Star Wars birthday memories

A number of people on social media noted that May 21st was the 40th anniversary of the release of the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back.  This prompted me to revisit my own memories of seeing it.  Giving it some consideration, it’s one of the earliest memories I have.

My father and grandfather took me to see The Empire Strikes Back at the movie theater, probably in early June, 1980. I was three years and eleven months years old at the time, so truthfully I remember very little about watching the actual movie that day.

As is probably typical of childhood memories of movies and television, my recollection of that first viewing is vague & distorted.  For example, I remembered the scene from near the beginning when Luke Skywalker was hanging upside down in the Wampa’s ice cave.  I also remembered the scene in the cave on Dagobah where Luke fights an illusion of Darth Vader.  However in my young mind those two moments got squished together, and for a while there I really thought there was a scene in the movie where Luke is hanging upside down in a cave and gets loose just in time to fight Darth Vader.

Oh, yeah… I think I remembered the Imperial Walkers attacking Hoth. As a kid I thought they were pretty scary, and I referred to them as “Metal Dinosaurs.”

I much more vividly remember the experience that surrounded going to the movie. My father and grandfather took me to see it at The Central Plaza Cinema on Central Avenue in Yonkers, NY.  We got Burger King for lunch beforehand, and I seem to recall that we brought the food in with us to eat during the movie.  I definitely remember that I had a fun time. That was the beginning of my lifelong love of Star Wars, and of science fiction in general.

Obviously it must have been apparent to my parents that the movie made a huge impression on me, because a few weeks later at the end of the month I turned four years old and they had a Star Wars themed birthday party for me.  They even got a cake with a spaceship on it.

I mentioned this to my mother last week, and she was able to locate a couple of pictures from that party in one of the old family photo albums. In my memories I recalled the cake being decorated with a generic sci-fi rocket ship, but looking at that photo I see the bakery actually did a fairly good job drawing a Star Wars type ship along the lines of an X-Wing Fighter.

I guess that was also when my parents got me that large toy R2-D2.  I remember having that as a kid, but I’d forgotten it had been a birthday present.

Yes, that is four year old me in the photo below holding the R2-D2.  I guess my hair was always a mess!

When you are a kid time seems to pass by very slowly. The three years until Return of the Jedi came out felt like forever.  Since this was before the era of affordable home media, both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back returned to the theaters during that three year period, so I was able to see the first entry in the theater, as well as watch the second as a slightly older viewer.  I also filled that seeming eternity by making up my own Star Wars adventures with the action figures my parents bought me.

When Return of the Jedi came out in late May of 1983, I was well and truly ready for it.  It was amazing, and for many years it was my favorite Star Wars movie.  Why?  It’s very simple: I was almost seven years old, which is probably the ideal age to be watching the Star Wars movies.

I really believe that a great deal of what we enjoy as genre fans is subjective, heavily reliant on when and where and with who we experienced it for the first time.  I would not be at all surprised if there are people who saw the prequels when they were seven years old who regard them as their favorites.  The same thing holds for The Clone Wars animated series, and for the recent sequels from Disney.

In any case, thinking about all of these old memories, I realize that I was fortunate to have good parents.  Back when I was a kid I often had a difficult time recognizing this, probably due to a mixture of immaturity and undiagnosed childhood depression.  As an adult I am now able to look back and understand that they did the best they could to raise me, and I appreciate their efforts.