In an age where Star Wars news moves as fast as hungry rathtars rolling downhill, it’s always interesting to cast the (holo)net back almost four decades to the late ’70s, specifically 1978, and look at where the world was at the time. The magic of Star Wars had gripped the planet and, apart from a few gentle changes in pressure here and there over the past 40 years, it’s never let go.
On Wednesday 5th April 1978, UK fans were able to grab the 9th issue of the now BIG selling Star Wars Weekly. Throwing down their 10p, generation one UK Star Wars fans could take home a treasure trove of info, action, and opportunities. In the days before Walkmans became a “thing” and where many homes still had a record player sat in their sideboards, millions were tuning in to national Radio One on 1214 medium wave to listen to “Matchstalk Men” and “Matchstalk Cats And Dogs” by Brian and Michael at number one, while 20 Golden Greats by Buddy Holly and the Crickets sat on top of the UK album chart — ahead of ABBA The Album at 2, The Kick Inside by Kate Bush at 3, and John Williams’ Star Wars soundtrack re-entering the charts at number 55. The Wednesday edition of Coronation Street would pull in a now humongous 17,450,000 viewers and two days later on Friday 7th April, President Jimmy Carter would halt production of the dreaded neutron bomb.
But you’re not reading this for a history lesson; you want to know what was happening between the pages of the 9th issue of Star Wars Weekly. Behind a very colorful cover splashed with hyperbolic statements — AND NOW—STAR STRIKE!, SEE: LUKE’S FIRST SKY BATTLE!, SEE: PRINCESS LEIA AND CHEWBACCA UNDER ATTACK, and best of all, SEE: DARTH VADER SET THE TRAP OF DOOM! The greatest space fantasy film of all was still in its infancy and in the classic Marvel manner the more bombastic the better. Hey, it worked!
Step inside and we have the obligatory Who’s Who In Star Wars, although with a slight change. While covering the same characters as before, the background is now a photo of the Jawas taking Artoo into the sandcrawler and the small credits bubble listing the main cast and crew is no longer there. Nevertheless, over time those names and faces would become synonymous with the blockbuster boom of the late 70s and early 80s and, in forthcoming issues Star Wars Weekly, would play a sizeable role in making sure readers knew exactly who they were.
Hopping a page in to the story so far we get a potted summary of where we find our heroes and villains. The capture of Leia, the two droids, the flight to Alderaan and its destruction. We see Kenobi struck down by Vader as he roars, “I am the master now! I…Darth Vader!” and watch the Falcon rocket away from the Death Star as Leia consoles a heartbroken Luke Skywalker. Make like Bob Seger in ‘72 and turn the page to “Baptism of Star-Fire” (American readers will remember the same artwork under the headline “Lo, The Moons of Yavin”), as our heroes escape from a phalanx of TIE fighters, replete with conehead pilots (maybe Chaykin and Leialoha had been watching Saturday Night Live a couple of weeks before on 18th March 1978, and the sketch ‘The Coneheads On Earth’), and jump to hyperspace only to lead their enemies to the hidden Rebel base on Yavin. It’s fewer pages from the adaptation than we have become used to, perhaps indicating that Marvel not only knew they had a long-term title on their hands but also that we were only a handful of weeks away from leaping beyond the movie and into the earliest steps of what would become the EU and, decades later, Legends.
One of the very first branded collectibles available, the Letraset range was a must-have for kids of all ages, allowing you to place your favorite characters on a wide range of backgrounds and images. Here we were given the chance to write in and win one of 50 packs, with the first 50 correct answers winning the prize. Note that there were still plenty of spelling errors back then (“Storm Troopers,” “C3PO,” “R2D2,” etc.) and you only had two weeks to get your entries in. We might not have had instant communication via social media like we do today, but that didn’t mean the world moved any slower — just differently. Add your name, address, and age and you were in with a chance of winning. Who could resist?
The next page features a perennial fixture of the Marvel UK era, the Foto Feature. This time we have a fearsome stormtrooper, the unseen face of the Empire and the drones who carried out the Emperor’s evil will. With in-universe information scarce, pieces such as this were hugely helpful. Here we’re told that stormtroopers wear “heavy, bulky armourplate” and won’t hesitate to kill if ordered to do so. The armor was designed to strike fear in their enemies and recruits are taken from worlds under the rule of the Empire.
Out on the edge of the Outer Rim, Tatooine was too remote to be of any concern to the Empire and yet young Luke dreamed of leaving his uncle’s farm for the Imperial Academy. Anything to escape the drudgery of a moisture farmer’s life. In a galaxy brimming with unremarkable worlds like Tatooine, the allure of seeing the galaxy in the service of the Empire was often the only choice.
The rest of the issue is occupied by two further instalments in the Tales of the Galaxy series “Crisis of the Gods” by Doug Moench, Alex Nino, and Roy Thomas, and “Path to the Stars” by Bill Mantlo, Ed Hannigan, Craig Russell, Rick Bryant, and soon-to-be Star Wars legend Archie Goodwin. However, the very center of the issue holds a real treasure. Check out the above “Star Wars Collector’s Pin Up,” with art by Tony DeZuniga. Clearly not a scene from the film, although an amalgam of various moments, we see Obi-Wan swing his lightsaber into a crowd of very unfamiliar aliens. Some look like Thanos, some like Modok, and others like Skrulls, but none like the denizens of the Mos Eisley cantina, where the only similar scene took place. Luke has blaster in hand, as does Solo, while Chewbacca throws an unfortunate alien high over his head as what appears to be the interrogation probe from the Death Star hovers outside.
In ‘78, this was absolute gold dust and would have adorned the walls of many a Star Wars kid’s wall. Check back soon as we take another trip through the time tunnel to April of ’78 and issue 10 of UK Star Wars Weekly.
Mark has contributed to Star Wars Insider since 2006, is the owner of Jedi News, writes for DeAgostini’s Build The Millennium Falcon partwork magazine and co-hosts RADIO 1138 and Take Cover on the Jedi News Network. He’s an honorary member of both the Rebel Legion and the Rebel Legion UK as well as the UK Garrison of the 501st Legion and when he’s not talking, tweeting or writing about Star Wars he can usually be found sleeping where he’ll most likely be dreaming about Star Wars.