Star Wars is the first movie I remember seeing in a theater, assuming you count a drive-in as a theater. I was very young, and I only remember flashes of that night: As I recall it, my parents had given me the Garfield board game earlier that day, and I had to make a Sophie’s Choice to leave behind this cool new toy and see the movie. I also remember my parents saying this was a “new, expanded” version of the movie, so I’m guessing this was in 1981 (which also appears to have been the year that board game came out, so yeah).
My only lasting impressions of that experience:
- Being terribly confused, now that I was old enough to read easily, that this was “Episode IV.” I was positive we were going to see Star Wars, not a sequel, and the fact that we’d gone to the fourth episode by mistake really upset me.
- All those droids in the Jawa sandcrawler interior scene.
Meanwhile, The Empire Strikes Back is the first movie I remember seeing inside a proper theater, although it’s possible I saw it before that drive-through viewing of Star Wars during its first run. I know I was super young at the time, because all I remember from that screening was being confused that Luke’s awesome tauntaun disappeared a short ways into the movie. I didn’t quite catch on to the fact that it was dead from exposure. So when Luke ended up on Bespin hunting for “Yoda,” I figured Yoda was the name of his tauntaun and that he was searching for his furry pal, who had gotten lost in space. I mean, Han had Chewie, so it was only fair for Luke to have a cool alien monster friend, too.
By the time Return of the Jedi debuted, I had crossed a certain age/self-awareness threshold and grasped much more of the proceedings. I was pumped for that movie. I was prepared.
I was a child long before the idea of iPads and portable computer entertainment devices in our lifetime even existed. For multimedia kicks on the go, I couldn’t borrow my dad’s phone and watch YouTube. Instead, I had a legitimate multimedia device: A Book-And-Record player that would run 33 1/3 RPM records full of narration and dialogue to be enjoyed while reading a small picture book with the text printed inside.
This was my Star Wars experience for many years: A cursory summation of the film accompanied by various sound samples. Honestly, it wasn’t too far removed from C-3PO’s high-level narration to the Ewoks. I read and listened to that book/record combo more times than I care to guess, and my family derived endless amusement from my impersonations of the dialogue clips it contained. “So we meet again, Obi-wan…,” I’d intone as deeply as my elementary-age larynx would allow.
Needless to say, I was incredibly excited the weekend my cool aunt Beckie offered to take me to see Jedi during its initial run (maybe even its first week in theaters, I can’t remember). I remember going with my parents to my grandparents’ place to meet up, and when Beckie arrived she had bought me the paperback adaptation of the movie, because I was a voracious reader, the same as her, constantly borrowing her novels and cartoon collections. It was a pretty rad adaptation, with a center insert of color stills, and it was filled with all kinds of information that would render the prequels pretty moot—like the fact that the Emperor’s name was Palpatine, and that Vader had been mortally wounded in a lightsaber duel with Obi-wan after a fall into magma.
As we prepared to head out to see the movie, I remember Beckie expressing her excitement to see the movie. At the time, there was a lot of doubt over whether or not Luke Skywalker would survive the inevitable confrontation with Vader and if he really was the villain’s son, and she mentioned how eager she was to learn if Luke would live. Eager to be helpful, I flipped to the end of the novel.
“He does!” I said, beaming with pride.
“Jeremy!” she scolded, laughing despite her annoyance.
And that was my first encounter with the concept of a “spoiler.”
Anyway, as this goes live, I’m sitting somewhere in a theater about to see The Force Awakens. And unless someone does a Homer Simpson drive-by while I’m in line, I’ve managed to get to this totally unspoiled on the twists and events of the movie. That’s pretty rare in this day and age, especially for someone whose job involves keeping on top of media and planning content in advance based on things I’d rather learn at my own pace. Who knows if I’ll ever enjoy this luxury again? So it’s kind of nice that it’s happening with a movie that I have such history with.