Star Wars: Year One

May 25, 1977  was the day the world changed for science-fiction fans. In fact, it was probably the day that made lots of people science-fiction fans. That was the US release date of Star Wars, meaning that this year George Lucas’ mega-franchise hits the big 4-0.

Philip Hinchcliffe, the then producer of Doctor Who recalls going to see an early screening of the movie in Leicester Square and walking out thinking “the game’s up” for the British series’ shoddy effects and barmy plots. It was a game-changer in so many ways.

For me personally, going to see Star Wars at the cinema is my earliest memory. I was about 3 or 4 and I almost certainly saw it the following year. I can still see clearly before my eyes Darth Vader’s boots pacing the illuminated floors of the Death Star.

For half-pint fans like myself, a small army of action figures also started marching towards the shops. I remember my dad taking me to a toy shop where the initial run of 12 figures had been mixed up in a big bin on the floor. You reached in (or probably my dad did for me, since I was very small at the time) and picked out the ones you wanted. I was allowed two – can you guess which ones I chose (only one appears in the advert below)? [*answers at the end]


The advert above appeared in Marvel comics were dated June 1978. I came across it in Marvel Team-Up 70 (for completists). You can immediately see that something was lacking in promotion back then, especially when you think that this advert would have appeared in thousands of comic books published across the USA, Canada and beyond.

Quite apart from the shoddy artwork and kitchen-sink lettering, this picture is full of howlers. Yes, perhaps many people might miss the fact that Darth Vader’s lightsaber is the wrong colour but surely fans even then were aware that the film’s heroine wasn’t really called Princess Organa? Or that she wasn’t rescued by Hans Solo?

It is appropriate that this advert appeared in a Marvel comic book because it’s a little known fact that Star Wars saved Marvel comics. At the time, comic sales were in serious decline. Even so, people couldn’t see the point of a Star Wars tie-in. It was only the influence of Avengers writer Roy Thomas that convinced Marvel to create a comic at all, which subsequently sold in vast quantities and sent the company shooting back into profit.

Across the pond, Star Wars was also directly responsible for the launch of Sci-Fi comic 2000AD, which is also celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

In the 1970s, science-fiction didn’t have the cachet that it has today, and most British comics were still labouring on with stories of heroism set in the Second World War like Battle and Warlord.

Knowing that Star Wars was soon to launch, a young editor at IPC named Kelvin Gosnell pushed for the company to produce its own paper to cash in on the upcoming sci-fi boom. Despite being in a junior position and having to fight with a fusty management that had little interest in droids and Jedis, he won his argument and 2000AD is still being published today, having long out-lived its then futuristic-sounding title.

So when everyone starts celebrating the fortieth anniversary this year, its worth remembering how little society understood science fiction at the time Star Wars appeared – and also how brave George Lucas was in fighting to bring his vision to the screen.

[*I was 4, so of course, I chose the monsters: a stormtrooper and a jawa (which is the one that doesn’t appear above). My dad, who was a sailor, also bought me the Land speeder that you can see in the bottom left of the advert as a present after one of his lengthier voyages. I still have it, even though it is no longer capable of that much lauded “simulated ‘floating’ ride”.]

24 responses to “Star Wars: Year One

  1. A very nice read which bought back memories of when I saw the film in 77 and my first Star Wars figure the Death Squad commander if I remember correctly

      • It might have been, your correct in how odd it must have been action figures are commonplace now but I remember very few when I was growing up

      • Especially in Britain. In the film Argo, Tony Mendez’s kid has loads of Star Wars action figures and ships lined up in his bedroom and when I saw that, I was thinking, “I never saw any of those ones in rural Hampshire”! Hence the excitement when my dad came home with goodies bagged while overseas!

  2. Ah you were a lucky wee laddie way back in the 70s then! I just checked my teenage diary and my father made us wait until 3 April 1978, when there were no queues at the cinema, before my sister and I got to see Star Wars. My ‘sophisticated’ review was ‘swashbuckling fun with a dishy bloke’. It had a long-lasting effect though both my sister and I, now in our fifties, are still big sci fi fans.

  3. I remember having a stack of Warlord as a kid, so many memories, 2000AD and of course Alan Moore’s Future shocks. How Princess Organa got past any form of editing is beyond me. If this didn’t make people sci-fi fans then they only had to wait two years for Alien!

    I love how Doctor Who didn’t change its format to react to it, 1977 gave the world The Horror at Fang Rock which is still a brilliant piece of TV today. As much as I enjoy Star Wars sci-Fi done on a budget can also be extremely effective.

    • Fair points all! I have no idea how the Doctor Who team ever thought they could get away with a luminous green blob in the ‘Horror of Fang Rock’. It was trumped by the huge green mess that provided the “threat” in 1979’s The Creature from the Pit, which even as a five-year-old I realised was appalling.
      I think Star Wars freaked out the Doctor Who production team more than the fans. However bad their special effects were, it was still infinitely preferable to the rubbish that made up the rest of the ‘golden age’ of TV like 3-2-1 with Ted Rogers and Dusty Bin.

      • It was always green with aliens as well, presumably it was cheaper for the BBC in some way. I find it amazing that kids still invest in the old episodes despite all the special effects today. 3-2-1, apparently some Americans thought it was some sort of magic trick when Rogers did the hand movements…utterly bizarre!

  4. Most importantly this was the year that the name Luke became cool!!
    On a more serious note…
    What would be your definition of “science fiction”? I was debating this yesterday with son Otto. Specifically, I thought that The Hunger Games should be considered science fiction but he didn’t agree.
    And related to this, isn’t there an argument, to say that Star Wars actually debased science fiction by taking it from the realms of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Philip K. Dick where the exploration of imagined futures were used to reflect on the society of the day to action-adventure yarns?
    And finally, how naughty is it to say that I think that Rogue One is the best of all the films to date?!

    • Yes, lucky you – no Alastairs in space. Perhaps my parents should have called me Jabba.
      There is an argument that Doctor Who and Star Wars should be considered Science Fantasy rather than Science-fiction because they go way beyond plausible reality. As you say, there are many serious sci-fi fans who look down their noses at Star Wars et al but the problem is that serious sci-fi can a bit dull, and in the case of 2001, pretty much incomprehensible!

      • I also agree with you that ‘The Hunger Games’ is science-fiction because they do use things like those hunter animals that the controllers of the games seem to be able to wish up just using computers. ‘Brave New World’ is also science-fiction because of all the drugs and artificial means of reproduction in the future society..
        On the other hand, I wouldn’t say that ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ or ‘1984’ were science-fiction in that neither book contains any fantastic/futuristic/technological elements. They just have a world like ours, but in the future. So Dad 1-Son 0.

      • Brilliant, thanks for the scoring, will show him and it’s obviously true and official because it’s on the internet.
        Otto tried watching 2001 and the plane at Christmas and I think he’d agree with you about it being incomprehensible. And the special effects are hilarious now, I think we were supposed to be wowed by someone walking up a wall!

  5. When there was nothing for the men in my family to talk about, due to frustration of opinion, they could always bond over Star Wars thoughts and ideas. I find that priceless. I haven’t seen the most recent Star Wars, but I went to the new generation of Star Wars movie last Christmas and loved it. I look forward to seeing where it goes. (The name of the movies and their order completely escapes me. Honestly, it is so confusing for a girly girl, but I do find the themes inspiring.)

  6. Brings back memories of my dad telling me about the movie that was out that we just had to go see. He sold me on it when he said “they fight with laser swords.” That was my “you had me at hello” moment. I remember grown men standing up to cheer as the Death Star exploded. A few years later, when Empire came out, I spent the summer shutting my eyes, trying to make objects fly into hand. But alas, the Force was not strong in me.

    • I always wanted to wiggle my hand Darth Vader style and cause people to start choking once I had became disturbed by their lack of faith, but I seemed unable to turn to the dark side. Ho hum >>wheeze<>suck<>wheeze<<

  7. What a great earliest memory! Cinema obviously has quite the impact as one of my earliest is sitting in the movie theater watching the Beatles in what must have been A Hard Day’s Night.