Movies today are not the events they once were. With the quick release of movies on DVD/Blu Ray, and the home theater experience becoming larger and larger, movies are no longer a “must see” in the theaters for a lot of people. The internet gives us much more information about movies then we have ever had. Some people are even happy with watching bootleg copies of movies while they are still in theaters, despite their usually sub par quality. I've been guilty of it a time or two myself, but I try not to do that. I prefer seeing movies on the big screen, something home theater really can't duplicate.
Which brings me to the last, and best, great experience I've had seeing a movie in the theaters.
The year was 1983, I was in my third year of High School. Everyone was waiting for the release of “Return Of The Jedi”, the third, and at the time, final “Star Wars” movie. We knew little about the movie, aside from the fact that we knew there was another Death Star. Anticipation was of course, extremely high for the movie. Being the hardcore “Star Wars” fan that I am, it had been what I was looking forward to more than anything.
May 25th, 1983, a Wednesday. The day we were all waiting for had finally arrived. The line at the theater I was at was so long, I can't even estimate its length. I was attending the movie with a friend and his sister, with the intention of seeing the movie at every scheduled showing, which we did. We brought a bag of food and drinks, and chatted with other fans while waiting on line. I made a conservative guess that at least 60-70% of my school cut class that day to see the movie.
I was dressed in a Darth Vader costume my friend had made. Many small children came up to me with their parents, wanting to meet Lord Vader. They shook my hand, I took pictures with a few of them, even scared one kid a bit when he said to me “You killed Ben!” I took two steps towards him and he ran back to his mother as she chuckled a bit. I was even briefly interviewed by a local radio station covering the premiere. Standing on line for a movie had never been so much fun.
We were finally let into the theater, and approximately 20 mins later, the lights went down, and the movie began. Oddly enough, this is not the moment it became the greatest movie experience of my life. The crowd applauded when the 20th Century Fox logo came on screen, and at various other times during the movie. The movie was great, and I couldn't wait to see it again. Luckily, I didn't have to wait too long. We sat through two more showings of the movie, and finally came to the last showing of the day. A few other friends had shown up and joined me and my friend for the movie. This is where it gets awesome.
The lights went down, and the applause started. Applause followed the Fox logo, then after “A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far, Far Away”. The applause erupted when the “Star Wars” logo appeared on the screen. Every major character received applause on their initial appearance. When Luke first gets his lightsaber at the Pit Of Carkoon, everyone went crazy. You could just feel the excitement in the theater, the applause, the laughter, the reactions to things happening in the movie. It was like we were reunited with old friends, rather than just watching a movie.
Then we come to the final battle between Luke and Vader.
When their lightsabers first clash, applause. When Luke cut off Vader's hand, louder applause. When the Emperor was hitting Luke with his lightning, you could hear the crowd grumbling with tension. I've never been so glued to my seat and fixated on the screen ever before, and everyone else was reacting the same way. Then the moment came, Vader, looking back and forth between Luke and the Emperor. The rumbling of the crowd increased with each change of Vader's gaze. Luke's cries of “Father please....help me” only increased the tension. Then, Vader turns and grabs the Emperor.
The applause were so loud, it actually drowned out the movie...that's right, the applause of the audience drowned out the sound of the movie. People were jumping out of their seats. It was a moment unlike any other I had ever experienced watching a movie. The applause finally calmed, but not for long. The destruction of the Death Star caused more, and when the credits rolled, the applause was almost as loud as earlier.
The air of excitement that day has never, even been duplicated for me. Even when “Star Wars Episode I:The Phantom Menace” came out, after a 16 year gap in Star Wars films, it was not as exciting as that day in 1983. It gave the movie a special place in my heart, than can never be replaced or duplicated. Is it my favorite “Star Wars” movie? No, but the experience of seeing it was something very special, something that sadly, I don't think people will ever get to experience. I feel very fortunate to have had that experience. It's something I won't ever forget, and something I am more than happy to share with others, as I have told the story many, many times since then. I never get tired of telling it either.
Movies are still my favorite form of entertainment, and the first “Star Wars” trilogy are still my favorite 3 movies of all time. But the magic of that day in 1983, is something that has sadly disappeared from the movie going experience. Sure, people still applaud at movies, but it just isn't the same.
May 25th, 1983. A day I will never, ever forget....The greatest movie experience of my life.