Wow, it’s been over three weeks since my last post in this series. I didn’t intend to let this much time pass on this particular subject. But…I did. So instead of building up to the actual 30th anniversary of my viewing of this seminal film, I find myself resuming it on said anniversary.

Yep. Today’s my birthday! It’s a happy one so far, thanks!

Memory is a funny thing. The first indelible image I recall from the beginning of the film was not the first image of the Imperial Star Destroyer that opens the film, or the menacing-looking probe droid revealed at the end of the scene, but this super-long-shot of Luke Skywalker riding his Tauntaun on the impossibly snowy planet of Hoth.

This was pretty impressive on the biggest screen I'd ever seen in my young life.

I wondered why this struck the nine-year-old me, even over the reveal of the sinister-looking probe droid just a shot earlier. Maybe…

…ahhh. Now I know.

From the Giant Golden Book of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Reptiles, © 1970-something. I LOVED this book as a kid.

Luke was riding a dinosaur. In the SNOW. Back then, we figured dinosaurs were scaly, relatively sluggish, cold-blooded creatures, so the thought of a furry dinosaur that could survive in the frigid temperatures was pure fantasy.

Thus, with this mere establishing-shot image, I was immediately drawn into a brand-new Star Wars world.

The second thing I remember noting from this early scene was composer John Williams’ use of leitmotif as a soft version of the main Star Wars theme — Luke’s theme — comes up as he reveals his face under his scarf.

(Leitmotif? It’s a recurrent theme throughout a musical composition associated with a particular person, idea or situation (thanks Apple dictionary :)).

It’s the thing I love most about his wonderful scores and with Empire, Williams really knocked it out the park, using both grand statements like the fun Imperial March he also introduces in the opening frame and very subtle moments like Luke’s theme here.

The life lesson I got from these two impressions (though, unlike others I’ll reveal in this series, I didn’t “get” this immediately) is this: The little things that seem relatively insignificant have a greater power than you may recognize at the moment. This is particularly true in art, which is one of my life-long passions.

Depending on how the birthday celebrations go today, I may actually do the next part of this series tonight! In any case, I want to cover the film up through the entire Hoth act. Don’t worry; I’m not going to bore you with a frame-by-frame analysis of the film.

(Though I could. And would have a blast doing it. 😀 )

Instead, I plan to write about how the nine-year-old Khari was impacted for life by:

  • The titanic Hoth battle
  • The asteroid chase and Han Solo
  • Yoda
  • Cloud City and Lando Calrissian
  • The clash between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader

Hope you’ll stick with me. Drop me a line with your own recollections as I go!

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The sad truth is that while I steadfastly maintain my claim from this series’ intro, The Empire Strikes Back is still an incomplete movie. That is to say, its effect would likely be entirely lost on me without its predecessor, the original Star Wars.

Star Wars was all THE rage on the schoolyard in the fall of 1977…and 1978. And yet I hadn’t seen it. The school I attended (a free-spirited private school that my parents hoped wouldn’t stifle my creative nature like my first-grade public school experience had threatened to) had the Marvel Comic edition collecting the first five issues that I read cover-to-cover over and over again.

Star Wars and comics. Two great tastes that went great together.

I don’t believe my little brother and I saw Star Wars until either the very end of its theatrical run (when it reached the cheap seats theaters) or during its re-release (there WAS one of those, right?) in 1979.

(In fact, I wonder if it was the latter, which made me aware that a sequel was even coming. I just don’t recall anymore.)

A classic fantasy of good triumphing over evil in science fiction clothing, Star Wars fascinated and thrilled like no other movie before — and set me up for the great sucker punches to come in its 1980 followup. (More on that in future installments, of course.)

Here, I also owe a great debt to a fellow summer daycare kid whose name and face are thoroughly lost to me. Although a little bit younger, he’d seen The Empire Strikes Back already while I was waiting for my birthday in late June. I excitedly asked him some pointed questions that absolutely boggle my mind now:

Me (in early June 1980): “Does Luke Skywalker lightsaber-fight Darth Vader?”

Kid: “Yeah, he does.”

Me: “Does he win?”

Kid: “Yeah, he chops his head off!”

Satisified with these spoilers*, the going-on-nine-years-old Khari is ready for the ultimate triumph of the fair-haired good guy over the ultimate black-clad bad guy when he goes to see The Empire Strikes Back a few weeks later.

What a sucker. 🙂

This little episode, and the experience of seeing Star Wars, highlights the first life lesson I learned from The Empire Strikes Back: expectations have a way of coloring and affecting everything we do or experience. But as I intend to point out, this lesson cannot be applied in isolation from the others. Stick with me as I reminisce further in this series.

* Perhaps having seen the original Star Wars with full knowledge of the plot and enjoying it anyway is the reason I pressed for this information. But I’m sure glad that the kid either misremembered or told only half-truth.