Alright, I'll geek out a little bit here. ROTJ deserves it.
My life more or less begins going to see the '79 re-re-release of Star Wars. I vividly remember going to see ESB scant weeks after it premiered in theaters, after having just "graduated" kindergarten. But with ROTJ I remember the hype leading up to it, through '81 and '82 (when it was Revenge...) and the Star Wars release of '82 when the "return" trailer premiered.
Of course I was very young then, too, an eight year old, and so when I caught snippets of the movie on Entertainment Tonight I was unable to comprehend what was going on. My mind figured the plot of the movie hinged on rescuing Han Solo, so that had to come at the end, right? Well, what is all this with Han running around in a forest? And beyond that, I know the movie takes place on Tatooine, so whoever heard of a forest on a desert planet??
The day my mom promised to take my brothers and I to the movie was a Wednesday, I guess a week after the opening. I woke up at roughly three thirty in the morning from adrenaline, and was unable to fall back asleep. We all had school that day, but my older brother actually got to ditch the afternoon (for a "doctor's appointment") so he could wait in line for the tickets. I was very jealous. The theater was in our local mall, a triplex run by General Cinemas. I believe Jedi was playing on two of the screens, again a major mind-blower at the time. When my mom, my younger brother, and I arrived, my older brother was in line to be seated, wending down past the Wilson's leather shop almost to the Sears at the end of the mall. (Wilson's is gone today, as is the theater itself, but the Sears is still there.)
My birthday was days away, and my brother had been nice enough to buy me the souvenir magazine to read in line. I poured over it, mouth agape at the new Death Star (what what??) and pictures of the Rancor, as well as the previously seen characters like Ackbar, Bib Fortuna, and Weequay (who were already in my figure collection by that point.)
The movie blew me away. It was the coolest thing ever, bar nothing. I think I held my breath all the way through the rescue of Han Solo, (except when I laughed at the most hilarious joke ever put on screen, the Worrt eating the bug! Comic gold to a Muppet-obsessed eight year old!) I hoped the movie would last forever!
You know how Lucas says he worried about revealing that Vader was Luke's father because of the damage it might do to little kids, but experts assured him kids would believe Vader was lying? Well, I am proof that the theory was true. I had espoused the meanness of Vader's trick to anyone who believed what he had said for three years at that point, so I felt horribly betrayed when Yoda admitted to Luke that Vader was Anakin, and when double-talking Ben tried to explain away his own lies. But I felt even worse when they told Luke he still had to kill Vader.
Getting to the Battle of Endor was an absolute roller-coaster ride...I loved the Ewoks, hated the Emperor, and came to respect Vader and admire Luke for his unrelenting belief in the goodness that could be found in everybody. He went against what his own teachers had told him to do, and it saved the galaxy!
I saw it again a few times that summer, went to a travelling mall exhibit of some of the props, and of course collected the new toys and played story sequels with my younger brother and our neighborhood friends for the next two years.
Though today I may value ANH and ESB more, in my childhood Return of the Jedi was the utter realization of everything a Star Wars movie should be. [/geek]