“There is another …”
Reflections on Episode V …
There were three years between the release of the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back and those were my sophomore, junior and senior years of high school (1977-80), a period when I grew from a cocky punk kid into a young man who boldly thought he was prepared to face the future with his newly found Jedi knowledge; but like Luke Skywalker, I soon found that I was nowhere near ready for what the real world would throw at me.
Throughout those three years, after school and during the summers, I worked at my first regular job as a stock boy at the Heber Country Store in my little hometown of Heber, Arizona. My Obi-Wan Kenobi was the store’s manager, Joe, who became my mentor and unofficial big brother; and it was with him that I first saw The Empire Strikes Back.
Joe and I had many adventures during our time working together, but in the summer of 1980, soon after I had graduated from high school, we experienced one of our best. We had made a weekend trip to Phoenix to make repairs to one of the home properties his family owned and rented, and after two days of sweating in the Tatooine-like weather, Joe surprised me by asking if I was interested in taking in the new Star Wars movie before we headed back to Heber (which was a three-hour trip over the mountains and far away.)
Welcome to Episode VII Days of the Force, a daily series of Star Wars reflections counting down to the release of The Force Awakens!
He knew what a big Star Wars fan I was and that I was dying to see the new movie, so we wrapped up our job that Sunday and off we went to the Cine Capri theater, Arizona’s biggest and best movie house. I’m not sure if The Empire Strikes Back was even playing in any other theaters at that point, but I didn’t care as I was thrilled to be going back to the same special place where I had seen Star Wars three years earlier.
Of course there was a line, but we didn’t care as we passed the time talking about the first film and our hopes for what we might see in this sequel. I don’t remember knowing a whole lot about the movie in advance (remember the Internet and movie spoilers were still 20 years out) or whether I had even seen the trailer for it, but the excitement of the first film was still very fresh in my mind.
A couple of hours later we were finally in our seats and being astounded by new creatures like tauntauns, wampas, space slugs and a fascinating little green guy called Yoda. In the first Star Wars we only got to see the planet Tatooine and a quick glimpse of the Rebel base on Yavin, but now we were exploring the ice planet, Hoth, the swamp world, Dagobah, and the Cloud City of Bespin.
As cool as the new worlds, amazing creatures and awesome action sequences were, the main topic of conversation on the trip back home was about the shocking revelation that Darth Vader was Luke’s father. Our minds had been blown and with what little brain matter remained we were feverishly speculating what Yoda meant when he said, “There is another.”
The Empire Strikes Back, as it was simply called when first released, pushed the edge of the cinematic envelope and was incredibly unique and original in so many ways, including its cliffhanger ending that left at least three story threads untied. This was storytelling like I had never seen on the big screen before and it was as frustrating as it was fun and fascinating. Who could possibly wait for the next episode?
A few months later I joined the Navy and would only see my good friend, Joe, one more time before he was tragically killed while heroically helping someone move their car out of a snowdrift. Like Luke, I learned it’s hard to move forward and continue to grow and learn without your sage adviser.
I’ve probably seen The Empire Strikes Back a dozen times since that first viewing at the Cine Capri, and each time reminds me of that special surprise gift my mentor gave me – a memory better than any lightsaber.