When R2 And C-3PO Met Big Bird: How Lucasfilm Marketed Star Wars In The ’70s And ’80s

Posted by July 23, 2017 Comment

Hilton Collins writes:

Today’s Star Wars fans leverage modern technology to express their genre love in various ways. They can start blogs and YouTube channels, or connect with each other — and the world — on social media. But these things didn’t exist decades ago when the original Star Wars films started to take off.

Friday afternoon at San Diego Comic-Con, Craig Miller, Lucasfilm’s original director of fan relations, took con attendees back in time to a period where showing your Star Wars love was a very different endeavor. In the panel Star Wars and Fandom: The Early Years, Miller showed viewers a bevy of photos that revealed how Star Wars was marketed years ago, staring in 1976.

He kicked off the panel by spending a few minutes sharing details about his history with the epic franchise.

In his youth, Miller ran science fiction conventions in the Los Angeles area. At one of them, he met Charlie Lippincott, who was vice-president of what was then called the Star Wars Corporation. This started a professional relationship where Miller advised Lippincott on how he could market Star Wars to fans and worked for the company from 1976 until about 1980. Miller quit to become an independent publicity and licensing consultant to other genre films, including The Dark Crystal, Muppets Take Manhattan, Splash, and Heavy Metal.

Check out these highlights from the photo presentation:

star wars

Photos of the first Star Wars movie’s presence at Comic-Con in 1976.

Miller as a young man working for Lucasfilm in his 20s.

Star Wars was supposed to be on the cover of Time magazine the week it opened in 1977, but Menachim Begin was the surprise winner of Israel’s election of Prime Minister, so Star Wars was bumped from the cover.

The lines for Star Wars were enormous when it was released. Miller claimed that it was the first time a movie garnered such long lines, so that got news coverage.

Miller talking to Billy Dee Williams, who played Lando, on the set of Empire Strikes Back.

Photos of Miller with producer Gary Kurtz, Miller’s assistant Mark Marshall, and Irvin Kershin, the director of Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas, and Lawrence Kasdan.

Lucasfilm sent out a press release when Empire Strikes Back started filming in Norway. They wanted to put a photo with it of Luke and a tauntaun. They chose between these two versions.

An Empire Strikes Back article in Starlog magazine. Miller wrote the piece and planted rumors in it.

Material for members of one of the old Star Wars fan club groups.

Photos from 1979’s Comic-Con, which Miller attended. There were 6,000 attendees that year, which was a pretty big turnout back then.

Empire Strikes Back was released on May 21st, 1980. If you called 1-800-521-1980, you’d hear a voice recording from a member of the cast. The hotline-style promotion was Miller’s idea.

Stills from a 1980 commercial featuring Star Wars-themed Underoos.

Stills from Star Wars’s appearance on Sesame Street. The Star Wars people wanted to take photos with Big Bird, and the Sesame Street people wanted photos with R2-D2 and C-3PO. You can check out a clip from the episode below.

Left: The Empire Strikes Back landed the cover of Time. Right: Cast members at the film’s premiere at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

There’s an Easter egg in this still from the asteroid chase scene in Empire Strikes Back. Look in the bottom left of the screen and you’ll see the body of a TIE fighter pilot flying from the explosion of his doomed starship. It’s only on screen for about half a second, so most people never saw it.

Candid photo of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill.
(Last Updated July 23, 2017 12:36 pm )

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