Buckle in kids, because the road to “The Empire Strips Back” started a long time ago. 1977 to be exact when my family packed up the Oldsmobile and headed west on I-10 for a vacation in California. This was a super big treat because pretty much every other family vacation was driving up to Wyoming to see family. My Mom really wanted to see Hollywood Boulevard so that’s where we headed but things quickly took a turn. Within seconds of getting out of the car my brother, the future astrophysicist, somehow just sensed that “Star Wars” was playing at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Kinda freakish how his nerd-radar was activated. Needless to say we found ourselves getting tickets. I still remember that feeling of sitting there as a little kid and when the music and the opening crawl started. Of course, my mind was BLOWN!!!! I was pretty young and it was INTENSE! But not so intense that I didn’t notice that my Dad was fidgeting and grumbling to himself about whether or not he put enough money in the meter. To this DAY I can feel him doing that.
Little did I know back then that eventually I would call Hollywood home. And I certainly never could have imagined there would be a burlesque show called “The Empire Strips Back”. I mean, I was just a little kid so really no way I could have known. Now we all know that “The Empire Strikes Back” is THE greatest of all of the “Star Wars” movies. (I saw that one with my cousins in Denver. You know on our way to Wyoming for our annual family vacation.)
The journey to “The Empire STRIPS Back” didn’t require crossing state lines. Technically my husband and I could have walked there but it was cold and there was a parking lot next door to the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre. We cruised into the lot, already familiar after having been there once before. This time we remembered to grab the ticket so we could pay at the machine instead of at the exit. It was kinda crowded and we were almost on the top floor of the parking garage, so we passed the line for the elevator and raced down the stairs as the smell of urine slapped us in the face. Payment machines weren’t working but we figured that would be fixed by the end of the show. Spoiler alert: Man, were we wrong.
If you’re not familiar with The Montalbán, it’s really sweet. Built in the 1920s, it was Los Angeles’ first legit Broadway-style theater. Over the decades it would be a movie theater, a home for radio show performances and all kinds of other cool things. But by 1999, it needed a lot of love and who better than one of the sexiest actors ever to save it. In 2004 the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre opened. Montalbán is known for such epic characters as Mr. Roarke on “Fantasy Island” and Khan in “Star Trek” but those were only two parts of his epic seven-decade career which all too tragically was often spent struggling with the stereotyping of being a Mexican actor in Hollywood.
Born in Mexico City, Ricardo Montalbán had always been a fierce advocate for Latinos on the stage and screen. In 1970 he founded Nosotros, a foundation dedicated to being a strong voice of change and opportunity for Latinos in the entertainment industry. One goal of the new theatre was specifically to promote Latino stage productions. But even in the 2000s Hollywood still wasn’t ready for that. The foundation remains active in providing classes, workshops, mentoring, and monthly networking activities. While the theatre survives on event rentals as well as rooftop film screenings in the summer. The family takes such good care of the venue and you can feel the love of Ricardo throughout. If you could describe the feeling there, it feels “kind.”
This was the last weekend of the run of “The Empire Strips Back” before moving along to San Diego. I really had no idea what to expect but I tell you that there wasn’t a second we weren’t entertained. The production comes from Australia and there’s a great blend of sexy, sassy, and snarky. The show host Eric is dressed as Lando Calrissian because he’s his brother, or maybe his cousin. Not totally sure but we do know this Calrissian needs to return home to his cat and he better be able to tell his cat that he slayed that night.
There were no photos allowed, so you gotta trust me when I say the dancers were very hot and the props were pretty great. At one point my husband leaned in and whispered, “Where does one get a working R2D2?” I quickly responded, “SkyMall.” There’s also lot of fun “Star Wars” humor, even a classic “Han shot first” moment. I feel like the surprise element was so fantastic that I don’t want to ruin anything. Although if you go and think, “Wait, did Han’s Corellian blood stripes change color in the wrong order? Did he get demoted instead of promoted?” I’m pretty sure you’re right but either way, can you please confirm or deny in the comments.
The production is around 2 hours and during the intermission I mainly stayed in the theatre as they started playing little extras on the screen. My absolute favorite, as well as my favorite part of the whole show, was a video of Yoda singing “The Rainbow Connection.” I immediately thought of the great Frank Oz who was Yoda and Kermit the Frog. My heart completely melted as I swayed back and forth mouthing the words as if suddenly I was a little girl again. It was so sweet and precious. Okay, back to the sexy people on the stage. Bottomline: We really enjoyed every part of the show where it’s permanently hot nerd summer (except for the Hoth number, that one is more hot nerd winter at New Hampshire’s Mount Washington).
But back on earth I needed to get home. My friend Christine was there celebrating her birthday, which got her a shout-out from Eric, and we really wanted to go with her to the Burgundy Room for a drink. Although ironically there is an actual Star Wars Cantina not far on Hollywood Blvd. But it didn’t matter, I had to get up early and had really important work to get done. We headed over to the garage and instantly see a massive line of cars trying to get out and a long line at the payment machine. We wait and wait until someone finally screams – IT’S BROKEN!!!! Some people have already been starting to head to their cars anyway and the rest disperse as we move towards the stairs. Passing the payment machines we see one is still definitely not even on while some people are still trying to get the other one to work. We walk up the stairs and sit in the car for a while but nothing is moving. Nothing. Then I realize this is no fully operational Parking Garage, in the words of Admiral Ackba – “IT’S A TRAP!”
I start to panic as my husband starts grumbling about how we should have gone with our friends to get a drink. HOLY SHIT it’s 1977 all over again! The parking saga continues! But this time it’s my husband not my dad fidgeting next to me. I decide to take action because I’m not a helpless little kid anymore, I’m an adult and I want to see what’s going on here because we can’t even get out of our space. Granted I didn’t read the full terms of service upon entering this parking garage but it’s pretty simple and THIS WASN’T PART OF THE DEAL!
Did I mention I decided to dress as a 90s hitman that night? Yup. I’m racing down the stairs with my leather trench coach flying behind me like a cape, the heals of my tall boots clicking on the steps as I haul ass cuz damn it smells of piss in there. I pass the broken payment machines that people are STILL trying to use and as I walk up to the attendant I suddenly stop to think – “What the f’ am I doing?!?” I’m a middle-aged white woman. What am I going to do? Ask to speak to the manager? Before I can turn around the attendant sees me. FUCK! I just smile and move closer to ask if there is anyone I can call to help about the payment machines not working. He calmly says people have already called as he processes another payment. Really? I ponder. They have? Then I realize what he really means, LADOT Public Lot 702 is altering the deal and you better PRAY they don’t alter it any further.
I get back upstairs and see some guys wandering around and try to rally more freedom from the parking lot fighters. Or more accurately I explain the situation and ask them to take one for the team by getting the attendant to just open the gate. But we know this mission would be futile. Because we are up against the formidable of all foes – Los Angeles Parking! As an hour passes we wonder if the event host Eric is at home with his cat and why he didn’t try to bargain us into his protection, he must have known he had no power against this evil empire. Then I notice the alliance is retreating, as in people behind us are turning around and going down the wrong way. I confer with my husband and we decide to join them. I mean It takes a while, a long while, but eventually it gets clear behind us so we reverse and head down the wrong way and are able to move into the line going down. Wow. It’s slow, but we’re on target now. Ironically it took almost the running time of the actual “Empire Strikes Back” to get out. I am not kidding you it was just the worst. Getting out of OzzFest ’97 at Glen Helen Amphitheater in San Bernardino wasn’t this hard.
The next day I was talking about how tired I was and how unbelievable that parking lot was and how I feel bad for the people who work there. And then I started to have a Columbo moment. The attendant I talked to was calm because this happens ALL THE TIME. He knew people had already called about the broken payment machines because this has been ongoing. The payment machines weren’t just broken that night, they never work. And I’m guessing the smell of urine in the stairwells is partially from trapped patrons with no place else to go. (Okay can’t confirm the last one.) But this parking lot has no way to pay for your ticket until you leave and then it’s just a guy doing it one by one and that guy goes through this shit every single night and people have been calling to complain about this and nothing is done: BECAUSE NO ONE CARES! This is business as usual at Lot 702.
You might think this is just a commentary on shitty parking lots but it’s really about Ricardo Montalbán and I’m a big fan. And I will humbly be but a mere servant to his legacy by giving his theatre a voice. Can this ultimate weapon of massive inconvenience spell certain doom for area businesses already struggling to restore quality entertainment in Hollywood after a pandemic? Darthcetti has finally retreated and the rebel alliance has stopped the developer menace Caruso from amassing more power for his gentrifying clones, so please Mayor Bass help us – you’re our only hope?
Anyway, don’t park there. Or if you do and see the payment machines are broken, get out while you can. And call the Council member or anyone you think might be able to help. But do something not just because it sucks, but so that we can all continue to support The Montalbán and maybe even eventually help fulfill the true dream that Ricardo Montalbán had for this historic theatre of making it a base for Latino theatre in Hollywood. It really is about time.