In 1980, the year The Empire Strikes Back was released, there was a projectionists strike in Ottawa. No doubt they chose their time carefully, thinking that with a massive movie like the newest Star Wars coming out, the theatre owners would be more likely to negociate.
Such was not the case. I think there were one or two rural theatres, and maybe a drive-in, that were up and running and showing the film, and people were flocking to them, but for the most part, there were no movies in Ottawa from shortly before Empire opened in May until sometime in the late summer/early fall.
My oldest brother, (aka Big Brother), was in Halifax that summer, where the projectionists were working, and he went to see the film multiple times. He’d write me letters and include newspaper clippings about Empire, which only got me more excited about it – and more frustrated that I couldn’t see it. When he came home that fall, it was all I wanted to talk about.
Then one evening my brothers called me to their room. While their room wasn’t exactly off limits, invitations were rare, and there seemed to be an odd vibe. One of them then made my young life when he told me they were going to see Empire that night, and would I like to come with them? I remember sprinting upstairs to ask my parents if it was okay, oblivious to the fact that my mother was the one who’d asked them to take me. The rest of my reaction looked a lot like this:
As with the original Star Wars, the movie was only playing at the Somerset Theatre. But during the three years that had passed since then, a couple of my brothers had gotten their drivers licences, so we weren’t reliant on parental transport. My father, however, wouldn’t allow us to take the car all the way downtown, and said we had to park at Billings Bridge Shopping Centre and take the bus the rest of the way. We did, but accidentally got off the bus several stops too early and my youngest brother, concerned that I would get tired, carried me piggyback the rest of the way.
Big Brother, as the worldly one who had already seen the film, was charged with making sure I didn’t see anything scary or ‘too old’ for me, so I had to close my eyes when Han slices open the tauntaun, and when Darth Vader slices off Luke’s hand.
But I didn’t care. I was beyond excited to be seeing the movie, and hanging out with my adored older brothers with no parental meddling.
Seeing Empire wasn’t the end of my grand adventure that night. After the movie ended, my brothers decided that taking the bus back to the car would be a pain. So we walked, straight down Bank Street, from the theatre to the mall. It was only about 4km, but it was after dark, well past my bedtime, and I was 9 years old. I was young enough both to buy into the idea of how dangerous The City was, and to have complete confidence in my brothers ability to protect me from whatever it was that made The City so dangerous in the first place. (Details on that front were never forthcoming.)
My father was not pleased to find out what we’d done. But my word, it was worth it.