Empire (as in “Strikes Back”)

One word – Empire – and you should already know which movie I’m talking about.  There’s no Episode V or the second movie of the first trilogy; it’s just Empire.  I’ll bet you can’t guess which movie I saw back in 1980 with my Dad and big brother, Keith.  That’s right, Empire.

During the first of the Reagan years, I was a 7-year-old punk kid who never received the opportunity to see Star Wars on the big screen (notice how “A New Hope” wasn’t added to that title).  I was granted mere glimpses of this masterpiece via television reruns.  Back then, once you added in all of the commercials (pre-DVR and Disney+), the movie went way past my bedtime. Usually, I only made it to the scene in the movie where the Sand People popped Luke in the back of the head.  I always got pretty freaked out at that point.  Right on cue, my Mom would whisk me off to bed.  Thanks Mom, for yanking me out of the brightly lit family room, with the company of you and Dad and into my dark bedroom upstairs, fearing the Sand People.  Come to think of it, I don’t even recall having a night light for additional kid protection.

(coolest night light ever)

Despite missing out on viewing Star Wars in its entirety, I still knew all of the characters: Han was the cool guy, Leia was the chick, Luke was the boy wonder, and Vader was the bad guy, but a cool bad-ass. At age 7, I probably didn’t say bad-ass, but you get the gist of it.  Leia, however, was always a chick.  Enhancing my knowledge of this galactic world was the fact that I had all of the action figures that a tooth fairy could deliver.  In addition, I had my Sand Cruiser courtesy of the Easter Bunny or my birthday – forgive me, I didn’t keep a journal at that age to refer back to regarding these details.  Believe me, I get it, whether it was from the rabbit or on my b-day, it was nevertheless from the parents.

(This toy ruled)

Obviously, with all of this build-up, I was pretty psyched and more than ready to catch this new flick.  Previews were aired on every television channel during every commercial break (at least that’s what it felt like).  These movie teasing commercials kept me primed for the release date in May (5/17/80 – to be exact), but at this point it was already summer.  Numerous dinner time talks were focused on the topic of seeing this film.  It was like Ralphie’s obsession with getting his BB gun for Christmas.  Finally, my dad relented and announced that he was taking me and Keith to the movies that very weekend.  Explosion of excitement!  “Luke, I am your father.”  No wait – at this point in the story, I haven’t even seen the film yet.  Thank God for no Twitter back then, otherwise, the secret would have been out. To their credit, everyone was pretty good about Han getting shot by his own kid in Episode 7.  Wait – you saw that, right?

So – big weekend coming up and we’re finally going to the movies to see The Empire Strikes Back.  In 1980, the movie didn’t earn it’s one name status of Empire quite yet.  Seeing this film was the only thing on my mind and the only thing I talked about with my friends, family, teachers, dog – and even the Jar Jar Binks of the pet world – my hermit crab.

(What did she feed her hermit – the dog?)

Hermit crabs are awful pets. Spray it every day with water, feed it dog food, leave a moist sponge inside its bowl – it all just adds up to one sorry, sad pet.  I had two of them as a kid.  Actually, my younger sister and I each shared the bowl, but since she was 4 years younger, it wasn’t really her responsibility to clean it out. I remember the first one dying and then burying it in the backyard, but unfortunately skipped the whole headstone routine.  Of course, after one goes, the other one’s not too far behind.  Without any true plot marking, I accidentally dug up the first one, when I was trying to bury the second one.  This type of error would never happen if the pets were two dogs.  That’s a really sad sentence if you think about it for too long.

Empire!  Saturday night (probably early evening or late afternoon) is finally here and the Evans’ boys are at the local movie theatre.  After visiting the ticket window outside, my brother and dad each pushed open a door and we all stepped into the lobby.  The buttery smell of popcorn smacks us each in the face.  Looking up, I can see huge banners hanging from the ceiling with images of Vader, Skywalker, Solo, and . . . what the hell is that puppet? 

Yoda.  We all immediately accepted Yoda, the Jedi Master. However, Jim Henson certainly didn’t “Kermit” him up. Jar Jar Binks wasn’t as fortunate as Yoda and we’re probably blessed that this “hermit crab” of a character wasn’t introduced earlier in the Star Wars line-up.  Otherwise, it may have ended the whole thing right then and there.  Kids today who watch the “first” Star Wars movie, The Phantom Menace, have to put up with that bumbling creature.  That’s why it’s our job as parents today, to emphasize the coolness of the later Star Wars trilogy, which of course is now the middle trilogy . . . wait, what?

“Hey Brent, if you need to use the little boys’ room, then let’s go now.”  My dad’s voice snaps me out of my happy-place daze and concern starts to build.  Unfortunately, movies don’t have commercials (aka bathroom breaks).  Promptly, I followed my dad to the potty – I mean bathroom.

No need for specifics here – duty is done.  We then meet up with my brother in line for popcorn and soda. Concessions are a total rip off, BUT they still remain very much, awesome.  Tragically, at the movies with my mom, she would always cut us off from this eatery joy.  Instead, she would bring this big purse. The more I think about it, I don’t even think it was an actual purse. This “suitcase” provided us with the popcorn that she pre-popped earlier that morning. Instead of butter, there was this concoction called “Butter Salt” sprinkled on it. “This way you won’t get those messy, greasy hands” was my mom’s defense. I so wanted that mess to wipe away onto my pants. In addition, she always had juice boxes for us to choose from – Juicy Juice, Capri Sun. Hey, how about a Mountain Dew? Nope.  

(Wait – did Han Solo wear a fanny pack?)

This time, it was my dad and older bro and neither one of them had a big purse in tow (not that there’s anything wrong with it).  In turn, we got the real deal.  Humongous tubs of popcorn.  Empire decorated buckets of bubbly soda.  Ginormous bags of candy.  We were living it up at the movies!

“Hey Dad, I’m going to go to the bathroom this time.  Do you need to go again, Brent?” my brother asked.

If I was older, I probably would have been offended or mumbled out a “WTF”.  I mean, I just went!  Instead, I stood there hesitating as my one hand held the tub of buttery delight close to my chest.  As for the other hand, it was feeling the cool condensation build on the outside of my cup, which held my caffeine infused beverage.  Coca-Cola.  My drink.  With ice.  Liquid refreshment.  Dammit – too much thinking about wetness.  My 7-year-old nerves were kicking in, so I followed my big bro to the bathroom.

Finally, we were all together within the actual movie theatre.  Lights dimmed down, elevator-like “tunage” playing, and a glowing white screen ahead of us.  Now, since my dad does everything early, the movie probably will not start anytime soon.  If I were to compare it to how he does stuff today, we probably would have arrived 45 minutes prior to the start time.  If you subtract the time needed for the two bathroom breaks along with the popcorn purchase, there would still be a good 30 minutes until the reel would spin out the epic Empire scenes.  It’s certainly not the end of the world, but to a kid with no watch or real sense of time, it felt like hours.   

Plus, remember, the year is 1980. There wasn’t any fancy “behind the scenes” show or actor interviews being played on the big screen. Boredom was thrust upon us.  Heck, I would have taken the slide show that ran into the late 80s with the stupid questions that any person who wasn’t locked away in a closet for a year would be able to answer.  But in 1980 – Nothing.  Just one big blank screen ahead and a wandering imagination as I sat sandwiched between my dad and big brother.

My brother whisper to me, “Hey, Brent.  If you need to go to the bathroom again, just let me know.  Don’t bother Dad.”

My stomach does a flip before I slowly turn towards him.  He must see how big my eyes got.

“Hey, I just don’t want us to miss any of the movie.”

I just stared at him.

“He’s right, Brent” are the words that hit me in the back of the head.

I perform the same slow turn back around to my Dad.  He, too, notices the wide-eyed look.

“You have to go, don’t you, son,” he surmises.

I am yet to say a single word and already I am being sent to the bathroom.  Before I know it, my Dad is standing in the aisle and windmilling his arms for me to move it along and join him on the bathroom journey.  Yet again, I have to hand off my treasures of popcorn and soda beverage, but this time to Keith.  Off we go to the bathroom, which I now have down to a solid routine – it’s my trip! I’m going to be like Norm at the bar on Cheers in this bathroom.

(Wait – Did this guy ever go to the bathroom?)

Nevertheless, I get my little buddy to once again dribble something out before we quickly wrapped up the trip.  (Sorry – I gave duty details this time).  Anyway, from the brightly lit men’s bathroom and back into the darkness of the movie theatre, I could immediately see that we still had no movie.  Just a big blizzard of whiteness staring back.  Snuggling back down into my seat, I retrieve the buttery snackage, which now appears to be missing some popped goodness of joy.  Thanks, bro.

Some conversation is attempted amongst the two older Evans’.  All I care about is Empire.  Apparently, our team, the Phillies, is doing really well, which is great, but Darth Vader is about to hit that big screen in front of us and I don’t believe Mike Schmidt would want us to miss it either.  I love baseball and my Phillies, but remember – I was seven and The Empire Strikes Back was about to begin!

“Brent.  Brent!”  were the words from my Dad.

I must have been daydreaming.

“Are you okay?” quizzes my Dad.  “Keith was asking you a question.”

I gave a glazed look in return, to which he responds with, “Do you have to go to visit the bathroom again?’

My eyes quickly unglaze.

“Keith!”  My dad snaps at him.  Back to me though.  “No, that wasn’t the question, but now that you mention it.  If you do have to go, I believe that you can handle it on your own.”

Upon hearing that last statement, I know that I am definitely not at the movies with my mom.  And again, I am yet to say a word.

“Brent?”  My brother shakes my shoulder slightly.

Too late.  I need to go – DAMMIT!  My dad is already standing and then quietly barks out instructions of going to the bathroom by myself.  Ha – try that today with a 7-year-old.

Slowly, I walk up the carpeted slant of an exit.  It’s dark, but I can see the lit windows of the door to the lobby area up ahead.  My hand hits the door to swing it outwards.  Here we go – there’s a first time for everything.  Then again, this is the fourth trip and I know exactly where I’m going and what I’m doing.  The only difference is no adult is striding alongside me.  If I had a cell phone at this age, I probably would have posted it on Facebook. Or maybe Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter?

I walk nervously across the lobby area. The next door to swing open is the door bearing the men’s bathroom logo.

(Good idea – poor execution)

Bathroom arrival – successful.  Now, it’s time to try and pee . . . again.  More people are in the bathroom this time.  In addition, I am now seeing a type of protocol and line formation.  I catch on and join in.  However, after being patient for several minutes, I’m tapped on the shoulder by the tall man to my right (I know, they’re all tall at that age).  First, I’m terrified.  Next, I realize that he’s also pointing to the little guy’s urinal.  Yeah – I get to skip ahead.

“Thank you.”  I muster out.  I’m terrified, but still polite. Awesome kid, I am.

Standing there at the shorty urinal feels like forever, but I eventually manage another bathroom delivery.  There is no need to get too graphic, but at least with every trip, I would return a little lighter.  However, before the return trip, I must first wash my hands. Again, it’s 1980.  Nothing is automatic.  I can reach the faucet and soap, so that’s not an issue.  However, I can’t say the same for the paper towel holder.  With each previous trip, one of someone else would crank the handle so the paper towel was easily within my reach. Well, that’s why they make pants . . . to dry your hands in these situations, right?

I actually made it back in decent time.  However, upon return, my dad clearly looks distressed and a bit panicked. He probably realized what he just did with sending his boy solo to the bathroom.  He clearly got over it because he and my brother each quizzed me enough that I needed to make four more separate trips – all by myself.  The final one was during the previews, which my brother suggested I do.  That way, when I got back, the movie should just about be underway.  It clearly worked.

I am now forever traumatized by this bathroom routine.  To this day I still go as soon as the previews hit the big screen.  During date nights, I would always tell the lucky lady (she was!) about my Empire story and hence explain the reason why I would always bolt at the previews for the bathroom.  One particular date sticks out because we were in the very front row and I told my movie bathroom routine tale before jetting off.  When I returned, the movie was about to begin and after plopping back into my seat, I joked, “I had trouble finding where you were.”  In the dark, I could see the crumpled up, confused face as she said that she didn’t get it.  Sadly, I shrugged, “You were in the front row.  How could I not find you?”

“Oh.”  Too bad her riveting dialogue didn’t end there.  To add salt to the wound, she then asks, “What movie is Empire?”

I probably should have gone to the bathroom again . . . and just left.

(It’s Empire!)

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