Earlier this month, we reminded readers of the 40th anniversary of the opening of “The Empire Strikes Back” at the former UA 150 cinema in Seattle’s Denny Triangle area — a run that ended up being the longest engagement of that film in the country, at 61 weeks. We asked you for memories of that run, and that theater; here are just a few of the many we received. (Comments may have been edited for length and clarity.)
I was a 16-year-old usher at the UA 150 and just started working at the theater the week “The Empire Strikes Back” opened in May 1980. To say it was a mob scene there was an understatement. Back in 1980 there were no giant multiplex movie theaters where movies could open on multiple screens. “The Empire Strikes Back” was only playing on one screen in the Greater Seattle area — so if you wanted to see it, you had to go to the UA 150 and get in line. And boy, what a long line it was! Star Wars fans had to wait hours in a long, endless line, snaking around the theater.
During my first few weeks at work, I never actually got an opportunity to watch the entire movie from start to finish. I was only able to catch short segments of the movie as I managed the long lines, swept up spilled popcorn and helped people find their seats in the dark theater. Finally, sometime in June 1980, I came to the UA 150 on my day off, and watched the whole movie. I was blown away!
The UA 150 will always have a special place in my heart: For a few exciting months during the summer of 1980, I was in the center of the Star Wars universe — at least for Seattle — five days a week, three shows a day. And each show, as hundreds of people streamed into the UA 150, I would think to myself, “I know something you don’t: ‘Luke, I am your father.’” — David Jacoby
My high school physics class all “cut class” together to go on opening day at the UA 150, led by our teacher, Mr. Ballard. My mother, who was a computer programmer at the time, also took the day off work to reserve our place in line, and brought my younger brother and sister with her. Best Mom ever! She had previously taken the family to see “Star Wars” on the opening night at the UA 150. I still have the original “May the Force be with you!” buttons the movie theater staff gave out that night. — Jeanine Cunningham Maury
In high school the UA 150 became a dollar theater. My friend and I (we’re 43 now) still talk about seeing “Cliffhanger” while the UA’s overactive air conditioning system blasted an arctic chill. It really took us to the mountains in a whole new way! I’m an architect now, and really appreciate the unique character of the UA and its King Cat sibling across the street. They were islands in the former wasteland of the Denny Triangle! — Ben Humphrey
For anyone growing up in Seattle during the heyday of moviegoing, movie theaters like the Town or Music Box or (yuck) Coliseum in the heart of downtown were no match for the Cinerama or UA 150. The UA 150 will always be remembered as having huge legroom, comfortable seats and a unique feature that I enjoyed: Because of the curve of the roof dome, if you sat in certain seats, you could hear the conversations of people far away from you and be entertained before the previews. — Art Kuniyuki
Of course we were there! My group of friends — adults all, playing hooky from work, some of them — were even interviewed by a Post-Intelligencer reporter who couldn’t figure out why grown-ups were waiting 12 hours for the first showing at midnight. We ate fast food chicken and drank cranberry juice spiked with Bacardi 151 rum while in line … and regretted it when the start of the movie was filled with too-realistic flyers skimming a snow field up and down, up and down, like an amusement park ride. You never knew what to expect out of Lucasfilm when it came to special effects. A person could stay over for the next showing in those days, and we did. We left before the dawn show, walking by all sorts of gents in their suits, ties and briefcases, coming in to catch the movie before work. — Maggie Nowakowska
My mom took me to the 9 a.m. showing of “The Empire Strikes Back” at the UA 150 on May 21, 1980 — opening day, and the day after my 12th birthday. We got there about 6 a.m. Even three hours early, the only seats left were in the front row, on the far left side. I couldn’t have cared less. We got popcorn and a small box of Hot Tamales, and I sat there staring up at the massive, beautiful screen for two hours in rapt and hyper-focused attention. It felt like I didn’t even breathe the entire time, and I’m sure I didn’t blink. When it came to the big reveal, I was deeply rattled, and spent the next few days at school in a daze, desperately waiting for one of my friends to see it so that we could talk it over. My mom did a lot of nice things for me as a kid, but this one will always stand out.
KJR was there giving out T-shirts that said “I was there — May 21, 1980” with the showtime. A few years ago, my wife used that shirt and several others of mine from the period and made a quilt that is probably my single most prized possession. — Hal Bryan
I saw all three Star Wars movies at the UA 150 originally. I have a distinct memory of standing in that interminably long line for the first film when I was 6. I was SO bored, I tried climbing those bricks that stuck out on the exterior wall of the theater. And I was so clueless, I kept asking my parents, “Is this a kissing movie?” — not cluing in that something called “Star Wars” might be fun. My dad, even before Han Solo uttered it in “Empire,” said to trust him. Luckily I did, and a lifelong nerd was born! — Edward Davidson