Friday, 12 October 2018

The Star Wars Official Poster Monthly #3

The fold-out poster in Star Wars
Official Poster Monthly

The words “Giant Darth Vader poster inside” were enough to sell almost any child on issue three of Star Wars Official Poster Monthly.

In the last article (at least for now) about those original 1970s poster magazines, I’ll take a look at articles that ranged from a profile of Han Solo to the very exciting news that we would soon have robot servants.

The third edition of the Star Wars Official Poster Monthly featured Han Solo on the cover in the US, and the droids for the UK version. As with the previous editions, the content was produced in the UK and sent back to the US for publication. American readers got it in December 1977, British ones in March 1978.   

The US cover of Star Wars
Official Poster Monthly

The poster in that UK edition of the third poster magazine is very 1970s and quite unlike most other Vader pictures. There is the Dark Lord in a group shot with three stormtroopers, against a bright almost mirrored background that looks like it could have come from an early pop video. They also seem to be standing on oven foil. 
The UK cover of Star Wars
Official Poster Monthly
It may look dated now, but it was extremely impressive at the time, and my own copy of this magazine bears all the signs of spending a long time on a bedroom wall.

Before you unfolded the magazine, there were some very good articles to read. In an introduction, the British authors boated that they had “something pretty hot” – the first part of an interview with production effects supervisor John Stears, which we examined last week.

The Stears piece was indeed a fascinating, and fairly rare, interview. But there was some good content beyond that. 

‘Han Solo – Rogue Spacer’

The Star Wars Official Poster Monthly profile of Han Solo

After the fascinating look at Darth Vader’s story in issue two, the poster magazine turned its attention to Han Solo, in a profile by John May. 

Whereas the Vader article added some back story – drawing on an interview George Lucas had given to Rolling Stone – this one had no surprises to reveal. Instead, it did a good job of going over what was in the film and the Star Wars novel, and making it seem fresh.

It told us about Solo’s activity as a spice smuggler, and how he was in trouble with Jabba the Hut (one ‘T’, as it was commonly spelled back then). And it painted a pen portrait of his character. “What Solo lacks in finer feelings he makes up for in reckless courage and skill with his blaster. But when he and the Princess meet, sparks fly,” it said.

When dialogue was quoted, it was from the novel, rather than the film – suggesting, again, that the writers did not have a Star Wars screenplay to work from. For example, Solo’s line in the Death Star detention block, “Either I’m going to kill her or I’m beginning to like her”, becomes “Either I’m beginning to like her, or I’m going to kill her myself”.

Without any warning that we’re about to encounter spoilers, the article takes us all the way up to the end of the film, telling how Solo shoots Vader’s wing man out of the way so that Luke can fire his missile into the Death Star’s exhaust port.

It concludes: “So Han Solo, the reckless, greedy, sarcastic mercenary, showed that when the chips were down he was a friend you could count on.”

As I read that line again when researching this blog post, I realised something. I’m pretty sure I borrowed that turn of phrase in writing assignments at school. 

‘Robotics – from Artoos to Quasars’

The Star Wars Official Poster
 article on robotics

In a piece that drew heavily on knowledge of the world outside the film, the Dr M.F. Marten magazine examined the subject of androids.

About half the article was an analysis of the way the robots behaved in the film. Marten noted that Threepio was “a mass of human-analog feelings”, adding: “He worries about his old age, gets frightened of being deactivated or having his memory flushed, and suffers terrible anguish when he thinks his human friends are ding in the Death Star garbage disposal unit.”

But Marten managed to relate Star Wars to the real life state of computing and robotics:

“At first sight such machine emotion seems to be just a far-fetched trick to capture the hearts of the cinema-going public. In fat it is a realistic extrapolation of current trends in computer science. The image of the cold, unfeeling machine is false. Take the diagnostic computers already in service in many modern hospitals. They examiner the patient, question him about his symptoms, and are specially programmed to appear patient, tolerant and sympathetic.”

Modern robotics is by no means so far behind the Star Wars vision as people think. Robot vehicles traverse the wastes of the Antarctic and explore the depths of the oceans, robot planes spy on enemy armies, and robot landers (Vikings 1 & 2) investigate the terrain of Mars. Whatever their shape or purpose, these ar eintelligent machines, sensing and responding to their environment.” 
Psychiatrists in Florida were using paramedic robots to communicate with children, Marten said, while Maryland University had conducted experiments with android teachers.

And then came some really exciting stuff:
As for domestic chores, you’ll soon be able to buy a household robot called Quasar. A 13-stone, battery operated droid, it can serve dinner, op the floor, babysit, and walk the dog. It has a bubble for a head, two long arms, and enough reserve power to run a 60-watt bulb for 30 hours if there’s a blackout. Quasar also has a 250-word vocabulary and a choice of personalities. Its American inventor, Tony Reichelt, is planning to manufacture 125 Quasars a day within two years.
Forty years later, I can still remember reading out this passage to my mother, who was less thrilled than I expected about the prospect of a robot taking over the domestic drudgery. I thought this was pretty seismic news for a household which had yet to swap its twin-tub washing machine for an automatic. 
A 'real' robot
from Quasar

Sadly, it seems the Official Poster Monthly was one of several publications repeating claims that could not quite be supported. Tony Reichelt of Quasar Industries had indeed been showing off a domestic robot, usually referred to as Klatu; but according to people who have studied it, these demonstrations usually involved the robots being operated by remote control, with a human being speaking into a microphone to produce the voice.

One commenter who claims to have known him says Reichelt was a “lovable con man”. Someone else who was there says Quasar’ was actually involved in “the magic of remotely operated robots which delivered enjoyable interactive entertainment”.

Either way, I was a bit premature in anticipating the end of housework. 

Merchandise in Star Wars Official Poster Monthly #3

Merchandise from Star Wars Official Poster Monthly #3

For the first time, the back of the UK poster magazine offered a chance to buy some Star Wars merchandise, as well as subscribing to the magazine.

They were:

Badges – offering a choice of Obi-Wan, Artoo or Luke.

Patches – a choice of the Star Wars logo, “May the Force be with you” or “Brotherhood of Jedi Knights”. Any two badges or patches cost 50p.

T-shirts – Produced by Karjac and bearing a picture of Chewy (sic) and costing £2.50

Swat – Also from Karjac, for £2.50.

Blueprints – “Reproduced from the actual original plans form which the sets were constructed”. Including the Mos Eisley cantina, the Millennium Falcon cockpit and the Death Star interior. Fifteen blueprints for £3.60.

Books from Sphere – There was the Science Fiction Quiz Book, subtitled From The Blob to Star Wars. And, excitingly, there was Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. “Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, See Threepio and Artoo Detoo battle with Darth Vader in a spectacular new adventure!” £1.70 bought you both books.

I was not among those who sent off my cheque or postal order to Galaxy Publications in London NW6, although I did buy Splinter of the Mind’s Eye in a shop some time later. But like countless Star Wars fans, I spent a fair amount of time reading and re-reading those fascinating ads.

Do you have fond memories of the Star Wars Official Poster Monthly? I’d like to hear about them. Please comment below.


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