On the debut of the Star Wars Escape Podcast, they asked, what is your favorite Star Wars memory. Well, for me, that’s an easy one, it’s the moment that shaped my life. May 25, 1983. I saw Return of the Jedi on opening day and it changed my life forever. I told this story before, early on in this blog’s history, but that was a year ago, and I didn’t fully flesh it out then. But now, I’m in the process of working on a book of memoirs, and I want to share this story with you, the loyal readers of this blog, on the day that changed everything for me. 5/25/83
I was born on March 22, 1980. The start of one of the more awesome decades this planet has ever known. If you want the definition of an 80s kid, you can’t get much more 80s than that. It was a perfect time to be a kid. I say I was born to be a geek not only because I grew up with Transformers, GI Joe, He-Man, and the Superfriends, lots of kids did, and not every one of them are geeks.
I say I was born to be a geek because my very first memory is seeing Return of the Jedi, opening day. That’s right, my first memory is also my first time seeing a Star Wars movie. Opening day no less. I still recall those details about that day that would forever change my life.
It was May 25, 1983. Star Wars fans had been waiting for three years to see the conclusion to this epic saga. I’ve been told that I was actually present when my parents saw Empire Strikes Back, but being that I was only a couple months old, I definitely don’t remember that at all. But since that time, the fans of the franchise had lots of questions on their minds. Questions such as how are they going to get Han Solo back from Jabba the Hutt? Who was Jabba the Hutt anyway? What’s going to happen to Luke Skywalker now that he knows the truth of who Darth Vader is?
Me, I wasn’t concerned with any of that, all I knew, as a 3 year old, was that we were going out as a family, my mom, my dad, and me, to go see a movie. I liked movies, and I loved my family, that’s all I knew. The lines were wrapped around the block for this movie, which our local theater in the area of San Diego I was growing up in at that time wasn’t a multiplex, just a few theaters, all showing one movie and one movie only, Return of the Jedi.
It was a hot day on that day, and being a 3 year old I had little to no patience for waiting in the long line necessary to secure our tickets to this show, so to keep me calm, my Dad took me aside to go cool off in the nearby department store. I remember seeing my first ever collection of Star Wars merchandise and was immediately fascinated, all these guys looked so cool. I gravitated to one in particular, the octopus looking future star of memes galore, Admiral Ackbar. I’m still not sure why, I just thought he looked cool.
My Dad asked me if he was a good guy or a bad guy, and I just knew he was a good guy, or maybe I read what I could of the back of the box, I was pretty smart back then. I could name off a dozen or more dinosaurs, and I could point out all the whales on a whale poster I had in my room. Also, my mom read to me as long as I was alive at that point, which helped speed up that whole process.
Nearby the action figures were the t-shirts, and my Dad got me a yellow Admiral Ackbar t-shirt to go along with my new action figure. My first pieces of Star Wars merchandise, though they would be far from the last I’d acquire in my life, for sure. After that we eventually rejoined my Mom, who was waiting back in line for us holding our spots and I came back wearing my new shirt already, I couldn’t wait to try it on, and I showed off my new toy proudly, like it was an award I won.
Eventually, we made it into the air conditioned theater, which felt amazing after who knows how many hours we were waiting in line. Not long after we got in, the movie started. I imagine the crowd cheered and clapped triumphantly as the 20th Century Fox fanfare played, and the familiar blue letters appeared on the screen ‘A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…’ I don’t recall that bit exactly but I’m putting myself in these fans footsteps, they’ve waited three years to see this conclusion to the epic trilogy, with no internet to keep their fandom going for three years I can imagine it must be a lot like being in the Sherlock fandom from the beginning. Only worse, because there’s no internet. Just talking to friends about the movie, or reading and re-reading the books, and comic books to keep the story alive in the in between years. Hell, back then, there wasn’t even any home video release, once a movie was out of theaters that was it. It might get re-released, but all you had to keep the movie with you was any merchandise you might have.
I recall being scared and fascinated by the same time of the Rancor, as I saw Luke Skywalker thrillingly take on that monster without the benefit of a shrubbery…I mean lightsaber. And of course getting my first glimpse at Darth Vader also was equally impressive. But of course, the highlight of the film for me, at the time, was a toss-up between seeing my new favorite guy Admiral Ackbar, in action (well sort of, he just kind of stood on the bridge of one of the cruisers and said ‘It’s a trap!) and of course the Ewoks. They were like a less cutesy version of the Care Bears minus the cult trappings that those other walking teddy bear things had going on…seriously think about it) And they took down a legion of Stormtroopers. Impressive, most impressive.
It wouldn’t be for a few years more that I actually watched the movies in order, and started piecing together the larger story of the saga, (I remember the Wampa in Empire Strikes Back kind of freaked me out too, but what 80’s kid wasn’t first time they saw that) But from that day forward, and while there were other key moments and other things that put my geek status firmly in place, the seeds for my nerddom were forever planted on that day, May 25, 1983.