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Saturday, 8 September 2018

The Star Wars Official Poster Monthly

The giant poster inside issue one of the Star Wars Official Poster Monthly

The 1970s saw a craze for magazines that unfolded to form giant posters. Kung fu, Hammer horror films, the Fonz  they all inspired poster magazines.

Naturally, the biggest film of all time would spawn a title of its own.

The US Star Wars
Official Poster Monthly
The UK Star Wars Official
Poster Monthly

The American Star Wars Official Poster Monthly ran for 18 issues. Its UK equivalent reached only four. But both magazines were created in Britain, produced by a small team at Bunch Associates in London who went the material back to the States for the American edition to be printed.

Craig Stevens tells the full story in his book The Star Wars Phenomenon in Britain. Since he did a lot of original research, I don't want to run spoilers here, other than to say that he explains how the magazine was produced by writers and editors who had practically no input from Lucasfilm. 

Writer John May on the Star Wars poster magazine

The Heroes and Villains spread in
the first Star Wars poster magazine

John May, one of the main writers of the poster magazine, had been among the lucky few Brits to see Star Wars long before it opened at just two London cinemas on December 27, 1977.

In an excellent post on his blog The Generalist, May tells how he went to an advance screening at the Dominion Theatre in London's Tottenham Court Road on July 20, and another screening on September 28.

He had been hired by Bunch Associates to work on the poster magazine, the first edition of which was due to come out in October in the States.

He writes: "At the time poster magazines were the big thing, selling in huge quantities. Felix Dennis had set up Bunch Books and a whole lot of us were working freelance for him on various projects. He had already made a small fortune out of Bruce Lee, publishing Kung Fu Monthly which ran for years and years. Then came the movie tie-ins, the biggest and the best being Star Wars.

"Now you have to bear in mind this was a different world then. There were no videos or DVDs. Film audiences had been falling in both the UK and the US in the mid-1970s and then suddenly this monstrous film ushered in a whole new era of special effects films that captured the imagination and brought audiences flocking back into the cinemas."

He tells how "we began knocking out profiles of the main characters, articles on the science of Star Wars and anything else we could think of, to fill in the spaces between the pictures, which were the main reason for buying it."

The Star Wars Official Poster Monthly issue 1 

The Birth of a Space Legend spread in the UK
version of the Star Wars poster magazine

The first Star Wars poster magazine was turned around quickly by the UK team, in order to have it on US newsstands by October. It contained several articles about the film and its characters and folded out into a giant poster of C-3PO and R2-D2 in the desert. 

The UK didn't see the poster magazine until January 1978. The front cover was pretty much identical, except that the US price of $1.50 was replaced by 35p in the UK. (The magazine was cheaper for British buyers, since that $1.50 American price tag would have come out at around 79p at the time.)

But inside, some of the content was different.

Both issues had a spread headlined "Birth of a Space Legend", dominated by a picture of a stormtrooper riding the lizard that would later be called a dewback. But the text below was different between countries.

In the US, the article was a light-hearted introduction to the magazine. (You can read it in full here.)

"Recently, reports have begun to arrive of a strange and perplexing new phenomenon. Throughout the Galaxy, it appeared, millions of cases of so-called 'Star Wars Fever' had broken out'.... even after 40 or more repeat performances, the crazed victims came back for more."

It went on: "Seriously folks, not since Star Trek has a science fiction event gotten into the hearts and minds of so many people. In a few short months, the epic fantasy that is Star Wars has rocketed into the consciosuness of the crew of Spaceship Earth." 

For the British edition, John May had a chance to rewrite the text. For most British readers in January 1978, Star Wars was a film they had known about for months, but hadn't seen.

Many people had some idea of what he film was all about, but almost no conception of its unique look, sound and pace. Against that background, it's fascinating to read the article John May's piece.

"Star Wars is the most spectacular sci-film ever made, an epic of movie magic," he began.

"Starcruisers battle in deep space. Excitement lurks behind every doorway. There are duels with laser swords, flying cars and robots, immense space stations and giant hairy aliens. This is a galactic tale of heroes and villains, a special effects extravaganza which actually gives you the feeling of being in deep space.

"A reporter described the American reception of the film this way: "Star Wars, the super sci-fi spectacle, has gone beyond being the biggest movie hit of the year, beyond being a show business bonanza of colossal proportions. The United States has gone Star Wars crazy."

The article goes on to explain how George Lucas "agonised over four long rewrites" of the script and how the movie was shot in Tunisia and on all nine stages at Elstree Studios. When discussing the visual effects, it contains what, for many readers, must have been their first encounter with the name Industrial Light and Magic.

Unlike some reports from the time, the piece also acknowledges the troubled production Star Wars had. "The problems were to continue to the last moment, and because of this cliffhanger situation there was very little pre-publicity for the film. The studio didn't want to blow its trumpet in case something went wrong at the final hour. And so it came to pass that Star Wars was launched on an unsuspecting public," May writes.

"The kids on the street went wild. In the first 14 days of release, in just 45 cinemas, the film made almost $6million, beating even the ravenous shark of Jaws.

"One Chicago manager was forced to open early to stop the huge crowds outside from rioting. His first day's take was two and a half times the cinema's previous record, and this new high was broken again on the second and third days."

And, before most people in Britain had even seen Star Wars, there was the promise of sequels: "Star Wars is invading the rest of the world. And it is only a beginning: George Lucas recently announced that there will be many more Star Wars films, the first in about two years' time. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy one of the most exciting motion pictures ever made."

The Star Wars Official Poster Monthly continues

The back of the UK Star Wars Official Poster Monthly #1

The Star Wars poster magazine is a memento of a time when fans were madly eager to get their hands on any and every image they could from the film. 

On the back of the UK magazine, there was a Ralph McQuarrie painting of the Death Star trench run. On the spread about the film's production, there was a large picture of a stormtrooper riding a lizard creature (later named a Dewback, of course) which was only glimpsed in the background in the film. It was all hugely intriguing for anyone who hadn't yet seen the movie.

Over the following months, the magazine would become even more fascinating, as we'll see in due course.

Short of official Lucasfilm material, the British team would create their own pieces about science fiction, robot technology, and the film characters themselves. And in describing the heroes and villains, they would take to making up some details which would be established in popular imagination as the Star Wars canon for many years to come.

Did you read the Star Wars Official Poster Monthly, in its US or UK editions?  What are your memories of it? Do comment below.


Steve H. said...

I remember this well. I had that poster hanging on my bedroom back in late 70s for a long, long time. I think I only got maybe 2-3 of these fold out magazines. But I clearly remember this one best because of the poster.

Darren Slade said...

Thanks for commenting, Steve. Those fold-out posters lasted pretty well on the wall, didn't they? I seem to remember having the one of the Millennium Falcon cockpit on my wall for a very long time.