Saturday, December 5, 2015

St ar Wars Memories 05: Meet Darth Vader--In Person!

My coveted Darth Vader poster.
I was grateful for the giant letters
spelling out his name, lest I
forget who the hell was hanging
on my bedroom wall.

Sometimes, I think maybe I dreamed it. No one else I know had an experience like this. Certainly, none of my friends were there, or we’d have talked about it. But it really did happen. One of the most surreal events in my young life occurred one Saturday afternoon in 1978, at the Super Duper Grocery Store in Abilene, Texas.

I only found out about it because my grandfather’s shoe store was in the same shopping center as the Super Duper. In between the walk from Super Duper to Oliver’s Shoes was Eddie Krieger’s Pharmacy, an old-fashioned drug store with a lunch counter and a killer magazine rack, where I routinely bought comics. But I digress.

There were probably twenty-five or thirty of us kids, ages ranging from seven to twelve, standing in the frozen food aisle, staring up at the grim, unfathomably evil countenance of the Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader, himself.

Yeah. Darth Vader made a personal appearance at Super Duper.

The absurdity of it all didn’t hit me until years later. At the time, I could only stare and listen as Vader described the functions of his suit and explained the life support system that kept his heart beating and his lungs working.

He went on to explain that he was badly burned in a duel with Obi Wan Kenobi, and fell into a pool of lava, which accounted for his burns and mechanical arms. Clearly, this was stuff from Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the Alan Dean Foster novel that appeared earlier that year. Didn’t matter. The technical specs on his life support suit alone were worth my standing next to the frozen peas, freezing my ears off.

You need to realize, at this point, whoever was in the costume, looked and sounded exactly like Darth Vader. I don’t know if he was just pantomiming for a recording that was playing from a cassette or something, but there was nothing to distinguish this guy from the real deal. Then he dropped a bomb on us and completely upended my world. He said, “How many of you are fans of Han Solo?”

We all dutifully raised our hands. Okay, a few kids didn’t, and I remember thinking, “What dopes.” Vader took a second to regard us with his obsidian indifference and then said, “Han Solo will be killed in the next Star Wars movie.”

Tell me Santa isn’t real. Tell me John Wayne’s real name is Marion. Tell me anything, but don’t tell me that. I remember getting angry, almost defiant. I wanted to ask him how come he knows so much? I wanted details. But Vader kept right on talking about the next Star Wars movie, and when it would be completed, and I had to keep listening because this was primo-gold information, straight from the horse’s mouth. No further bombshells were reported, thankfully, and as we all lined up to...what? Welcome Vader to Earth? I remembered trying to keep my thoughts organized so I could ask him some questions.

The line was getting closer, and suddenly, a woman handed me a photo of Darth Vader. Now, I’m looking up at him, and Man, is he tall, and he took my photo from me and scrawled “Dblarh Vblargh” across the bottom, and someone gently pulled me to the right, and that was it. I’d blown it. Son of a bitch.

Back home, I hung up my new trophy on my Star Wars wall. I had survived my first encounter with the Dark Side of the Force. But at what cost? I tried to tell my friends about Han Solo’s fate, but none of them believed me. Only after I showed them my autographed Darth Vader glossy did they consider I might be telling the truth.

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