The Watchtower: Comic-Con – Special Star Wars Edition

.

Star Wars Ruined Comic-Con!

Yup.  People may complain about Twilight crowding out the “true fans”, squatting in rooms while keeping others from enjoying panels, but the hard cold truth is, it’s all George Lucas’ fault, and it can be traced back thirty-five years to 1976.

Back then, Star Wars was the next film from George Lucas, who had some success with “American Graffiti”.  An unknown science fiction movie, with few stars, and a militaristic theme in the aftermath of the Vietnam War was a hard sell.  So Charles Lippincott, head of publicity and promotion, hit the road.  The first stop was Westercon, then in its 28th year, held during the Fourth of July weekend in Los Angeles.  Three weeks later, Star Wars hit San Diego and it’s record crowd of 3,000 attendees.  Lucasfilm knew they had to promote the film to fans, and so purchased a table to promote the movie, something unprecedented at the time.

So, where did the idea to hit the fan circuit come from?  Lippincott had worked at MGM during the release of “2001: A Space Odyssey”.  When the box office lagged on that film, Mike Kaplan tailored a campaign to the hippie subculture, emphasizing the psychedelic “star child” theme.  Lippincott realized the same strategy could be done with Star Wars, except with comics fans instead of hippies.

Lippincott knew Lucasfilm needed comics to promote the film before it came out, and met with Stan Lee at Marvel.  Stan was hesitant, but Lippincott was able to lunch with Roy Thomas, and sold the Conan writer on the movie.  Marvel made a sweetheart deal… Lucasfilm would not make any money on the first 100,000 copies, but Marvel would produce a six-issue miniseries of the movie.  Twentieth Century Fox couldn’t understand what good this deal was, but for Star Wars, it proved to be very important.  (It also proved very important to Marvel… it was a gamble which paid off handsomely.)  Lippincott and Lucas were both fans of Howard Chaykin’s “Cody Starbuck” comic published by Star Reach, and felt he had the sensibility to adapt the movie.  Thomas wrote and edited.

So, it’s 1976.  You’ve got an unknown product.  How do you sell it to comic book fans?  Well, you schedule a panel with Roy “Conan” Thomas and Howard “indy” Chaykin, so that people will come and see the cool slide show!  Then, in the dealers room, you sell a limited edition poster, illustrated by Howard Chaykin, for $1.75.  (It sold badly, and since this is the first ever Star Wars poster, those 1,000 copies now command a princely sum online.)

Afterwards, Lippincott then managed to find friendly press, including Jim Steranko’s Mediascene magazine, which featured production art and storyboards, which stoked interest through the Spring of 1977.

The end result of all this promotion?  Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood sells out around the clock on a Wednesday (the day after Mann’s 50th anniversary celebration), as do the other thirty-one theaters across the country when the movie goes into limited release on May 25, 1977, catching the mainstream media off-guard.  Of course, the rest is history.  (Mann’s Star Wars premiere was also revolutionary: a glitzy backdrop of a movie palace, brand new six-track Dolby stereo, and a 70mm print (one of eighteen).  Can you remember the fanfare, the title crawl, and the Tantive IV being swallowed by the Imperial Star Destroyer..?  Now, that buzz is generated by midnight showings at Imax theaters.)

You can read about the Comic-Con connection here, which includes some rare art.

A history of the marketing.

A diorama reproduction of the 1976 Star Wars booth. (Soon to be a limited edition?)

————

Okay, Star Wars isn’t entirely to blame for the Hollywood Hall H hype fest… it would take another thirty years for Hollywood to discover Comic-Con.

Furthermore, George Lucas is one of us, a comics fan, and, at one time, a comics retailer.  Besides, that genie is out of the bottle, so we might as well go ahead and enjoy it.  Come on… I know you want to get a picture taken with Darth Vader…

Here’s some cool Star Wars stuff seen at the Con:

Comments

  1. Furthermore, George Lucas is one of us, a comics fan, and, at one time, a comics retailer.

    Is this why he wouldn’t know a decent plot and dialog if it bit him on the ass? I want to know where the blame lies.

  2. Very interesting. I knew a little, but not all of this.

  3. Eric H. says:

    The Star Wars team also set up at the 34th World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City in September 1976 with Mark Hamill, Gary Kurtz and some of the costumes (Vader, the droids) in tow.

    They also sold the Chaykin posters at that show.

    The Glenwood Theater in the KC suburb of Overland Park Kansas (now demolished, which makes me want to cry just thinking about it) opened Star Wars on May 26 in 35mm, but with Dolby sound.

    I’ve never found a definitive source, but I have heard it quoted that the Glenwood actually took in more money on Star Wars than any other theater in the country. It played there for more than a year.

  4. I had that Chaykin poster and sold it about 25 years ago for 100 bucks. If only ….

Speak Your Mind

*