May 20th, 2010


Number One

Thinking about it, I think it's probably my favorite movie. It just hits every single button. I can still remember the first time I saw it.

I saw it in the theater at the Shamrock screens on the corner of Main and Pressler, a few weeks after it came out. I can even remember which screen it was on (on the right as you walked in, back wall), though I was only seven years old. I don't remember who was with me. Definitely Jose. Maybe Claudia. Probably a parent. Liv was only two, so I doubt she went. I think maybe a family that we were good friends with went also.

I didn't see the first one in the theater. But it was the very first video we checked out when we got our new VCR a few months before. And then it was the very first video tape we owned. My brother and I watched it over, and over, and over, and over again. We knew every line, every action, every sound. We played the characters when we went to the park, and my best friend and her brother would play them too. I did not go into that theater unprepared for what was about to happen.

I remember being cold at the beginning, when all that ice and snow was on the screen. I remember being scared of the monster, feeling bad for the Tauntaun, worrying about Luke. I remember thinking that the Hoth battle was awesome, and how I couldn't wait to play with the new toys when they came out. It was probably the first time I ever thought the bad guys had something cool. My little brain that divided people into sides had difficulty processing that.

I had to go to the bathroom during one of the Degobah scenes, so I missed part of Luke's training. But I did see the scene in the cave. And it confused the hell out of me.

I remember being so worried about Han and Leia. I remember being confused as to how anyone knew Bobba Fett's name, because it was never said in the movie (and never came up until moments before he died on Tatooine). I remember thinking that Luke was stupid to ignore Yoda and Ben, but Han and Leia needed help. I remember being really, really sad that Han got frozen in carbonite and I wished I had a wookie to hug and hold me when I was sad. I remember being more horrified about Luke's hand than Vader's revalation about his parentage.

I don't remember being shocked that it had a sad ending where the hero doesn't save the day. I was terribly worried about Han, and I was a little reassured by the bionic prosthetic. But I knew that there was going to be a third movie, and surely they'd rescue Han then.

I'm sure I went to a movie in the theater before the summer of 1980, but I can't tell you a thing about it. I can tell you everything about seeing The Empire Strikes Back.

I can't even begin to count how many times I've seen The Empire Strikes Back since that first time. I'm pretty sure I only saw it the once in the theater (until, of course, 1997, when I dutifully went to see the rerelease). As soon as it came out on VHS it was part of the household, though I think also that someone recorded it off of HBO and we watched that version for a few years, too. But it was watched, and rewatched, and rewatched over and over again. It's the only VHS I still own, actually. I have TWO box sets. One was the "see it for the last time" campaign, the other the 1997 rerelease. I have the DVDs too. I am, as jasheffe once said, George Lucas's bitch.

I was just a kid. I had no idea how story arcs were supposed to be constructed. I had no idea of the standard constructed romance forged from peril. I didn't understand the road movie, the buddy movie, or anything like that. I didn't understand the hero's journey or the coming of age arc or the father/son conflict. I just knew that I loved this story.

The Star Wars franchise was the single most important piece of popular culture in my childhood, and probably my life. My brother and I would talk about it for days on end. My best friend's brother had the Darth Vader carrying case for his action figures. I saved countless boxtops of cereal AND waited six to eight weeks for my limited edition Han Solo in stormtrooper action figure to show up. To this day, Star Wars shit makes me happy, despite the relative disappointment of the prequels.

I'm sure that if you'd asked me when I was a kid which was my favorite, I would have said either Star Wars or Jedi. The former because I knew it the best, because it started me down this path that I'd never stray from. The latter because it gave resolution, and it had cute Ewoks that were designed to delight me personally (and all other kids watching the movies). But as I grew older--and not even that much older--I came to understand that Empire is the best. And my favorite. Not just of the franchise, but of all movies.

It's not perfect. It's dated. The effects that were so amazing in childhood are antiquated now. The action scenes are laughable compared to their progeny. The Degobah scenes can be a little slow, especially compared to the hyperdrive scenes. The messy incest scene is sort of awkwardly stuck there. I'm sure I could nitpick all day, but I don't want to. Because this is a movie that I still love thrity years later.

I just now know I'm not missing too much if I have to pee while Luke is lifting rocks with his mind.