The Empire Strikes Back - 24 years later

The second film in the original Star Wars trilogy - The Empire Strikes Back - was released 30 years ago this week. The first time I saw it was 24 years ago, on my girlfriend's VCR.

I'd seen the original Star Wars (none of your A New Hope crap, please... the movie's name was Star Wars) and the third episode, Return of the Jedi in the theaters, but hadn't seen Empire Strikes Back when it was out, due to an unfortunate combination of circumstances. By the time it came to second-run theaters, circumstances were still unfortunate, so I missed it entirely.

Of course, the salient plot points and the big revelation, that Darth Vader was Luke's father, quickly leaked out. It all passed into knowledge so common that Johnny Carson was making jokes about it on the Tonight Show. Still, a lot of what happens in Return of the Jedi makes very little sense without having seen Empire Strikes Back.

With the invention of the VCR, I might have had a chance to see it, but anytime I suggested it as a rental, the idea was shot down, as everyone around me had already seen it 893,402 times. After a few years, it slipped down on the priority list of things to do. It wasn't until 1986 that I had a solid chance to see it, and in full context, when my girlfriend suggested we rent and watch the whole trilogy. Her parents were going out of town for that Friday night, so it was perfect occasion for a long evening watching movies.

It had been a long time since she had seen Star Wars in the theater (and she'd only seen it the one time), so we watched the tape and enjoyed the first movie. When it finished, we made some more popcorn while the tape was rewinding, and then started in on Empire Strikes Back. I was quietly thrilled that I'd finally get a chance to see it, and fill in the gaps in my comprehension of the story.

However, in contrast to Star Wars, my girlfriend had seen Empire Strikes Back more recently in the theater, and had seen it at least 20 times when it was out. I don't know why I was surprised by what happened next, but I was. Shortly into the movie, she started to hint, gently at first, then with increasing vigor that she had an alternative suggestion for how we might occupy ourselves that Friday night, alone together in her house.

Warning: here begins a tale of woe and heartbreak.

The term "geek cred" had not been coined in 1986, nor was there much value in the concept behind it, viz. that there is nobility in a devotion to sci-tech esoterica that supersedes all concerns of conventional society. As the intricacies of subcultural memes were unrecognized at the time, what happened next was an expression of the values of a more straightforward, if less forgiving age.

Which is to say that a healthy 17-year-old male who tells his healthy 18-year-old girlfriend, however diplomatically, that he'd really rather watch Empire Strikes Back on said girlfriend's TV than neck and screw with said girlfriend's semi-naked body is just asking for an ex-girlfriend.

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. I have been accused of being many things: arrogant, foolish, opinionated, and much, much worse. However, no one has ever had occasion to call me stupid. To make a long story short, I turned off the TV myself, to focus on more immediate matters. When I left to go home, I took the tape she'd rented, with promises to take it back to the video rental place the next day. (We never did get around to watching Return of the Jedi.)

After a few hours sleep, I watched Empire Strikes Back alone at my house before I had to go to work. Gaps in my knowledge complete, I returned the tape.

So, happy 24th Anniversary, Empire Strikes Back! You still make very little sense to me, and I can never watch you without feeling like I should turn you off just as the Millennium Falcon enters the asteroid field.

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. ROFLOL OMG that is priceless. In our house, nerdiness is a highly prized quality. Then again, if the movie is on TAPE you can always watch it later!

    Thanks for the chuckle. :)

  2. What makes this even cooler is not just that I wrote about this elsewhere, but that I am watching the Family Guy Empire Strikes Back Episode as I type!

    Awesome! And, good call! Geeks only choose esoterica because the other usually isn't an option :-)

  3. My best mate (who I lived with for a while) was a Star Wars freak - so it was often on the TV at our place.

    I can't remember the first time I saw The Empire Strike Back. It isn't my favourite of the movie serial... and I certainly don't have any great "couch" stories which go with it.

    I guess it has spawned one of the most spoofed lines "I am your father." Cracked up laughing when it was used in Toy Story 2.

    As an aside - we were watching Indiana Jones today.

  4. ganymeder: nerdiness is a highly prized quality

    In mine, too! We've got the original trilogy on videotape and the enhanced versions on DVD. Why have both? Because on video, Han shot first!

    D. Paul: Geeks only choose esoterica because the other usually isn't an option

    ... and then declare such a choice as a noble devotion to an ideal! Well, fortunately, I never had to make a virtue out of necessity that way. I've always been pretty good with words, and if you have your priorities straight, that's half the ground covered right there. ;-)

    Jodi: "I am your father"

    That was part of why the movie was ruined for me, because the big reveal was so easy to spoof. Talk about spoilers!

    I've got the boxed DVD set of the Indiana Jones movies; I'd watch that trilogy over Star Wars any day.

  5. I've loved Indianna Jones since I first saw it when I was about 10 on TV. Never been a fan of Temple of Doom (perhaps it is the mockers of the 2nd in a series - don't know?!) I love the way my son calls him India-Anna Jones. Gives it a really nice ring to it (a bit like the poisonberry icecream yesterday!)

  6. Great slice of your life piece, Tony. Made me laugh and reflect on my own star wars experience.

    The necessity of rewinding a video is a detail lost on the digital generation, but your using the time to make popcorn made me smile. For me that time was taken up making toast before diving into Empire with my brother and sister on our Star Wars VHS Saturday afternoon marathons.

  7. Damn straight Indiana Jones is a Trilogy. The last one is the "Movie that shall not be named." Unfortunately it still ligers in memory, but i'm working on it!

    I really enjoyed The Last Crusade. Brilliant casting I thought for Sean Connery as Indy's dad.

  8. Fond memories - my kids were 4 and 6 when the first one came out...I'd never seen them sit for 2 hours in silence before, their mouths hanging open.

  9. Ha, great story, Tony. These days, with that story, you'd qualify as King Stud of the Nerds. :)

    ESB always seemed like a desert between Star Wars & Return of the Jedi to me... maybe because I didn't see it in chronological order, either. And the prologue series just seemed like Lucas wanted to have some fun with the new moviemaking tech.

    Yeah, I'd pick Indiana Jones trilogy first any day.

    But happy birthday, Empire Strike Back!

  10. I saw "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in the theater and was entranced. That was one kick-ass movie. Like D. Paul, I also saw the most recent Indiana Jones movie, and thought it was pretty bad. "Lifeless and not funny" is the worst I can say about it.

    I'm not sure that movies play the same touchstone role (to use Gracies's term) in people's lives as they used to. Movies used to appear on the scene, like Minerva springing from the forehead of Jove. There was minimal pre-buzz, or lead-in advertising. Now, movies will start the PR machine going with websites, calculated releases, rumor plantations, etc. in the months leading up to release.

  11. Glad you weren't permanently cockblocked by nerddom, Tony. If we ever meet up, maybe we'll do a marathon and work out each other's Star Wars issues.

    I saw Empire Strikes back without seeing the first one. I was absolutely clueless and kept trying to fastforward the end credits in the hopes that the rest of the movie was hidden somewhere later on the tape. It was a year before I understood there were other movies. A first movie seemed superfluous, but what the heck, lightsabres were the coolest thing ever and more of them was a good thing.


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