple of times. It’s a major part of who I am. I can tell you exactly who I was with for each one of those films the first time I saw them up to and including Solo in 2018 which fittingly is the only one I've watched alone. I've attached many great memories with friends and family to my Star Wars experience. And it really all goes back to May 25, 1983.
“So be it...Jedi.”