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”.]