Warning: Spoilers Ahead for “The Empire Strikes Back”
If only we had spoiler warnings like that when I was a kid. Sure there was a what everybody considered a bigger spoiler for Episode 5 of Star Wars, but Han’s state at the end of the movie is what got me.
I was really into Star Wars as a kid. I know, none of you are shocked. But, this is the story of how a single trading card almost ruined it all for me.
Back then trading cards were all the rage for films. Star Wars kicked it off with a number of series. Kids would trade doubles trying to get a complete set. Nobody my age could have conceived of buying a whole box of cards. I remember getting packs of cards at gas stations.
I can still smell the scent of that “gum” that would waft up when you would peel back the wax paper wrapper. There was always a brief bit of anticipation until you could see the picture on the top card in the pack. And if the first card was one you already had your heart would sink. You’d quickly rifle through each of the cards looking for new images and breath a sigh of relief when you found one.
I was snapping up ESB cards trying to find little hints and tidbits of what was going to happen in the soon to be released film. This was before the internet people. You couldn’t google trailers or look up the cast on IMDB. Information was sparse. Especially, if you were in the nine year old camp.
Anyway, I was flipping through my newest pack of cards. Ooooh, an AT-AT. Those look neat. Those bounty hunters are going to be cool. And then it hit me. The spoiler that made my stomach flip. I turned over a card titled “The Fate of Han Solo.” I remember I was so shocked by the look of it that covered it with the previous card hoping it would go away.
But, no luck. The grim outlook for my favorite hero was sealed. Yeah, every kid said they wanted to be Luke, but I really liked Han. All I knew at this point is that Han was captured turned into a statue. I flipped through the rest of the cards hoping to find a picture of one of the other heroes rescuing the smuggler. It wasn’t to be.
I was pretty distressed by this. For starters, as a kid, it didn’t seem feasible that he could be bronzed like a pair of baby shoes and survive it to come back. I really thought this would be the end for Han. Batman and Superman didn’t die on Superfriends. Jonny Quest was always back the next week for a new adventure. (I didn’t know they were reruns, I was ten, remember?)
Needless to say, seeing something this horrific happen to one your heroes was unthinkable in my little mind.
For the next few days, it made me feel uneasy about playing with my Han Solo action figures. I even debated on telling my parents I didn’t want to see the film.
I can’t imagine if my Star Wars Universe had ended there. I’m sure I would have latched on to something else. I’m sure I’d still collect action figures, but they probably more GI Joe than Star Wars.
Peer pressure won out, though. Kids at school would talk about the film. A rumor was going around that Han was being killed so Harrison Ford could be Indiana Jones. When Empire finally came to the base theater, I went. (On a side note, before every film they would play a clip of flags and different US scenery with the national anthem playing. Everyone would stand and cover their heart before the film. It wasn’t until a few years later I found out that civilian theaters didn’t do this.)
I was pretty good for the Hoth and Dagobah portions of the film. Asteroid chase? Not an issue, I knew Han made it through. But when the Millennium Falcon reached Cloud City, I started to get a knot in the pit of my stomach. I knew it was coming. Part of me wanted to believe the card was a ruse. When they reached the carbon freezing chamber, I knew Han’s fate was sealed. I may have broke out in a cold sweat.
After Han and Leia exchanged their last lines, I couldn’t watch. I averted my eyes from the screen clamped them tight. I didn’t open them until Lando confirmed Han was alive. Alive? Whew. The end of the film gave me hope I’d see Captain Solo again. And my love of the Star Wars universe was renewed.
Kids living in today’s information age don’t realize how scary movie’s can really be. Back then sequels weren’t a given. A film was just a film. It wasn’t part of a trilogy or a “Cinematic Universe.” So next time you are about to share something “spoilery” think it through. You don’t know how much angst you are going to cause.