The hysteria for George Lucas’ 3rd installment of his Star Wars epic was to hit screens on Friday May 25th. Many days passed as I joyfully played with my Star Wars action figures, as if Lucas was Santa and watching my every move. Figures were spread all over the floor of my rec room where many galactic battles took place. I begged my older sister to play, after all, I needed a Princess Leia. It was a time when she actually came in handy, but a little brother would have done a better job at playing with action figures.
After waiting anxiously, Friday finally came. “We’re going to see Return of the Jedi!!” my dad announced to me with great enthusiasm. He seemed just as excited as I was. Before jumping around uncontrollably like Mr. Peepers, I froze for a second, puzzled. Did he mean that we were going to see the real thing and go up in a space ship and watch the rebellion get revenge over the dark forces of the evil Empire? I was perplexed. I actually wasn’t sure what was going to happen. You see, this was the first Star Wars film I would be experiencing in the theater.
When we pulled up at the old Menlo Park General Cinema, it all came together. As we walked through the glass doors, I was immediately consumed at the sight of the huge, lush lobby complete with video games and adorned with posters. The aroma of popcorn filled the air and invaded my nostrils. Naturally, it was imperative what came next, “Mommy, I want popcorn!” My dad bought the tickets and as we slowly made our way to the theater I took in every last detail of my surroundings.
My sister held my tiny hand and directed me to look at the Return of the Jedi poster on the wall. I became mesmerized. It was a beautiful collage with Luke Skywalker looking heroic, grasping his trusty lightsaber, Han Solo pointing his blaster at me, the beautiful Princess Leia, cuddly Ewoks, and lurking in the background, the sinister Darth Vader. Just as any other normal kid at the time, I was petrified of the Dark Lord of the Sith. The bottom of the poster, sealed in silver, read RETURN OF THE JEDI.
We made our way through the doors and down the aisle of the theater. It was very dark except for the glow of the previews which projected onto the enormous screen. I didn’t care what was on the screen, it was all a blur. I was in awe of the cavernous room filled with what looked to be a thousand seats. There were so many people, it was packed to the rafters. I stood in the aisle staring upward, mouth open, marveling at how high the ceiling was. Finally, I focused on the screen and remembered what I wanted to do. I jetted in light speed to the front row. The entire row was empty and thinking I hit the jackpot, I plopped myself down in the center seat. With popcorn in lap and feet crossed dangling off the seat, I was ready, but I realized I was missing something. MY FAMILY was a few rows back filing into a patch of 4 seats. My sister must’ve alerted my parents to the fact that I was nowhere to be found. As I looked back I saw my dad waving me back to sit with them. In classic stubborn child mode, I swung my head back and forth in an “absolutely not” fashion. They realized that I would not be giving up my seat.
I won out and my parents and my sister left their seats and sat with me in the first row. That wouldn’t have flown in any other instance, but since it was Return of the Jedi and they were there so I could see the movie, they gave in. Within minutes, the screen went black and John Williams’ score blasted like an ion cannon throughout the theater while the scroll brought us up to speed. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi:
This experience left a lasting impression on me because it made me a lifelong Star Wars fan, and it began my obsession with movies. At that point in time, going to the movies was still a big deal. Sure there are “event” movies, but not many of them can come close to the magic that the original Star Wars trilogy brought to the screen. More and more younger kids are becoming Star Wars fans and I’m lucky to be able to tell them that I saw my favorite installment of the trilogy in its original theatrical release.