It was a three year wait to find out what happened to Han Solo, who was last seen frozen in carbonite and loaded onto Boba Fett’s spaceship. 30 years ago, on May 25, 1983, Return of the Jedi, one of the most anticipated films of my youth, finally hit theater screens.
I saw this movie on opening day at the Stamm Theatre in Antioch California with my friend Zant Burdine. As related in a previous article on WarGames, Zant and I went through a time when we liked to sit in the front row of the theater. For a period of about one year, our ideal movie seat was front row center. As Zant always said, “We like to get the full effect.” Call it a poor man’s IMAX if you will. We were first in line that opening day to madly scramble for two seats that no one wanted.
For my friend and I, Return of the Jedi delivered as promised — spectacular space battles, a few unexpected character revelations, plus (spoiler alert) some ominous foreshadowing regarding Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon that doesn’t come to pass. After the movie, which of course we both thought was awesome, I saw my friend Alex Baker standing in line for the next showing. He immediately covered his ears and went into full “Shields Up” anti-spoiler mode. But of course I never would have spoiled anything for him. I just smiled and moved along, much to his relief. Alex later told me that he also loved the deceptive foreshadowing.
When filming scene in which a woman’s shoe slips off her foot after she’s thrown into a snake pit, it takes particularly skilled filmmakers to know that the next logical step is to cut to a snake crawling through the fallen shoe.
And so here’s the “problem” of sorts: these filmmakers set out to make a pure escapist adventure film and wound up setting the marker and making the best of its kind. They set the bar so high that no other film (including any of the sequels) have come close to matching it. All this happened 30 years ago on June 12, 1981 when Raiders of the Lost Ark was released.
It has one of the funniest gags ever of its genre. At one point our hero Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is confronted by a incredibly skilled swordsman, in what seems to be a build-up to an amazing fight. But then Indiana Jones calmly pulls out his pistol and shoots the guy dead. Around the fourth time I saw the movie in the theater, I dragged my Grandma Webb to see it with me. She always had a nice hearty laugh and after this particular gag I could hear a good one coming from down deep. After her laugh finally subsided, I could still hear her chuckling about it for the next couple of reels.
The genesis of Raiders began in the early ’70s when George Lucas had a desire to make an adventure picture which would be an updated version of the film serials of the ’30s and ’40s. Friend and fellow filmmaker Philip Kaufman collaborated on the idea, with the understanding that Kaufman would direct, about an archaeologist in the 1930s (at the time named Indiana Smith) trying to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis. When Kaufman was hired to work on The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) for Clint Eastwood, the project was shelved and Lucas focused his attention on Star Wars — another idea inspired by old film serials.
Years later, during the opening weekend of Star Wars in May 1977, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were vacationing in Hawaii together when Spielberg mentioned to his pal that he’d always wanted to direct an action picture that was pure escapism like James Bond. Lucas pitched the idea of Raiders and suddenly, with Spielberg’s enthusiasm, the project was reinvigorated.
Two years ago, when I was working on this column’s debut, I wrote about Bruce Springsteen’s “Book of Dreams” and what the song means to Julie and me. During the first month of our courtship I created my first mixtape for her, entitled HEY, HEY, JULIE! On that tape was the Springsteen song, one that’s grown to have profound meaning in our relationship.
We began dating in August of 1992, and soon thereafter, I threw this tape together in a flurry of inspiration, wanting to give Julie something that came from my heart. I don’t recall the actual minutes spent in my parents’ basement picking the songs or laying them down on a Maxell cassette (my brand of choice), but looking back on the list of songs, I’m happy to see they still add up to 90 quailty minutes of music.
Before Nick Hornby wonderfully wrote about what makes a good mixtape in High Fidelity, I assembled exactly the right combination of hip, well known and somewhat obscure songs from my small music collection. Combining big hits like “Learning to Fly,” “What I Am,” and “All This Time” with lesser-known songs by popular artists such as “Until the End of the World,” “Shining Star,” and “Getting to Know You,” while tossing in some hard to find (at the time) songs like “Baby Mine” and “Wild Night” made this tape eclectic, but still enjoyable to listen to and quite accessible.