In 1980, the Jewish holiday of Shavuot fell on Wednesday, May 21st.
On that flimsy premise, my friend Sarah and I managed to convince her understanding mom to let her skip school. We didn’t do anything Shavuot-related. Instead, we hopped on the subway in Queens and emerged in Manhattan on 86th Street to wait in line at the Loews Orpheum theater for the first show of The Empire Strikes Back.
We Star Wars nerds had subsisted on a single two-hour movie for three years (not counting a certain very forgettable Holiday Special), with no hint that there’d ever be more — not, that is, until the preceding August, when the news of a sequel consigned us to as many months of anticipatory vibration as I would later experience waiting to become a dad. (But in 1980, that was a much larger fraction of my life, thus many times more interminable.)
The movie began and I was breathless. An article in Time magazine had unfortunately spoiled the small surprise about Yoda’s identity, but not the big surprise about Darth Vader, and I can still recall the sensation of my heart skipping a beat.
When the lights came up, Sarah and I were determined to sit through another screening. The ushers came through to shoo everyone out, but we hid in the bathrooms — along with dozens of others who’d had the same idea.
When it was safe to come out, and the next show’s crowd started filing in, I spotted Mr. Rosenberg, a fellow Star Wars nerd and my music-appreciation teacher. He had all my classmates in tow. He’d been using John Williams’ film score to teach his class for the past few weeks, just so he could justify this field trip to the movie on opening day.
I was such a Star Wars nerd that liking The Empire Strikes Back was a given. It took me decades to figure out that I didn’t, actually. When I finally figured that out, I wrote about why: The exegesis strikes back.
In response, plenty of people helpfully informed me that Empire was the best film in the series. I always asked what made them think so. No one was ever able to tell me. That didn’t make them any less sure they were right.
I may not have changed any minds with my contrarian article, but at least now I finally know I’m not alone: BBC journalist Nicholas Barber gets it too.
Why Star Wars should have stopped at just one film
Why The Empire Strikes Back is overrated