Dark Times 10 – 1995 – Part 3

Richard Gere is lancing a lot in 1995. Unimpressed, Vader steps down from the billboards and charges an old best friend: ‘We meet again, film camera. When we last met, I was but a learner. Now I am the master!’.

As ominous as the tag line “The Original – One Last Time” undoubtedly was, it actually promised very good tidings for the Star Wars community. The 1995 video release purposefully asserted that Lucasfilm would employ the new technology created by ILM to enhance the OT in time for the 20th anniversary of ANH.

The unassuming new interview revered film critic Leonard Maltin had with George Lucas actually proved the little extra video content that could in that it drew the map of future corporate decisions.


Firstly, it divided the agendas of Lucasfilm into the prequel and the OT era, thus fulfilling what Gordon Radley had announced in 1993 (see LIFM#8).

Secondly, ILM was now officially charged with (continuously) updating and developing the look and feel of the (future) six-part saga. Whereas before novels and games had been created “around” the existing Star Wars films, the motion picture saga itself would henceforth also be streamlined to fit in with a cogent narrative whole (remember, by contrast, the Marvel comics of the 70ies, which featured random instances of utter design madness such as a mutant white rabbit as a bounty hunter).

When broken down further, one recognises the individual merchandise interests. The Prequel era, once entirely forbidden to authors other than George Lucas, had been gently evolved on the fringes of the upcoming new films. Lucasfilm smartly defined the proto-Star Wars era thousands of years before the Battle of Yavin as the granted storytelling canvas.

Although far removed storytelling-wise from the presumably bashful exploits of Ani and Obi, a mere whisper of the words Sith and Jedi was more spine tingling than one of Sidious’ handy lightning bolts. Publisher Dark Horse had built an industry on understanding the unpredictable developments of pop culture and thus instantly understood that this was a golden opportunity. Since 1993 they had been releasing the bestselling Tales of the Jedi, which had become a cornerstone of edgy comic book design by 1995. More spectacular, even, was their thrilling, super-charged depictions of ancient Jedi and Sith warriors such as Ullic Qel-Droma, Naga Sadow or Exar Kun.

20121208-224755.jpgThe Dark Horse and Lucasfilm liason clearly turned out a smart match: people gazed in awe at the feats performed by Jedi – and Sith – at the height of their prime, without Lucas having to give away a single story beat from the Prequels – although, in fact, 1995’s Sith War series did introduce the world’s first double bladed lightsabre as evil Exar Kun’s weapon of choice…

As several thousands of years separated the comic books and novels from Lucasfilm’s upcoming production, news from either end of the prequel-spectrum could neatly complement and even sparked the fire of the franchise further: a swiftly rising number of people subscribed to the official Star Wars Insider, featuring Rick McCallum and his regular Prequel Updates.

Star Wars was indeed in demand and the chase was on to afford every marketing step as global an impact as possible. The members-only Lucasfilm Fan Club Magazine was initially given the bold, new name Star Wars Insider and transformed into a quarterly publications readily available at newsstands. When sales proved brisk, Lucasfilm awarded licenses to German, French and British publishers to create, in conjunction with national fan clubs, specifically localised versions of Star Wars Insider. Together, they today cover virtually the whole world, acting as outsourced public relations offices specialised in inside Lucasfilm-related information.

Collection of Star Wars / Lucasfilm Fan Club magazines
Lucasfilm expands its fanzine operations to satisfy ravenous global interest with American, British, French and German editions (l to r) encircling the original Lucasfilm Fan Club Magazine, the successor to Lucasfilm’s Bantha Tracks.

Every incarnation of an authorised fan club magazine was built on an autonomous, local editorial department and merchandise shop, with specific sections exclusively created by Lucasfilm staff for simultaneous publication in all magazine versions. One such section has always been Rick McCallum’s regular interview. He would basically report directly from the field, capably creating interest, anticipation and excitement months, even years before the subject of his elaborations would see the light of day. Yet his section was as much about Star Wars as it was about consummate filmmaking.

Clip from Star Wars Inside, Summer 1995, Prequel Update with Rick McCallum
Rick McCallum enjoys warm welcomes at Star Wars Insider. Note how the section had by then transformed from the sequel to the Prequel Update.

For apart from the required tub-thumping, Rick freely infuses his remarks with his expertise as a professionally trained film producer, allowing for insights deep behind the scenes of a typically tight-lipped trade that are universally exciting. Such capably presented content made the fan club magazines instantly recognisable as quality publications.

The first major area of focus for the Star Wars magazines concerned the OT. The Prequels were far too high profile and sensitive a subject to be openly discussed, so the announcement of special editions of the classic Star Wars films worked as the perfect smoke screen. The promise of new footage featured in the beloved original trilogy was not only sumptuous but outright brilliant: while virtually impossible for anyone outside the Ranch to imagine the visuals of the planned Prequels in any meaningful fashion, it was exciting fun to wonder what Lucas and McCallum wanted to see “fixed”. What furthermore made intrigued interest bubble over into frenetic anticipation was one easily overlooked fact: (new) Star Wars footage was not simply a rarity, it was a matter of sheer impossibility. This was quite intentional.

The Dark Side of the CD-ROM-based full-motion video game craze of the early 90ies had indeed proven tempting: after years of ridicule at LucasArts’ apparent incapability to exploit the Star Wars universe along these lines, Chris Roberts of Origin System added insult to injury with the third instalment in the Wing Commander-series. The game worked as a veritable mini-movie and starred none other than Mark Hamill. The so-called “cut-scenes” of all LucasArts titles had consistently seemed comparatively pedestrian and now appeared blatantly outdated next to Origin’s Heart of the Tiger[/url] (see X-Wing, LIFM#7, TIE-Fighter, LIFM#9 and Dark Forces, LIFM#10, Pt. 1).

Clip from Variety, Summer 1995, Section "Lost and Found" - Spaced Out - Mark Hamill
George is altering the deal: Wing Commander Mark Hamill does make a comeback, but not in a galaxy far, far away

George Lucas nevertheless could not have been more relaxed and naturally invited Mark Hamill over for dinner to congratulate him on the 100 Million Dollar success that was Origin’s Heart of the Tiger. Not only had LucasArts recently been named the “#1 PC Games Publisher” by the industry’s primary market research report PC Data, but Lucas knew full well that his self-imposed restraint on validating a ticket on the multimedia video bandwagon paid off handsome dividends. With all the tid-bits Lucasfilm had officially planted in the media over the years, the world now was more desperately craving for new Star Wars footage than C3-PO in search of a much-needed oil-bath: “George, with cunning hast thou filched your fandom’s heart”.

The well-patterned resurgence of Star Wars had rested on a sensible diet of sporadic media events and coinciding product releases. Overexposure had to be avoided at all costs, for the world was meant to re-discover Star Wars virtually by itself. Now that the public was once again perfectly ingrained in his saga, George Lucas, for the first time since Star Tours (1987), allowed new live action footage to be filmed, with pal Hal Barwood at the helm and none other than Darth Vader in front of the camera!


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