It’s amazing what things stick with you and how clearly they stick. As I said in the last post, I remember with absolute clarity the first time I saw Star Wars: A New Hope. I even remember when I saw E4 for the second time and, with similar exact clarity, when I saw The Phantom Menace in the theater two years later. Ditto Revenge of the Sith. Yet for all that, I don’t remember the first time I saw Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi, even though E6 is my favorite and the most important of the six.
As I said last time, the first time I ever saw E4 was February 12, 1997. We watched it again the next day — 10 AM on a Thursday, my older sister grabbed me and said, “Hey, see if Mom will let us watch that movie from last night again.” A third, but partial, rewatch occurred again on February 18th, so already there was something major and significant about this movie.
Then, nine days after I saw A New Hope for the first time, Mom rented The Empire Strikes Back. I must have been after her to see it; I’d been watching anniversary interviews with the cast on Rosie and Oprah, not knowing who Billy Dee Williams was as he described angry kids yelling at him for betraying Han Solo. Han Solo got betrayed?! Was he killed?! I had to see this movie! Kroger — which did video rentals back then, if you can believe it — didn’t have any, so I remember Dad pulling a few doors down to the West Coast Video where Mom ran inside. It was raining. Can you believe I remember rain from 20 years ago? Yet I don’t remember the actual moment we sat down to watch the movie.
I didn’t have much to say about it in my diary that night, either. The most significant thing was “It was almost 70 degrees!!!!” followed by how much I hated doing English (ironic given that I later majored in English…)
Then the bombshell. Then Return of the Jedi.
It was partly a bombshell because of how clever my mom is. She went into the video store alone because it was raining and we had groceries in the car. She let me hold the E5 VHS on the way home and put it on top of the TV for viewing. I absolutely took for granted that it would be at least one week before we could get E6. (“Town” was 18 miles away and going in for groceries was a weekly thing.) So I was pretty nonchalant about the cliffhanger ending.
The next day was February 22, a Saturday, and I was replaying The Island of Doctor Brain on our Windows 3.0 Compaq in Dad’s office.
Even though that picture was taken in 2003, Dad’s office pretty much never changed the entire 16 years they lived there. Same computer! So the point is that’s where I was sitting sometime after lunch when I got to this screen:
I’d played the game before, so I knew where all the Easter eggs were — the best thing about Sierra computer games was that you could right-click for jokes. And I called for Mom, always my first response upon a new discovery, and said, “LOOK! I never got that before!!” Right-clicking on the hut at the top left of the screen produced a box of text reading Don’t mess with Jabba the Hut.
We laughed and then Mom got a mischievous glint in her eye. “You want to see what he looks like?” she asked. I was like, Huh? and followed her out of the office, which was right next to their room, and she opened their closet and pulled out the opaque rental case for Return of the Jedi. My mind was absolutely blown that she’d rented both at once and kept it a secret.
So late in the afternoon, before dinner, I tore around the house rounding up Dad and my sister and we started to watch Return of the Jedi as the sun was going down. Huh, guess I remember more than I thought about the moment I first saw E6!
My diary couldn’t even handle all the information I had to unload:
We saw return of the Jedi. Lai is Luke’s sister! And Darth Vader is Luke’s father. But the Emperor was killed and Darth became good, only he was killed.
I like Luke, Leia, C3Po R2D2 Ham Solo best.
The clearest thing I remember is that when it was over, I passed by the front door to go upstairs and I stopped to watch the moon rising through the cut glass windows. It was nearly full, huge, and felt closer than ever. No movie had ever made me feel that way before. I loved stories, I loved reading and telling stories, but not even any of them had ever made me feel like that.
I wrote that Han Solo was my favorite, but even then, even before I bothered to notice Luke, he was the reason my imagination caught fire — the hero whose journey was the reason Star Wars changed my life.