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30 years later, 'Empire' left a lasting mark

By Henry Hanks
  • 30 years later, fans remember seeing "Empire Strikes Back" for the first time
  • For some fans, it was a turning point in their lives
  • Consetta Parker got her wish to marry a Stormtrooper
  • iReport: More "Empire" memories
  • Science Fiction
  • Movies

(CNN) -- Neil Sobleski of Dayton, Ohio had been looking forward to it more than anything else.

"I was 4 years old in May of 1980 and already a certified 'Star Wars' maniac," he said. "I had a slew of the toys, and they were my most prized possessions."

On the fateful day when he went to see "The Empire Strikes Back," the second movie in the original "Star Wars" trilogy, Sobleski had little patience for the movie to start.

"I remember that my mom and I were going to see the movie with my aunt, and I found the wait to get to the theater at the local mall in St. Clairsville, Ohio, excruciating," he said. "After what seemed like an eternity, we were finally seated at the theater, and the familiar 'Star Wars' title logo was blazing from the screen, larger than life, with the opening crawl going by as fast as I could read it. For the next two hours, I was riveted to the screen."

There is one moment everyone remembers from the "The Empire Strikes Back" more than anything else: The revelation that Darth Vader is, in fact, Luke's father.

Then 9-year-old John Booth remembers the moment well.

"I heard from some kids that Darth Vader was Luke's father, and even though it was spoiled, it made me want to see it even more," he said.

Still, that was nothing compared to hearing Vader himself say it in the movie. He vividly remembers the reaction he and his friends had at the time. "We were just kind of frozen and just kind of gaped at each other."

For Booth, there were little moments that stood out as well, like seeing the back of Darth Vader's head. "It really creeped me out and fascinated me when I was little."

It's moments like these that left a mark on so many "Star Wars" fans.

Thirty years to the day after its release, iReporters and others are remembering what made "Empire" so special and how it's affected them to this day.

iReport: Why "Empire" mattered

For Heidi Sweetwater, seeing the movie for the first time "was extremely tense ... you've heard on the 'edge of your seat' expression. I was literally on the edge of my seat the whole time. I haven't had an experience like that since," she said.

"For people in my age bracket, that was the first time there were special effects like that."

Since then, Sweetwater has amassed quite the collection of "Star Wars" Pez dispensers.

After a journey to Hoth, the first appearance of Yoda, seeing fan favorite Boba Fett in the flesh, Han Solo frozen in carbonite (which "literally made me fall out of my seat in terror," according to Sobleski) and a cliffhanger ending, the credits rolled. After that, these fans would never be the same.

"This movie was opening my mind to the infinite potential that was possible in the universe and within me," Sobleski said. "Yoda's admonition to 'do or do not' became my personal motto before I was old enough to know what a motto was, and a lifelong love of science and flight was born that continues to this day. I tell people all the time that if it wasn't for 'Star Wars,' and especially 'Empire,' I probably wouldn't be an aerospace engineer today."

iReport: "Empire" changed my life

Sobleski is far from the only person whose life took a new direction after seeing the movie. Consetta Parker actually married a "stormtrooper."

"When I saw 'Empire' for the first time, I cried (in the best possible way). I walked out of the theater transformed, and it was like I was seeing things differently for the first time," she said.

Before she even returned home, 9-year-old Parker immediately began collecting merchandise from the movie and drawing her own posters with "Star Wars" themes.

Soon after, she wished to meet a boy who loved "Star Wars" as much as she did. A year later, she got her first job, with her only motivation to buy more "Star Wars" toys.

Many jobs later, she worked at a press junket for the final "Star Wars" movie, "Revenge of the Sith," on Skywalker Ranch, and she met one of the many stormtroopers there made available for filmmaking. "The first thing I said to him was 'Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper?' "

Her wish from years before would soon come true. On May 4, 2008, they were married at the George Lucas Theater in San Rafael, California, with many other stormtroopers, "R2-D2" and "Darth Vader" in attendance. (Parker is actually one of two iReporters who had an elaborate "Star Wars"-themed wedding.)

iReport: I married a stormtrooper

The movie holds a special place in the heart of many hardcore fans like Parker.

Comedian Paul Scheer counts himself among those fans. "Puppets, robots, lightsabers, crater monsters, carbonite, the tauntaun sleeping bag and Boba Fett. How can you not love this movie?" he said. " 'Empire' is the one film that I have watched so many times that I actually wore out the videotape and broke it when I was a kid."

Scheer was one of many celebrity fans who attended a charity screening of the movie on Wednesday night.

"It holds up. Surprisingly, it also develops characters, mythology and keeps you invested in the relationships as well as the action," he said. "Plus the effects look really good. Yoda, in puppet form, looks more real than 98 percent of CGI creatures you see in movies. It's crazy to think that the advancement of technology actually hindered the prequels."

iReporter Arturo Navarro refuses to even acknowledge the prequels: "In my mind, they do not exist!"

He is one of the purists, or as he calls them, "true 'Star Wars' fans" who didn't even like the 1997 special editions released in theaters, saying they ruined the original trilogy.

iReport: "Empire" was the best

Booth might not go quite that far, but he certainly remembers the "Empire" era fondly. He literally wrote the book on the subject: "Collect All 21! Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek - The First 30 Years."

From "the biggest one-two punch cliffhanger ending ever," to the endless amounts of merchandise available, memories always come flooding back when Booth thinks about "Empire."

"[Anything] from that time stirs nerves of excitement and anticipation. 'Empire' is the best in the 'Star Wars' bunch."