RECORD STORE TALES #909:
It Was Back in the Summer of ’83, There’s a Reason I Remember It Well
Put yourself in my 10 year old (going on 11) shoes. Imagine the summer of 1983. We were surrounded with nothing but the coolest stuff. The A-Team was huge. Michael Knight was riding high. There was a new Star Wars coming. There were even two new varieties of Coke: Caffeine Free Coke, and Caffeine Free Diet Coke. I didn’t know what caffeine was, I just wanted to try them all.
The first sign that we had a cool year ahead of us was when my mom came home with a new box of cereal one day. It was probably Cheerios; regular or Honey-Nut. On the front: “STAR WARS BOOKLET INSIDE!” This must be in advance of the new Star Wars movie, Revenge of the…what? The title had been changed to Return of the Jedi. Less edgy to be sure. We learned that George Lucas changed it because Jedi do not take revenge.*
These cereal box booklets were our first look at some of the iconic new images from Episode VI. Speeder bike troopers, Jabba the Hutt, and the unfinished new Death Star. This image surprised me the most, even more than Jabba’s ghastly physique. It didn’t make sense that the Empire would build a brand new Death Star, when the first was destroyed so easily. But that was our first glimpse of what was to come. We couldn’t wait to get the new toys. I had dreams of anticipation building towards the release of the movie.
Next into our lives came the official Marvel Comics adaptation, which of course told the entire story before we saw the movie. We waited for crowds to die down before going to see a new movie. I had the single issue “Marvel Super Special”, my best friend Bob Schipper had the four-issue limited series. About half way through reading the comic, I stopped myself in shock.
“Teddy bears?” I gasped. “There is no way George Lucas would put teddy bears in Star Wars.”
But he did. He put teddy bears in Star Wars. Fortunately, the Ewoks were cooler on screen — fierce but funny warriors that I could accept if not embrace. It just seemed so…sudden. Calculated. Even as children, we sensed this. Jedi was the most “kiddie” of all the films, with the cutesy bears and burp jokes.
Then came the day we finally saw the movie in theaters. I think we went with my schoolmate Ian Johnson, although my sister remembers that as our second time. I know we joked around with him before the film — what if the whole thing was a big tease and they never found Han Solo? We laughed at the idea of the Millenium Falcon flying around for the whole film, and never finding Solo. Making you have to wait ’til the next movie…or the next…before Han finally came back. Of course, we knew that wasn’t going to really happen. We knew this was the final movie in the trilogy. (We didn’t foresee we’d have to wait 16 years to get another Star Wars, or 32 years to get to the “what happens next” part.)
I can’t remember exactly how I felt through the film. Awe at Luke’s cool new Jedi look. Confusion as to how I was supposed to take Vader — the villain I hated — as redeemed. I legitimately hated Darth Vader. Could I forgive him? Not at first. “Look at his eyes,” said my dad. “He was good again.”
We universally loved the speeder bike chase through the woods. The busy space battle that eventually goes into the very superstructure of the Death Star. And yes, Han Solo’s return. Finally, we had use for our Han action figures again!
Oh yes, the action figures. The Return of the Jedi wave was the best of the series yet. We started getting our first new figures from the series around the same time my cousin Geoffrey rolled into town.
We both loved and feared when cousin Geoff came to visit. So full of energy. Much more than me. We had great times, but usually tinged with a hint of destruction. This is a kid who gave himself the nickname “Alligator”. 1983 was one of those wild summers. We had the best times with Geoff, but I still came home with an injury.
It began with new toys. My mom took Geoff, my sister and I to Stanley Park Mall. We each got to pick one new Star Wars figure. It was unanimous who we thought was best. We each decided on the new Luke. What a figure! A cloth cloak, a laser pistol, and a lightsaber were packed inside the plastic bubble. Three accessories! Unprecedented. Then, as told in Record Store Tales #653:
We waited on a bench while my mom did her banking.
“Come on let’s open these,” said Geoffrey. My sister and I always waited until we got home.
Geoffrey ripped open his Luke.
“Why are you opening that now? You’re going to lose the gun. Just wait until we get home. This is our last stop.” I attempted to reason with my cousin but he had Luke out of the package.
Within the first five minutes, he lost the gun. Before we made it home, he lost the lightsaber too.
“I told you so,” was something I relished saying to him. My Luke, by the way, still has all his accessories 35 years later.
Geoff’s grandparents on his dad’s side owned a huge piece of property in the country with a swimming pool, and the most amazing landscape to explore. Grassy fields gave way to trees, and I don’t think we ever hit the end of the property when we went walking. It simply went on forever. Any time we went there, it was a treat. We spent a few days at the prorperty that summer, swimming and running pretending we were Jedi or superheroes.
The house had an amazing “back yard”. There was a steep downwards incline, which you traversed via a series of stairs and landings. To us it was huge! It seemed like you were climbing down a mountain. At the bottom: the swimming pool and all the land you could run through for hours.
There was a radio and a barbecue. I remember hearing “Sister Christian” on the radio for the second or third time ever. I didn’t know the name of the song, or the band, but I heard neighbours playing it on their stereos. I assumed the song was called “Motorhead” by Motorhead because on a fuzzy radio, that’s sure what it sounded like. “Motorhead! What’s your price for flight?”
We had a great time swimming whenever we felt like it, and playing Star Wars the rest of the day. Our figure collections were growing. By the end of the summer, I had an Imperial Guard and Kathryn had her first Ewok, Logray the “medicine man” of the tribe. Lando in his new disguise had also landed in our collection. The figures really were outstanding this time, with more attention to detail and accessories.
But you can’t play Star Wars forever (especially when one of us has a Luke with no weapons) and so we explored the countryside. As described earlier, my cousin Geoff had a lot more energy than me, and physics tells us that energy cannot be destroyed, merely transformed. He transformed his into force. We were playing some sort of game in the grass, involving running and hiding. At one point Geoff spotted me and came barrelling my way. I dove out of his path into a bush. I thought I had escaped the pain, but the pain was only beginning.
The skin on my hand was starting to sting and bump, for I sought shelter amongst the stinging nettles.
It was bad! My aunt got some creams and bandaged up my arm. My hand was numb for hours. And we were going to see a movie that night!
There were no cineplexes. Our family movie tradition was going downtown for dinner and a flick. My mom remembers the restaurant well: “It was owned by Tommy Chaggaris, who owned the Fairway restaurant at Fairview Mall. The restaurant was called The Chaggaris’.”
They made really good chicken. Cousin Geoff used to simply call it “Tommy’s Chicken” when we would take him. My mom continues: “Dad knew Tommy Chaggaris quite well, and he always treated us like royalty. He was very wealthy and owned restaurants and strip malls all over the city. His wife lives across the street from friends of ours. He is long gone. A really nice guy.” This is where it gets funny. Sometimes Geoff would simplify the name and tell people “We went to Tommy’s place for chicken!” I guess there was a strip club in town also called Tommy’s, so that story often needed extra clarification.
The plan was to see Return of the Jedi again, this time with Geoff. However, we were told by the adults that the sound in the theater where Jedi was showing was really bad. I didn’t care, neither did Kathryn or Geoff, but the adults didn’t want to spend money on a movie and not understand the dialogue because of dodgy speakers. Fair enough, so we chose Superman III instead. I had the novelisation, but now we were going to see the latest chapter of Superman. One of our other favourite franchises of the 80s.
We knew it was getting poor reviews, but what else was playing in 1983? War Games, Octopussy and Trading Places were a little more mature than we were. And nobody wanted to see Jaws 3 in 3D! So Superman III it was, partly by default and partly because how bad could a Superman movie really be?
Kind of bad. But I liked Richard Pryor**, and he made me laugh in Superman III. Kathryn and I both liked the part where he got drunk wearing the gigantic foam cowboy hat. We did not like the real villains. We preferred Lois Lane to Lana Lang. We would rather have not seen Superman turn evil due to a synthetic form of kryptonite. We didn’t get the scene where Clark Kent fought Evil Supes. Was it real or was it metaphorical? It was weird, is what it was to us.
We came back to the beautiful house in the woods and discussed the movie. We never accepted that a computer could challenge Superman, but that was the big climax. Superman vs a computer built by Richard Pryor. A computer that seemed to be able to improvise and turn people into computer zombies at will. And had weird video game-like displays with sound effects taken from the Atari Pac-Man game.
“The worst Superman,” was our unanimous vote. But we got to see it — always a treat in itself. Even if a movie was bad, going there was still a treat.
It wouldn’t have been a proper summer without an injury, so I’m glad Geoff helped me check off all the boxes in 1983 (and a few other years!). We had a blast. Spending all day with Star Wars action figures or in a big swimming pool with the sun on our backs and Caffeine Free Coke in our hands. It was the last summer of the Star Wars era. Toys changed, and when Geoff returned in 1984, we were onto something new. Something that was More Than Meets The Eye. But there was a definite shift. 1983 closed a chapter. With Star Wars having drawn to a close, the vacuum had to be filled. At the same time, I was getting older and discovering new interests. In 1984, the favourite contender was an American rock and roll band out of Los Angeles called Quiet Riot.
I still cannot really let go of the fact that Geoff lost Luke’s gun and lightsaber within minutes of opening him. Those things are going for like $80 now!
*Revenge of the Jedi caused a problem for the folks over at Paramount, working on Star Trek II: The Vengeance of Khan. In order to avoid problems, they changed the title of their film to The Wrath of Khan.
** At that point, Pryor’s career was shifting to younger age groups. He had a revelation in 1979 after a trip to Africa, after which he ceased using the “n” word in his routines. 1982’s The Toy exposed kids our age to Pryor. Ironically, The Toy was directed by Richard Donner who also directed Superman: The Movie. Yet Superman II and III were credited to Richard Lester, who geared them in a slapstick comedic direction. This is one of Superman III‘s defining traits.