Happy 30th, “Empire”

posted by Coate on May 21, 2010 at 10:15 am


Compiled by Michael Coate[/b]

Dedicated to:
Leigh Brackett (Screenwriter), 1915-1978
John Barry (Second Unit Director), 1935-1979
Graham Freeborn (Chief Make-Up Artist), 1938-1986
Jack Purvis (“Chief Ugnaught”), 1937-1997
Alec Guiness (“Ben ‘Obi-Wan’ Kenobi”), 1914-2000
Terry Liebling (Casting), 1942-2001
Des Webb (“Snow Creature”), 1932-2002
Bruce Boa (“General Rieekan”), 1930-2004
Peter Diamond (Stunt Coordinator), 1929-2004
John Hollis (“Lando’s Aide”), 1931-2005
Michael Sheard (“Admiral Ozzel”), 1938-2005
David Tomblin (First Assistant Director), 1930-2005
Gareth Wigan (20th Century-Fox Executive), 1931-2010

Has it really been thirty years since the world was introduced to Yoda, the Imperial March and the thought that Darth Vader might be Luke Skywalker’s father?

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of (one of) the greatest sequel(s) ever made, I thought I’d present a package of information that includes some production history, historical data, trivia, and, for movie-theater enthusiasts, a list of the theaters in which Empire played upon its initial release. Those who saw the movie in one of the featured venues can reminisce about the experience while others can imagine what the experience must have been like.

So, without further ado, enjoy this quick-reference anniversary tribute to The Empire Strikes Back (AKA Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back).

Luke Skywalker — Mark Hamill
Han Solo — Harrison Ford
Princess Leia — Carrie Fisher
Lando Calrissian — Billy Dee Williams
C-3PO — Anthony Daniels
Darth Vader — David Prowse
Chewbacca — Peter Mayhew
R2-D2 — Kenny Baker
Yoda — Frank Oz

Director — Irvin Kershner
Producer — Gary Kurtz
Screenplay — Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan (Screenplay), George Lucas (Story)
Executive Producer — George Lucas
Production Designer — Norman Reynolds
Director of Photography — Peter Suschitzky, BSC
Editor — Paul Hirsch, ACE
Special Visual Effects — Brian Johnson, Richard Edlund
Music — John Williams
Associate Producers — Robert Watts, James Bloom
Design Consultant and Conceptual Artist — Ralph McQuarrie
Make-up and Special Creature Design — Stuart Freeborn
Costume Designer — John Mollo
Sound Design and Supervising Sound Effects Editor — Ben Burtt
Production Sound — Peter Sutton
Re-Recording — Bill Varney, Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker

Distributor — 20th Century-Fox
Production Company — Lucasfilm Ltd.
Release Date — May 21, 1980
Running Time — 124 minutes
Projection Format — Scope
Sound Format — Dolby Stereo
MPAA Rating — PG


1 = Rank on list of top-grossing films of 1980
1 = Rank on list of top rentals of 1980
2 = Number of Academy Awards received by Empire
2 = Rank on all-time list of top rentals at close of run (worldwide)
2 = Rank on all-time list of top-grossing films at close of run (worldwide)
3 = Number of Academy Awards for which Empire was nominated
3 = Rank on all-time list of top rentals at close of run (domestic)
3 = Rank on all-time list of top-grossing films at close of run (domestic)
8 = Number of consecutive weeks Empire was the United States' top-grossing film
12 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing films (adjusted for inflation)
59 = Number of days it took for Empire to surpass $100 million
61 = Number of weeks Empire played in its longest-running engagement
63 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing films
64 = Number of sets constructed for the production
127 = Number of opening-week bookings
204 = Number of days of principal photography
604 = Number of visual effects shots

$1.3 million = Opening-day box-office gross
$5.0 million = Amount of profit Lucas shared with cast & crew and Lucasfilm employees
$6.4 million = Opening-weekend box-office gross
$9.6 million = Opening-week box-office gross
$26.0 million = Amount 20th Century-Fox received in advances from exhibitors
$32.0 million = Production cost
$40.0 million = Amount 20th Century-Fox earned in distribution fees
$165.0 million = Cumulative worldwide box-office rental (original release)
$181.4 million = Cumulative domestic box-office gross (original release)
$208.2 million = Cumulative domestic box-office gross (original release + 1981 re-release)
$222.7 million = Cumulative domestic box-office gross (original release + 1981 & 1982 re-releases)
$290.3 million = Cumulative domestic box-office gross (original + 81, 82 & 97 re-releases)
$365.0 million = Cumulative worldwide box-office gross (original release)
$538.0 million = Cumulative worldwide box-office gross
$620.0 million = Cumulative domestic box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)


“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” — Yoda

“Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.” — Darth Vader / “He told me enough. He told me you killed him.” — Luke / “No. I am your father.” — Darth Vader

“I love you.” — Leia / “I know.” — Han

“Laugh it up, fuzzball.” — Han

“Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately three-thousand seven-hundred-twenty to one.” — C-3PO / “Never tell me the odds!” — Han

“I don’t believe it.” — Luke / “That is why you fail.” — Yoda


“A better film than Star Wars.” — Time Magazine

The Empire Strikes Back is a worthy sequel to Star Wars, equal in both technical mastery and characterization, suffering only from the familiarity with the effects generated in the original and imitated too much by others. Only boxoffice question is how many earthly trucks it will take to carry the cash to the bank.” — Variety

The Empire Strikes Back is a lifeless copy of Star Wars propelled chiefly on the momentum of that earlier film. Without the likes of a Peter Cushing or Alec Guiness to add some dignity and solid support, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford flounder in roles that are certain to doom their careers regardless of the series' success. Critics who labeled this film ‘better than Star Wars’ must have been watching the audience instead of the performance.” — Frederick S. Clarke, Cinefantastique

“This is no ordinary sequel. Lucas and his company have used their Star Wars profits to make a film far more sophisticated in its technical effects. Lucas' imagination is as bountiful as ever, and he seems to have taken up where Disney left off. There are disappointments in The Empire, but it retains that special sense that fairy tales have — a moral dimension that touches us much more deeply than one-dimensional action adventures can.” — Gerald Clarke, Time Magazine

“The film’s problem is that the ending isn’t really an ending. So many loose ends are left dangling that one finds almost maddening the prospect of waiting three years for the third movie to resolve the situation.” — Paul Johnson, Arkansas Gazette

“Along with its breathtakingly spectacular special effects, the film is to be applauded for its ability to incorporate the themes, values and characters of the first film and move ahead without repeating itself.” — Eric Gerber, The Houston Post

“Visually, the new installment conveys a sense of generosity that surpasses even the original: in any corner of the frame one can discover a delightfully gratuitous detail — a space lizard climbing up a tree, a puff of rocket exhaust, a barely glimpsed robot — that creates a sense of a totally inhabited fantasy world. The Empire Strikes Back is a technological triumph, a cornucopia of intergalactic tchotchkes.” — David Ansen, Newsweek

Empire is the only motion-picture sequel I can think of — ever — that is not less effective than the original. Usually, the popular elements of a hit film become the ingredients of the sequel formula, repeated in the hope that large audiences will again flock to see the same things they loved the first time around. If Lucas was that kind of filmmaker, Empire would have included another cantina, another garbage compactor, another planetary destruction and another regal ending. But it didn’t. And we didn’t get the Star Trek treatment either — wherein characters we all know and love recite their standard familiar lines all over again.” — Kerry O'Quinn, Starlog

“A more impressive and harrowing magic carpet ride than its fundamentally endearing predecessor, Empire pulls the carpet out from under you while simultaneously soaring along.” — Gary Arnold, The Washington Post

The Empire Strikes Back joins The Godfather, Part II as one of the rarest of films — a sequel that lives up to and expands upon its original.” — Chicago Tribune

The Empire Strikes Back has arrived. And it’s wonderful…the audience is on its feet cheering” — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Empire’s effects are dazzling but the characters are pure comic strip. ” — Bill von Maurer, The Miami News

Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, like all superior fantasies, have the quality of parable, not only on good and evil but on attitudes toward life and personal deportment and there is something very like a moral imperative in the films' view of hard work, determination, self-improvement, concentration, and idealism. It does not take a savant to see that this uplifting tone only a little less than the plot and effects is a central ingredient of the wide outreach of the films.” — Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times

“It’s not an exaggeration to compare the world of Star Wars to the land of Oz. The Star Wars saga — a series of nine planned films — promises to be an even more complete world than Oz, and just as enduring. The appeal of visiting Oz is that it is a magical place over the rainbow. The appeal of Star Wars and, now, The Empire Strikes Back, is that it also takes us to a magical place — the childhood of our mind.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune


In terms of box-office gross, The Empire Strikes Back is the least successful Star Wars movie.

Empire was the first Star Wars movie to feature an episode number and subtitle. (The full on-screen title is Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.) Prints of the original Star Wars were numbered and re-titled a year after Empire’s release.

The first public screening of Empire was held on May 17, 1980 in Washington, DC. Attending the event, which took place at the Kennedy Center and was a benefit for the Special Olympics, were director Irvin Kershner, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, producer Gary Kurtz, and stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Frank Oz, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, and Peter Mayhew. Important political figures that attended included Ted Kennedy, Ethel Kennedy, Eunice Shriver and Amy Carter (daughter of then-President Jimmy Carter).

The longest, most-successful engagement of Empire was a 61-week run in Seattle at the UA Cinema 150.

In a scene from One-Trick Pony, the 1980 Paul Simon film, characters can be seen exiting a New York movie theater playing The Empire Strikes Back. A large Empire logo is visible on an exit door and moviegoers can be seen carrying the film’s program booklets and comic-book adaptation.

Empire won an Academy Award for Best Sound. It also received a Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects. In addition, the film was nominated, but did not win, in the categories of Art Direction and Original Score. Other awards included four Saturns, one BAFTA, one Grammy, one Hugo, and a People’s Choice award for Favorite Motion Picture. (John Williams' Best Original Score nomination was his 15th of what has become an astounding 45 nominations, including five wins.)

Principal photography commenced on March 5, 1979, in Finse, Norway, and concluded on September 24, 1979, at EMI Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, England. The visual effects were created during 1979-80 at Industrial Light & Magic, in Marin County, California.

The production of Empire went over schedule and, as a result, was completed millions of dollars over budget. The film was financed entirely by Lucasfilm Ltd.

A fire at EMI Elstree Studios during the production of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining destroyed a soundstage which contributed to Empire going over schedule.

To complement the existing stages and to make up for the lack of a large soundstage at EMI Elstree Studios, Lucasfilm constructed what became known as the “Star Wars Stage,” which measured 250 feet long, 122 feet wide and 45 feet high, and is among the largest soundstages in the world. Scenes shot on this stage included all of the scenes with the full-scale Millennium Falcon and the scenes set on Dagobah.

Cheers and Pixar regular John Ratzenberger appeared in a small role as a Rebel officer.

Empire was released in at least five different formats in its original release: (1) 35mm with optical mono soundtrack, (2) 35mm with optical Stereo Variable Area (Dolby) soundtrack, (3) 35mm with mag-optical soundtrack (magnetic 4-track + optical mono), (4) 70mm six-track Dolby-encoded magnetic, (5) 70mm six-track non-Dolby-encoded magnetic.

Empire, at the time of its release, had the industry’s largest one-time order of 70mm prints.

The are some differences between the film’s 35mm and 70mm prints (aside from obvious differences in presentation quality). The 70mm prints were prepared and distributed first and, as such, more time was available for the filmmakers to finesse the 35mm edition. Ironically, this meant that most critics and audiences in the major markets did not see the final version of the movie. Most of the differences were subtle and editorial in nature, such as scenes beginning or ending with a different transitional effect (wipe pattern, straight cut, dissolve, etc.). Some visual effects were re-filmed and/or re-composited for the 35mm edition. Some scenes featured different takes for selected shots, and the final scene is longer in the 35mm edition, featuring additional spaceship fly-bys, an additional line of dialogue, and a brief music cue borrowed from another scene.

On Day One of its release, theaters in Los Angeles and Seattle began showing Empire at midnight and continued with an all-day, first-day marathon.

Theaters that opened Empire on the initial May 21 date were contractually required to play the movie for a minimum of 16 weeks.

In October 1980, Empire began playing in U.S. military theaters overseas. At that point in time, the original Star Wars had not been shown on the Army & Air Force Exchange Service circuit.

The “Fox Fanfare & CinemaScope Extension” music cue heard in Empire was recorded during the film’s music scoring sessions. (The cue heard in the original Star Wars was a 1954 recording. The Empire recording was used on all subsequent Star Wars movies released by 20th Century Fox and never used on any of Fox’s non-Star Wars movies.)

On its first day of release, Empire broke house records in all but two of its engagements.

Dolby Laboratories, Inc. introduced the cinema processor model CP-200 in conjunction with the release of Empire.

As with the original Star Wars, James Earl Jones provided the uncredited voice of Darth Vader. (Jones' name was added to the credits of the Special Edition version.)

Empire was a six-reel movie, even though its running time was greater than two hours. Reels are rarely longer than twenty minutes, and so a movie a few minutes over two hours typically would be on seven reels. (Empire was 124 minutes; the Special Edition was even longer — and still six reels — at 127 minutes.)

SP FX: The Empire Strikes Back, an hour-long documentary special, was broadcast on CBS-TV on September 22, 1980.

As with the original Star Wars, Meco Monardo created a disco album based on John Williams' Empire music.

Empire was re-released in 1981, 1982 (included trailer for Revenge Of The Jedi), 1983 (limited-market double feature with Star Wars) and 1997 (restored and expanded by three minutes).

The first time Empire was publically shown as part of a Star Wars triple feature was on September 3, 1984, at the 42nd Annual World Science Fiction Convention in Anaheim, California. The first time Empire was publically shown as part of a six-movie Star Wars Saga marathon was on May 23-24, 2007, at Celebration IV in Los Angeles.

Empire was released on home video in November 1984 and with a suggested retail price of $79.98. (In this age of an ever-shrinking window between theatrical and video, it is worth noting that Empire had a window of fifty-four months.)

The first cable television broadcast of Empire was in February 1986. The first network broadcast was in November 1987.

The Directors Guild of America attempted to have Empire withdrawn from release so that revised credits could be created to allow Kershner’s “Directed By” credit to appear in the opening credits. The DGA argued that placing principal credits at the end of a film violated their rules. Lucas countered claiming the credits for Empire were presented in the same fashion as the original Star Wars and nobody complained. Lucas also argued that Empire was a non-union production principally shot outside the United States and thus wasn’t bound by the DGA’s rules. The DGA insisted their rules needed to be recognized regardless of where the film was produced since the film’s director was a DGA member. Lucas refused to alter the film’s credits, settled the matter by paying a $25,000 fine, and subsequently resigned his DGA membership. The Writers Guild then followed suit by fining Lucas $15,000, which Lucas paid…and promptly quit that organization, too.

In February 1983, National Public Radio broadcast a multi-part radio adaptation of Empire.

Director Irvin Kershner was a professor at the University of Southern California while George Lucas was enrolled there as a student.

As with the original Star Wars, there was no shortage of tie-in merchandise, including Kenner’s continuing line of action figures and playsets, Marvel’s ongoing comic series which included a six-part Empire adaptation (issues 39-44), soundtrack album, novelization, making-of and art-of books, bed sheets, T-shirt iron-ons, video games, and countless other items. There was even a Christmas-themed album featuring vocals by a young John Bongiovi (who a few years later would change the spelling of his name to Jon Bon Jovi and become a rock star). Star Wars merchandise, collectively, has outgrossed the movies on which they are based.


Between May 17-20, The Empire Strikes Back had a series of charity premieres in various cities. The first screening, which doubled as the film’s U.S. premiere, was held at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

Listed here are the theaters in the United States and Canada that opened Empire on its initial May 21 release date. The film opened in 127 theaters in 88 markets, and all of these “first wave” bookings (except for a couple of drive-in bookings) were shown in 70-millimeter and six-track magnetic stereophonic sound.

(Also on May 21, Empire opened in London at the Odeon Leicester Square and was the only international booking to open on the same date as the U.S. and Canada. A day earlier, on May 20, the film was given a Royal Premiere with members of the Royal Family in attendance.)

The film’s release was expanded by several hundred bookings beginning the week of June 18, and by the end of the movie’s lengthy run it had played more than 1,500 engagements (plus hundreds more internationally).

The bookings list that follows has been tailored for readers of Cinema Treasures by providing links for those theaters where a dedicated page exists so readers may learn more or reminisce about a featured theater. In addition, note the number of entries for which there is no link; in other words, help get pages created for these unaccounted-for theaters.

In regard to the names of the theaters in which The Empire Strikes Back played, effort has been made to retain as often as possible any special spelling or stylization used in its promotion, including newspaper advertising and/or photographic evidence of theater marquees. There were a number of single-screen theaters still operating in 1980. However, most of the theaters in which Empire played, as you’ll glean from the list, were of the multiplex variety. In these instances, the total number of screens in a complex have been cited rather than the specific screen/auditorium in which Empire played so as to provide an historical record of how many screens were in a given complex during 1980 since many theaters expanded over the years, and historical accounts in books and websites (including Cinema Treasures) often do not accurately or comprehensively account for a venue’s screen-count timeline or alternate name history.

Calgary — Famous Players Palliser Square 1 & 2
Edmonton — Famous Players Paramount

Phoenix — Plitt Cine Capri

Little Rock — UA Cinema 150

Vancouver — Famous Players Stanley

Corte Madera — Marin Cinema
Fountain Valley — Pacific Fountain Valley Drive-In
Fresno — Festival Enterprises Festival Cinemas
Los Angeles — GCC Avco Center
Los Angeles — UA Egyptian I-II-III
Newport Beach — Edwards Newport Cinemas
Orange — Syufy Cinedome 6 (on two screens)
Paramount — Pacific Rosecrans Drive-In (on two screens)
Sacramento — Syufy Century 6
San Diego — Pacific Cinerama
San Francisco — Plitt Northpoint
San Jose — Syufy Century 22

Denver — Commonwealth Cooper

East Hartford — National Amusements Showcase Cinemas
Orange — National Amusements Showcase Cinemas
Stamford — Trans-Lux Ridgeway

Claymont — SamEric 3 Tri-State Mall

Washington — K-B Cinema

North Miami Beach — Wometco 163rd Street
South Miami — Wometco Dadeland Twin
Winter Park — Wometco Twin Park West

Atlanta — Plitt Phipps Plaza Triplex

Honolulu — Consolidated Cinerama

Calumet City — Plitt River Oaks 1-2-3-4
Champaign — Kerasotes Virginia
Chicago — GCC Ford City Cinema I-II-III
Chicago — Plitt Esquire
Lombard — GCC Yorktown Cinema I-II-III-IV
Moline — Dubinsky Parkway
Niles — Fink Golf Mill 1-2-3
Norridge — M&R Norridge 1-2-3-4
Orland Park — Plitt Orland Square 1-2-3-4
Peoria — Plitt Madison
Schaumburg — Plitt Woodfield 1-2-3-4
Springfield — Kerasotes Esquire

Fort Wayne — Mallers-Spirou Holiday I & II
Indianapolis — Y&W Eastwood

Des Moines — Dubinsky River Hills
Dubuque — Dubuque Cinema Center

Wichita — Dickinson Mall

Erlanger — National Amusements Showcase Cinemas
Lexington — Mid-States Northpark
Lexington — Mid-States Southpark
Louisville — National Amusements Showcase Cinemas

Metairie — GCC Lakeside Cinema I & II

Towson — Rappaport Hillendale I & II

Boston — Sack Charles 1-2-3
Seekonk — National Amusements Showcase Cinemas
West Springfield — National Amusements Showcase Cinemas
Worcester — National Amusements Showcase Cinemas

Bloomfield Hills — National Amusements Showcase Cinemas
Burton — Plitt Eastland Mall
Harper Woods — Suburban Detroit Eastland 1-2
Livonia — Suburban Detroit Terrace 1-2
Southfield — Nicholas George Americana Complex
Southgate — Nicholas George Southgate
Sterling Heights — National Amusements Showcase Cinemas

Bloomington — GCC Southtown
Brooklyn Center — Plitt Brookdale
Roseville — GCC Har-Mar Cinema I-II-III

Creve Coeur — Wehrenberg Creve Coeur
Kansas City — AMC Midland 3

Omaha — Douglas Cinema Center

Edison — GCC Menlo Park Cinema I & II
Lawrenceville — SamEric Twin Lawrenceville
Moorestown — SamEric Plaza Moorestown
Paramus — RKO Route 4 Quad

Cheektowaga — AMC Holiday 6
Colonie — Cinema 5 Colonie I & II
DeWitt — Cinema National Shoppingtown 1 & 2
Lawrence — RKO Lawrence Twin
Levittown — Loews Nassau Quad
New York — Cinema 5 Murray Hill
New York — Loews Astor Plaza
New York — Loews Orpheum
Pittsford — Loews Pittsford Triplex
Yonkers — GCC Central Plaza Cinema I & II

Charlotte — Plitt Park Terrace 1 & 2
Fayetteville — Consolidated Bordeaux Cinemas 1-2-3
Greensboro — Plitt Terrace 1-2-3
Raleigh — Plitt Cardinal 1 & 2
Winston-Salem — Plitt Thruway 1 & 2

Columbus — Mid-States Continent 1-2-3-4-5-6-7
Dayton — Chakeres Dayton Mall Cinemas 1-2-3-4
Springdale — National Amusements Showcase Cinemas
Toledo — National Amusements Showcase Cinemas
Trotwood — Mid-States Salem Mall Cinemas 1-2-3-4
Whitehall — Sugarman Cinema East

Hamilton — Famous Players Tivoli
London — Famous Players Park
Toronto — Famous Players University
Windsor — Famous Players Centre

Beaverton — LT Westgate Triplex
Eugene — LT Cinema World

Allentown — SamEric Allentown 3
Bensalem — AMC Premiere 2
King of Prussia — SamEric Twin Plaza
McCandless — National Amusements Showcase Cinemas North
Monroeville — National Amusements Showcase Cinemas East
Philadelphia — SamEric SamEric
Pittsburgh — Cinemette Warner
Robinson Township — National Amusements Showcase Cinemas West

Montreal — Odeon Place du Canada

Memphis — Southern Park
Nashville — Martin Belle Meade

Austin — AMC Americana
Dallas — AMC Prestonwood 5
Dallas — GCC Northpark Cinema I & II
Fort Worth — Plitt Ridglea
Houston — AMC Westchase 5
Houston — Plitt Alabama

Riverdale — Tullis-Hansen Cinedome 70
Salt Lake City — Plitt Centre

Springfield — GCC Springfield Mall Cinema I & II

Seattle — UA Cinema 150
Tacoma — SRO Tacoma Mall Twin

Fox Point — Capitol Brown Port
Wauwatosa — UA Mayfair
West Allis — Marcus Southtown Cinemas 1,2,3

05.21.1980 … Canada
05.21.1980 … United Kingdom
05.21.1980 … United States
06.20.1980 … Ireland
06.20.1980 … Puerto Rico (El Imperio Contraataca [The Empire Counter-Attacks])
06.20.1980 … Virgin Islands
06.27.1980 … South Africa
06.28.1980 … Japan
07.31.1980 … Argentina (El Imperio Contraataca [The Empire Counter-Attacks])
08.07.1980 … Australia
08.07.1980 … New Zealand
08.08.1980 … Hong Kong
08.08.1980 … Philippines
08.08.1980 … Singapore
08.08.1980 … Thailand
08.10.1980 … Norway (Imperiet Slar Tilbake [The Empire Strikes Back])
08.15.1980 … Denmark (Imperiet Slar Igen [The Empire Strikes Back])
08.15.1980 … Finland (Imperium Vastaisku [The Empire Strikes Back])
08.15.1980 … Sweden (Rymdimperiet Slar Tillbaka [The Space Empire Strikes Back])
08.20.1980 … France (L'Empire Contre-Attaque [The Empire Counter-Attacks])
08.29.1980 … Belgium (L'Empire Contre-Attaque [The Empire Counter-Attacks])
09.18.1980 … Brazil (O Imperio Contra-Ataca [The Empire Counter-Attacks])
09.29.1980 … Spain (El Imperio Contraataca [The Empire Counter-Attacks])
10.09.1980 … Italy (L'Impero Colpisce Ancora [The Empire Strikes Again])
10.16.1980 … Israel (Ha-Emperia Maka Shenit [The Empire Attacks Again])
10.16.1980 … Portugal (O Imperio Contra-Ataca [The Empire Counter-Attacks])
11.28.1980 … Costa Rica (El Imperio Contraataca [The Empire Counter-Attacks])
12.10.1980 … Mexico (film festival screening)
12.11.1980 … Austria (Das Imperium Schlagt Zuruck [The Empire Strikes Again])
12.11.1980 … Switzerland (French, German or Italian depending on city)
12.11.1980 … West Germany (Das Imperium Schlagt Zuruck [The Empire Strikes Again])
12.18.1980 … Greece (I Aftokratoria Antepitithetai [The Empire Counter-Attacks])
12.18.1980 … Netherlands
12.25.1980 … Chile (El Imperio Contraataca [The Empire Counter-Attacks])
12.25.1980 … Colombia (El Imperio Contraataca [The Empire Counter-Attacks])
12.25.1980 … Equador (El Imperio Contraataca [The Empire Counter-Attacks])
12.25.1980 … Mexico (El Imperio Contraataca [The Empire Counter-Attacks])
12.25.1980 … Panama (El Imperio Contraataca [The Empire Counter-Attacks])
12.25.1980 … Peru (El Imperio Contraataca [The Empire Counter-Attacks])
12.25.1980 … Venezuela (El Imperio Contraataca [The Empire Counter-Attacks])
01.15.1981 … Uruguay (El Imperio Contraataca [The Empire Counter-Attacks])


Primary references for this project were daily newspapers archived on microfilm. Periodicals referenced included American Cinematographer, Bantha Tracks, Boxoffice, Cinefantastique, The Hollywood Reporter, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Starlog, Time, and Variety. Books referenced included George Lucas: The Creative Impulse by Charles Champlin (1992, Abrams), George Lucas’s Blockbusting: A Decade-By-Decade Survey Of Timeless Movies Including Untold Secrets Of Their Financial And Cultural Success edited by Alex Ben Block and Lucy Autrey Wilson (2010, George Lucas Books/HarperCollins), Once Upon A Galaxy: A Journal Of The Making Of The Empire Strikes Back by Alan Arnold (1980, Del Rey/Ballantine), Skywalking: The Life And Films Of George Lucas by Dale Pollack (1983, Harmony). The following films were referenced: Empire Of Dreams: The Story Of The Star Wars Trilogy (2004, Prometheus Entertainment/Fox Television/Lucasfilm Ltd.), The Empire Strikes Back (1980, 1997, Lucasfilm Ltd./20th Century-Fox) and SP FX: The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Lucasfilm Ltd./CBS-Fox Video). Websites referenced include BoxOfficeMojo, CinemaTour, CinemaTreasures, FromScriptToDVD, and In70mm.

Canadian engagement details researched and contributed by Bill Kretzel.

Special Thanks: Serge Bosschaerts, Miguel Carrara, Bill Kretzel and Mark Lensenmayer. And a big thank-you to the many librarians who helped me research information for this project.

You are invited to share any thoughts you may have pertaining to this article or memories you have of seeing The Empire Strikes Back.

Theaters in this post

Comments (51)

William on May 21, 2010 at 10:25 am

As always another winner from Michael. I saw “Empire” at the UA Egyptian in Hollywood opening day. Now that was a presentation, on the Giant curved D-150 screen in 70MM! The next day I saw it over at the GCC Avco Theatre. It was great but nowhere near the impact the screen over at the Egyptian had.

PeterApruzzese on May 21, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Nice article! I remember cutting afternoon high school classes to drive down to opening day at the RKO Route 4 Paramus. I think we ended up seeing the 5-ish show. While I was not enamored of the film – Fred Clarke’s review above mirrors my own thoughts – it was a great experience with a packed house.

chrisjones on May 21, 2010 at 12:21 pm

30 years ago! Makes me feel very old. Saw it at the Odeon Leicester Square, London, as an 11 year old. 11 times… Remains my all time favourite movie to this day… Little known fact; Treat Williams appears throughout the film in a number of guises (rebel fighter, cloud city guard etc) as he was apparently hanging around London at the time of filming. He’s not credited.

clubned on May 21, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Such a great theater. LOVED that 70mm screen in the penthouse. Saw Empire Strikes Back in the second week, saw Jedi on the first day (checked out of school by my grandmother), and then again a few weeks later. Empire and Jedi were probably the two greatest cinematic experiences of my life. Saw Close Encounters on New Years Eve, I guess in ‘78. Saw Midway, in Sensaround. Saw Silverado there, too. Drove from Athens to see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in '89 and then again a few weeks later to see Batman.

Aparofan on May 21, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Another great article Michael. I’ll never forget seeing it at the Midland in Kansas City for my 10th birthday.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on May 21, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Nice work, Michael. I saw it at the Wometco 163rd Street in North Miami Beach and it made me re-evaluate “Star Wars” as more than just a silly fantasy.

Flix70 on May 21, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Great piece, Michael. I saw Empire at the Big Newport in Newport Beach, CA on Saturday, May 24, 1980. I remember getting a copy of the souvenir program at the box office before it started and fighting the urge to flip through it, as I didn’t want to reveal too much. I couldn’t resist of course and came upon a picture of Han in carbonite. I knew right then that Empire was going to be very different from Star Wars. I couldn’t wait to get into the theater to find out how this all played out. We were about an hour and a half early, however, nobody in line. We went across to a Coco’s for lunch and all through the meal I stared out the window at the theater across the street, hoping we wouldn’t get stuck at the back of the line and fighting more urges to flip through the program. We fortunately made it back with only about twenty people in front of us. I could actually hear the Imperial March from the earlier screening seeping out through the side doors as we waited.
Thirty years later Empire remains a very special movie to me. Where Star Wars opened my young eyes to the power of pure cinema, Empire really introduced me to the power of characterization and storytelling. To me, it remains as layered and complex as any Shakespearean tragedy or classic film noir. I usually screen it at least once a year and every time it’s like visiting with an old friend; I’m transported back to that Saturday in May when I was nine, when worries and responsibilities were foreign concepts and my imagination swelled with endless possibilities. Happy 30th, Empire.

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on May 21, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Saw it at Wehrenberg’s Creve Coeur Cinema (St. Louis County) during the summer following 1st grade. What’s INTERESTING is that I didn’t see the flick till the middle of it’s run – sometime in June or July. School was out and I was staying at my (FAVORITE!) aunt’s house for the early part of summer vacation. She promised me day in and day out that we would go see it but we never made it.

I went back home and one morning my mom told me to get dressed & get ready to go. She WOULD NOT TELL ME where we were going. We get in the car and she’s driving along not saying a word. Once I saw the Creve Coeur marquee (posted on the side of the building) and our car making that familiar right turn to the theatre parking lot, I lit up like a firecracker! She got me GOOD!

CSWalczak on May 21, 2010 at 4:14 pm

I remember that I first saw this on its opening Friday at the now-vanished Gaslight Cinema in Petosky, MI with one of my old scuba-diving buddies; just a 35mm print in the original theater auditorium. It is still is, in my view, simply THE best of all the “Star Wars” installments. It makes mincemeat of the absurd claim that the middle installment in a trilogy has to be a weak or a “bridge” to the more exciting concluding part, an argument that was used to defend that wimpy, badly written, over-produced, under-directed “Attack of the Clones,” the middle part of those so-called prequels that came out so many years later. The richness of the characters, the intelligent, multi-layered storyline, the believable and often delightful dialogue, and the inspired direction of Lawrence Kasden gave this film its mythic and allegorical dimensions.

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on May 21, 2010 at 5:13 pm

CWalczak: Irvin Kershner was the director. Lawrence Kasdan was co-writer.

CSWalczak on May 21, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Oops; I meant to, say, of course, the “inspired direction of Irvin Kershner,” I probably still had Lawrence Kasdan on my mind as one of the writers.

carolgrau on May 21, 2010 at 5:46 pm

I remember fondly openning day at the Warner in Pittsburgh, Pa…I dimmed the lights to start the movie and the whole theare broke out in applause all 1980 of them,,Every show was sold out after that for a long time….

JodarMovieFan on May 21, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Great job, Michael. This is the retrospective worth waiting for as opposed to the one posted several months ago.

My memories of first seeing Empire are on the Cinema (Washington DC) theater page but as I think back, I remember bribing my friends to go by having them help me deliver newspapers on Sunday opening weekend. Remember now that the Sunday edition of the Post is huge with the ad sections and comics. It was nice to have help anyway. Not sure if we took the bus or Mom dropped us off but it was one of several times I saw the movie.

Empire was probably my first movie to be experienced in 70mm. We sat close to the front row to take in the sight and sound. I recall ‘older’ kids (bigger then us) misbehaving by putting their feet on top of the seats in front of them. The usher telling them to “please do not put your feet on the furniture..” and then being ridiculed by the delinquents (furniture?). The soundtrack was mind blowing as when the asteroids would go by there was a loud whooooosh going in different directions depending on where the space objects were going. I remember being very mad at the cliffhanger ending even though I had read the local review that hinted a less then satisfying ending.

Looking back, I enjoy the movie a little more then I did then. Back in those days, there was this Star Wars vs Star Trek debate at school. I was the Trek fan and defended the shows (and first movie) for its cerebral minded storylines and thought Star Wars was just empty popcorn entertainment. At least Trek had some social commentary value that brought on contemporaneous discussions on topics like racism, war, etc. Star Wars was just space battles, fighting and lots of Dolby noise. :) Cool? Kind of..yes.

As my conservative Dad would say, “what did you learn from what you just saw?” In the case of Empire, I learned the bad guy is now the father of one of the good guys. So is good evil? There were some cool effect shots like the aforementioned asteroid belt scenes, the snow battle and for its time, Yoda seemed cool, but he sounded so much like a geriatric muppet Ernie that it was difficult to take him seriously and that he was this all powerful Jedi. Of course, it would be 22 years later that with a little CGI fx magic, we would see him in action to prove his power in Attack of the Clones.

When the remastered trilogy came out in the ‘97 or so, there were many outraged fans. I always thought that this is Lucas’ story. Let the man do what he wants with his creation. If fans don’t like it, let them go make up and put their own creation on the screen. I thought the CGI additions weren’t so bad, they didn’t detract from the story to me. The retinkering for the DVD release is fine, too, with the new Emperor scenes. I never liked the original one and his bulging eye sacs.

When the 3D /Blu ray editions come out, I bet you there will be more tinkering with this movie and the others in the saga……stay tuned.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on May 21, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Thanks, Michael. You’ve outdone yourself here.

My brother Tom and I saw it on opening day, first show (12:10 PM) at Loew’s Astor Plaza in Manhattan. He took off school, I took off work. While on line, we were filmed by a News 4 New York camera crew as a Darth Vader impersonator walked past us. We saw ourselves on the 11:00 news that night.

I knew about Vader’s big revelation because I stupidly read the novelization before seeing the movie, but I still found that whole sequence one of the scariest things I’d ever seen on the screen. That light saber duel, with Luke looking so outmatched and overwhelmed, was terrifying. Definitely the most powerful scene in all of Star Wars.

JSA on May 21, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Well done, Michael. Your dedication to the members of the cast and crew who have since passed away speaks volumes of your integrity as a historian. Outstanding all the way.

I saw it 4 times during the opening weekend at the UA Cinema 150, Laguna Gardens, PR. Every single one of those shows was a sellout. Giant D-150 screen with astounding sound, the way a big film like this should be presented. In my opinion, it is superior to the original, yet it somehow manages to make “Star Wars” a better film.


richjr37 on May 21, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Does anyone know when TESB opened @ Plitt Parkway 3 in Las Vegas,NV?

I think it was in 70mm. I do remember seeing it in the original big auditorium and it was quite loud. The line was literally around the building.

CapnRob on May 21, 2010 at 8:15 pm

I didn’t get to see Empire until a week after opening and by then, the jerks at school had already blown the “Lukes Father” secret.

In Denver, it was suppose to play at the Continental. I think I remember that a fire broke out after one of the charity shows and it was moved to the Cooper.

Can somebody confirm that for me?

enterlinemedia on May 21, 2010 at 8:56 pm

I saw Empire at the Liberty in Kalispell, Montana when I was 5 in the summer of 1980. The Liberty may unfortunately be the site of a church now, but I have found memories of watching STAR WARS films at the Liberty. I even drew a comic book adaptation of it in crayon (I threw it away years later).

jtf10570 on May 22, 2010 at 8:43 am

ESB didn’t reach our area until July 1980. Today’s films wouldn’t take nearly that long getting anywhere and I think that kills some of the anticipation. Anyway, my mom drove me, my brother and some of the neighborhood kids to the old Columbia Theater in Paducah, KY. On the ride home, we weren’t talking about the cool special effects or battle scenes. We questioned whether Vader was really Luke’s father and wondered what was going to happen to all the characters. To me, that was the real power of this classic movie.

Barsoom on May 22, 2010 at 9:55 am

In 1979, while I was deployed to Norway, a day of recreational x-country skiing was interrupted by the filming of the Hoth scenes for “Empire”. Myself and a German Officer watched from our vantage point just off the Glacier, as a camera equipped Helicopter flew up and down the glacier shooting those scenes.

In 1980, I flew to Toronto on leave and stood in line for the 0930 hrs showning of “Empire” at the University Theatre. It was the first “early” morning movie I had ever seen and the first showing of the movie in Canada.

On June 27th of that year I met a young girl and she invitied me to see “The Empire Strikes Back” the following day. I was so captivated by her, that I failed to mention that I had already seen the movie and met her in the line-up at the arranged time. At the moment of the climactic revelation, she caught me watching her instead of the screen and I was forced to confess that I had seen the movie previouly. We were married a year later.

This year she and I will celebrate our 30th year together.

raysson on May 22, 2010 at 12:03 pm

“The Empire Strikes Back” also played in theatres that had the widescreen but was shown in 35MM format and in Dobly Stereo. The theatres that shown it in the Durham and Chapel Hill Area & as far as Wilmington.

Center 1 & 2-(Plitt Southern Theatres)[Released On May 21, 1980]

Village Plaza I-II-III-(Eastern Federal)[DOBLY STEREO][June,1980]

Terrace 1 & 2-(Plitt Southern Theatres)

Plaza 1 & 2-(Martin Theatres)

Oleander Theatres I-II-III-(Stewart and Everett)–[DOBLY STEREO]

Henderson Mall Cinema-(Martin Theatres)

Town and Country Cinema 1 & 2-(Stewart and Everett)–[DOBLY STEREO]

Mark_L on May 22, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Raysson, I think you mean “Dolby Stereo”. Shades of Spinal Tap.

I saw EMPIRE at the beautiful Dayton Mall I theatre just after it opened. One of my most memorable movie experiences.

It also had my favorite name from all of the Star Wars series: Lando Calrissian. It’s even fun to say: Lan-do. Billy Dee was a great choice there. Today, I could see it played by Denzel Washington.

MPol on May 22, 2010 at 4:02 pm

I saw “Empire” when it first came out, at the Sacks Theatre here in Boston. What a cool film, too!

Cliffs on May 22, 2010 at 5:37 pm

The fire at the Continental happened during the run of Return of the Jedi in 83. The Cooper was the only theater in Denver to open both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Return of the Jedi opened at both the Cooper and Continental.

moviebuff82 on May 22, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Empire was the first movie I accidentally saw as a kid in the star wars saga. I saw the crawl and it said episode v. I then watched Episode IV, the first one, instead, liked it, then watched episode v, and really liked it. I didn’t know that Darth Vader was luke’s father. Then star wars vi i saw and thought it was allright, not as good with the ewoks in it. Then came the prequels and they sucked (except for episode iii in which we see anakin become darth vader). Out of all the star wars films, Empire is the best of them all. I first saw ESB on vhs, then in the movie theater in Wayne with the 97 re-release, and again on DVD in 2004.

warrendewey on May 23, 2010 at 10:36 am

A year ago we ran a print in Monterey of EMPIRE and Mr Kershner spoke before the screenings. He was just great, with interesting stories and was very frank about working with big studio politics and his relationship with George Lucas. Some pics of the event are here (I hope).

kucharsk on May 23, 2010 at 11:59 am

I went to see Empire on its opening night at Milwaukee’s Southgate Theatre, a very large single-screen theatre that was one of the few in a more suburban part of Milwaukee to have a balcony, which was also filled to capacity for these showings.

I recall three of us went and we were offered the choice of being seated separately or waiting three hours for the next show; you can guess which option we chose. :–)

Here’s information on the theatre:


As noted in the discussion, a photo of the Southgate can be seen here:


Coate on May 23, 2010 at 1:12 pm

<<< I went to see Empire on its opening night at Milwaukee’s Southgate Theatre>>>

“Empire” played at Southgate during its 1981 re-release, not during the original 1980 release.

I suspect you may be confusing Southgate with the similar sounding Southtown (where it did play in its original release and was cited in my list in the article), or perhaps you are confusing “The Empire Strikes Back” with “Return Of The Jedi.” (“Jedi” played first-run at Southgate…)

Coate on May 23, 2010 at 1:17 pm

<<< Does anyone know when TESB opened @ Plitt Parkway 3 in Las Vegas,NV? >>>

June 18, 1980.

Coate on May 23, 2010 at 1:33 pm

<<< * Does anyone know when TESB opened @ Plitt Parkway 3 in Las Vegas, NV? I think it was in 70mm. * >>>

June 18, 1980. (Yes, it was in 70mm.)

And speaking of June 18 and 70mm, I may as well provide a list of the 70mm engagements of “Empire” that started after the initial release since it was brought up in the question I just answered and because a couple of you asked me about it in private email correspondence. I left these out of the article because I felt the article was too long and the list of bookings I did provide focused on the initial May 21 release.

So…during the week beginning June 18, 1980, Fox broadened the release of “Empire” by adding about 700 bookings in the U.S. and Canada, about 99% of which were 35mm. The handful of 70mm prints that I’m aware of are cited below. These all started on June 18 (or later), and it’s anyone’s guess as to why Fox didn’t book these in the original May 21 batch.

Tucson —– Plitt El Dorado 1 & 2 (opened June 18)

La Mirada —– Pacific La Mirada 6 (June 27)
Lakewood —– Pacific Lakewood Center (June 27)
Los Angeles (West Los Angeles) —– Pacific Picwood (December 17, moveover)
Los Angeles (Woodland Hills) —– UA Warner Center (June 27)
Modesto —– Redwood Briggsmore (June 18)
Montclair —– UA Movies 6 (June 27)
Monterey —– Kindair Cinema 70 (June 18)
West Covina —– Sanborn Wescove Twin (December 19, moveover)

Brookline —– National Amusements Circle 1-2-3 (June 18)

Las Vegas —– Plitt Parkway 1-2-3 (June 18)

New York —– Loews New York Twin (June 18)

Bailey’s Crossroads —– KB Cinema 7 (June 18)
Vienna —– Neighborhood Tysons (June 18)

William on May 23, 2010 at 3:59 pm

I saw it many times at the Picwood Theatre in West Los Angeles in 70MM 6-Track Dolby Stereo. (Dolby CP-100)

JeffBradley on May 23, 2010 at 6:47 pm

A really nice compilation of info on the release of “Empire”. One little bugaboo though – the National Public Radio adaptation was first heard in March of 1981. I remember waiting until all of the news on President Regan’s assassination attempt had subsided and they finally played the episode, later that night.

JeffBradley on May 23, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Oops! My bad. That was the one for “Star Wars” that was on in the spring of ‘81. The one for “Empire” was on just before “Jedi” came out to get us stoked for that.

neeb on May 24, 2010 at 1:32 am

Great article, Mike.
I actually went out to the site of the San Diego opening… Someday, if the stars align, I’ll see the Cinerama rebuilt.
This is the first movie I ever saw in a theater.
I didn’t see it opening day, but my dad took me to see it at the Cinerama on University shortly after I turned 4.
It scared the hell out of me.
And I couldn’t get enough.
I feel for the kids today, they don’t have anything as awesome to watch or a place that’s worth watching it at. No multiplex will ever replace the magnificence of a big single-screen and no digital track can ever match the overwhelming volume of the sonic power of a 70mm print.

Coate on May 24, 2010 at 9:18 am

Thanks, guys, for the great compliments and comments.

Am I the only one amazed that we went the whole weekend without any of the anti-“Star Wars”/anti-George Lucas folks hijacking the discussion?

Cobalt on May 24, 2010 at 11:09 am

Another great article, thanks!

I always have found it fascinating to read these lists of where films opened, and this EMPIRE list is no ecxeption. I find it odd that EMPIRE opened, in 70MM no less, in places I never would have expected like Dubuque, Iowa…and Peoria, Illinois…or Lexington, Kentucky.

I will never claim to know the inner workings of the business, but I can’t help but think how strange the business is if a major release like EMPIRE STRIKES BACK can open in 4 theaters in Pittsburgh and 2 in Lexington but none at all in well populated places like Cleveland…or Tampa/St. Pete…or even San Antonio?

moviebuff82 on May 24, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Last night, Fox aired a parody of “ESB” on “Family Guy”. It pays close hommage to the classic while parodying pop culture. The uncensored version can be rented on Bluray through Netflix.

Nunzienick on May 25, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Thanks Mike for another great one!

I have to be one of maybe two people in the world who nearly fell asleep during “Star Wars.” On my first viewing in 1977 I sorta kinda liked it. It was just o.k. but nothing fantastic. I failed to see the terrific excitement so many millions saw in the film. A few months later I gave it a second chance and this time my companion had to nudge me twice to keep me awake.

When “The Empire Strikes Back” opened I was hesistant to go but decided this one just might be better. And surprise! I LOVED IT! I saw the film two or three times. Part of the reason for my enjoyment had to do with the Dolby Stereo soundtrack that practically blew me out of my seat. Even though I saw it in 35mm that wall-shaking soundtrack was phenomenal.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on May 25, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Nick, never knew you liked this “ STAR WARS” Fluff. I will take 2001 any day over that silly stuff. i had to watch it being in the business,but when i wanted a break I would go into another theatre until needed on the floor.

JoelWeide on May 25, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Congratulations to Michael for another great post! I covet your research skills.

When ‘Empire" open at the Mall Cinema in Wichita, Kansas. Dickinson Theatres whom had just purchased the Kansas/Missouri Mann Theatres, upgraded the 'Mall’ to 70mm. The Mall Cinema was a single screen theatre that seated around 750 with a large screen, it was originally built by National General. Mann had added Dolby for ‘Star Wars’ so Dickinson added the 70 capability. The first showing of ‘Empire’ went well, however when it second showing hit the screen there was no sound. A second 70 print was brought in and again the same thing happened, sound for the first showing not the second. It was ultimately discovered that what was causing the magnetic sound track to be erased was that as the film was rewinding on the newly installed platter it would pass a small motor that ran the take-up deck and the magnetic field from the motor was earsing the film.

The film companies usually opened the major releases in the Glenwood 1 auditoriam in Kansas City, however AMC’s Midland showed ‘Empire.“ It was told to me by a Dickinson executive that with the cash outlay DIckinson used to buy the Kansas/Missouri Mann Theatres and if 'Empire’ for some reason did not do well, add in the financial commitment to 20th Fox, the potential was there to lose the company.

Gosszilla on May 26, 2010 at 10:56 am

I was 13 years old when I stood in line at the UA Cinema 150 on opening day in Seattle. The three hour wait to buy tickets and stand in line was an eternity, yet sailed by as my brothers and I talked about “Star Wars”. When the theater darkened, a hush came over the excited crowd which turned into applause and cheers as soon as the now familiar, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” was ushered onscreen. You know the picture was so huge(70MM print baby!) on that slightly curved screen and the sound was so dynamic (six track Dolby stereo), I cannot remember “Empire” ever looking or sounding that good again. It was an event! What great memories those days are at the UA 150! I would “return” again… Thank you Mr. Lucas!

raysson on May 27, 2010 at 2:22 pm

I saw THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK in Durham on June 18, 1980 where it played at Durham’s Lakewood Center I & II. On opening day,the lines were snaked up and around the shopping center and folks were in line to crowd capacity around 10AM for the Noon show,and tickets were sold FAST within the first half-hour since the boxoffice didn’t open until 11:30AM that morning. It played in the biggest auditorium that had a 800 seat capacity where every seat was filled and seeing it on the huge widescreen was incredible and in DOBLY STEREO.

The Center Theatre in Durham was the only cinema in Durham that played both THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and THE RETURN OF THE JEDI,on the same huge auditorium!!!
I saw JEDI with several of my buddies during senior skip day when I was in high school and when we got there for the 11:30AM show,the lines were snaked around the theatre and also snaked all the way up the shopping center from the Kroger Grocer that is right next to the cinema all the way towards Kerr Drugs.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on May 29, 2010 at 11:19 pm

“…it’s anyone’s guess as to why Fox didn’t book these (70mm) in the original May 21 batch.”

My guess: Fox wanted big front money for this release. As time passed the front guarantee was lowered.

raysson on July 9, 2010 at 2:06 pm

The network television premiere of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was broadcast on NBC-TV on Thanksgiving Night(November 27,1987). It was the first theatrical broadcast of a major motion picture to air without limited commercial interruption. The television premiere of EMPIRE was a huge hit for NBC that Thanksgiving night in 1987,racking in the largest audience ever for a single movie event.

It was so successful that NBC reaired it again as a special movie event in July of 1991,the same year that NBC would also have the network television premiere of THE RETURN OF THE JEDI.

Coate on July 10, 2010 at 2:55 am

The broadcast premiere dates given in raysson’s July 9 post are not correct. The “Empire” premiere American broadcast was held on November 22, 1987. “Jedi” was first shown on American network TV in March of 1989.

(And before anyone goofs up the date of the network premiere broadcast of the original “Star Wars,” I may as well cite it now as February of 1984.)

Coate on November 29, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Irvin Kershner, 1923-2010

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on April 19, 2011 at 4:24 pm

I think it opened at REGENCY MALL I.II and III Cinemas in Augusta,then shipped over to National Hills on a much larger Screen.Pity it never opened at National Hills in 70mm.But we never did get a lot of Fox Product at our Plitt theatres here.

OKCdoorman on June 14, 2013 at 8:36 pm

There was a lot of local press coverage in Oklahoma that opening weekend as to why EMPIRE was not available to OKCityans (many of whom had vigorously supported STAR WARS profits over the previous 2 years at the North Park 4 [initial engagement], South Park 4, and West Park Twin Theaters)], including an uncomfortable theater-owner Farris Shanbour being interviewed at his office desk on a local major-network affiliate (also a local hard-news KTOK-AM 1000 radio station interview where he was literally illegible). Odd since he had ponied up the money for a very good 70mm exclusive premier presentation of ALIEN, from the same movie studio, on opening weekend the year before at his North Park branch.

mattarga on January 8, 2014 at 10:33 am

I remember going to the Plitt Phipps in Atlanta with my dad on my 9th birthday (May 22) to see The Empire Strikes Back. At the time the movie opened on May 21, 1980, it started out as playing as a limited engagement in select theaters, including this one. Not only that, Phipps showed the 70MM print! And there was either a rep or a bookstore guy out front in the lobby selling copies of the storybook from Random House, so you know who got a copy of that on the way in to see it. :)

dickneeds111 on October 4, 2018 at 2:54 pm

To Coate. Empire Strikes Back opened at the Charles in 70mm as did all the other Star Wars Films. The Circle had 70mm but a much smaller screen than the Charles.

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