40 years ago Stars Wars opened in the UK

On the 27th December 1977 Star Wars opened to a British audience who had spent months waiting for the film to hit British cinemas, but in those long months from the film opening in the USA in May of that year to the UK opening, fans had plenty to keep them going.

Today a big blockbuster opens wordwide generally at the same time, or even places like the UK get say, a Marvel film, a week or two before our American cousins. In the 70’s a film would take on average six months between American and British openings, and even then it’d likely be a limited release so London, Glasgow, Birmingham, and the larger cities before it opened in the smaller cities and towns.

For those of us who managed to get hold of American magazines like Famous Monsters, we were teased something we’d not see for months, but for many British SF fans the one thing we had was the novelisation by George Lucas.

Also one of the biggest effects the original Star Wars had on the UK was the launch of 2000AD in the February of 1977 so by the time of the film’s release that December, 2000AD was firmly established and its readership lapped up the comic’s publicity for the new film.

We also had the Marvel Comics adaptation. Not the black and white weekly which didn’t launch in the UK til February 1978, but the American issues, well, some of them at least as we never had the first issue distributed in the UK but we did have the second to the sixth issue distributed. The reason for this was that Marvel’s US style comics were restricted in distribution with only 15-20 titles per month deemed fit for UK distribution as Marvel UK’s reprints would be printing Spider-Man, Hulk, Avengers and other titles which mean large runs of US Marvel Comics in the 70’s and 80’s are ‘non-distributed’ so are scarcer in the UK than they may be in the US. We did however get the treasury editions (large over-sized comics) of the film adaptation.

Eventually though December rolled round and the film finally opened, well, for those of us living in cities like Glasgow or London , and we finally saw what the fuss was all about. Of course the film was a huge success as it had been in the US, but it took time to spread across the UK which is why Star Wars (later Episode IV: A New Hope) had incredibly long runs at cinemas in most of the UK’s big cities.

Upon the film’s release the floodgates opened as magazines like Dez Skinn’s Starburst tried to cash in on the film…

While Marvel UK finally released their black and white reprints of the comic adaptation…

I loved my little paper X-Wing Fighter!

Even the late Barry Norman liked it.

The rest is of course history. The film seeped its way across the UK and wherever it went it brought the huge queues that’d been part of the film’s history since it’d opened just after Christmas 1977. See this was the thing; you had to work to get most things Star Wars related. You had to search out the comics before Marvel UK released their version. You had to hunt out the few toys that sneaked over the Atlantic that Christmas. As for the film, in the few cinemas it was opening in they’d sold out tickets months prior, so like me you waited in the cold as wee child to see a film you’d waited to see for nearly a year, then you felt you’d earned it. Though to be honest I prefer popping online and booking tickets. Far easier…

So remember when you’re moaning that you have to wait a week for a Big American Blockbuster opening what it was like in the analogue days when seeing these films involved a lot of patience because if you didn’t have that then you’d go insane with the wait.

Ah, simpler times…

Looking back at the Star Wars saga: Part Two: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi

In the first part of my rewatching the Star Wars films I endured the prequel trilogy¬†again, something I’m not going to put myself through again in a hurry. Moving on quickly to the original trilogy, and the first film, Star Wars, or A New Hope if you’re a proper pedantic fan.

If you look at the first film it’s an amazingly simple film, but it isn’t. Creator George Lucas puts together a perfect faiytale fantasy that does what it does not simply, because that wouldn’t have worked. No, Lucas creates archetypes that are casted so well so the actors help tell the story, so we know Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker is a dreamer. We know Princess Leia played by Carrie Fisher is a smart, tough fighter. We know right away that Alec Guinness is a wise old man, or that Harrison Ford’s Han Solo is a bit of rough but has a soul deep down.

The casting is perfect. Yes, the pace of the film itself is slow compared to 21st century film, but again, it’s this pacing that works. It’s asking questions of the audience as it’s constantly dropping lines that tell of a larger world but we don’t know anything of this world and that allows our imagination to run riot. One of the best examples of this is the initial conversation between Luke and Ben where the Clone Wars, Jedi Knights, lightsabres, the Force, the Empire and Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker are all introduced to the viewer

As a scene it’s brilliant. It’s probably the most important bit of world building and exposition in any of the films, but it’s sold by Hamill’s naive innocence and Guinness’s sincerity. In fact the ensemble casting is probably the best you’ll ever see in any film but it’s Alec Guinness that’s important because if Lucas hadn’t got someone of that quality as Obi Wan Kenobi then it’d have ended up failing.

Star Wars is genius. Watched at the right age it will swallow you alive because there’s so much to explore in this world, plus the good guys win and at the end the beautiful princess stands over all our heroes. The End.

To this day I remember that cold December 1977 night in Glasgow where myself and my parents queued for hours, and I mean hours, in the bitter cold waiting to get to see what was by then a phenomenon. It was a fantastic experience and I’ll never forget that night but what Star Wars does is to teach you to try and how to win. It’s overwhelmingly positive. The next film isn’t.

Sure, The Empire Strikes Back is a great SF adventure film but it’s also a film where we see our heroes lose over and over again. By the end, Luke’s been maimed and beaten by Darth Vader, Han’s been captured by Boba Fett and is being taken to Jabba the Hutt, the rebellion has been scattered and humbled by the Empire. All those heroes we loved at the end of the previous films are beaten at some point in this one.

The Empire Strikes Back is the substance of the Star Wars story. It’s ‘dark’ but if Star Wars is the heart of the saga, then Empire is the brain. It explains the entire plot, the backstory and reveals that everything isn’t as we thought. In short it’s a bit like how things are in life which for a child is a major revelation. Forget for a minute that Empire has some amazing setpieces including the best lightsabre fight of all the films, it’s a serious film if you can say such a thing about a fantasy faiytale.

There’s good reason as to why this is considered the best film in the saga by so many people. It’s because it is. It also sets up the climax in such a way that at the end of the film you wanted it to be 1983 there and then but to a kid in 1980 that wait was utterly agonising. I don’t think people today realise how that three year wait made people go mental waiting for the big ending of the saga.

That big ending came in 1983 with Return of the Jedi. Now Jedi gets a lot of stick mainly because of the bloody Ewoks, but for a film that is essentially giving over half it’s running time to a Big Climax split between the battle in space, the battle on Endor and the battle between Luke, Darth Vader and the Emperor, it ties things up well.

But, those bloody Ewoks. They’re annoying. Best to ignore them and enjoy Return of the Jedi for the rollicking good fun it is. It doesn’t stop apart from maybe three, or four scenes of exposition before it gets back to the action so by the time the second Death Star is destroyed and the Empire defeated (or so we think) we’re satisfied. Now Return of the Jedi isn’t the best Star Wars film, but it’s the most action packed, and ultimately we though in 1983 that this was the end, though Lucas had made it clear he’d do episodes 1-3 at some point and we knew how badly that turned out.

The original trilogy is glorious though. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen all three original films. I don’t particularly care as every time it’s fun not to mention it’s an easy and simple way to relive a part of childhood which is the key to Star Wars. It captures childhood at whatever point you see it like an insect trapped in amber which for me is why people go back to these films again and again. You can have the years slip back easily so you’re young again.

And in four or five days time the next Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, opens and we’ll get to see if director J.J Abrams manages to recapture what the prequels couldn’t and give us a glimpse of what it’s like to be young while setting things up for a new trilogy.

I hope he does. It’ll be nice to have a bit of shamelessly nostalgic fun and I’m going to be queuing to see this one along with millions of people worldwide next Thursday.

Just please don’t fuck it up!