Being a proud member of the initial generation of Star Wars fans who marveled at the first film back in 1977, it's always nostalgic look back at that time, remembering those first releases of comics, books, novels, toys, and audio. One of the many Star Wars products to arrive in the late '70s was the latest in an ongoing line of Read-Along Adventures, released by Buena Vista Records (known here in the UK as Rainbow), which is part of Disney.
The format had been in existence since 1958, when Disneyland Records released their first large format record of Sleeping Beauty and soon a slew of Disney titles including Herbie and The Love Bug, Treasure Island, Frosty's Adventures in Wonderland and Pirates of the Carribean (based on the ride of course, not the film) were released. 1977 arrived, bringing with it Star Wars, and by 1979 (under
the freshly monickered Buena Vista Records label) the galaxy far, far away dropped into a million kids' cassette decks and record players.
The format was simple. A 24-page color book came packaged with either a cassette or a 7" vinyl record, and once opened the adventures could begin. Folks who listened to and read those early releases will fondly remember this introduction:
"This is the story of Star Wars. You can read along with me in your book. You will know it is time to turn the page when you hear Artoo-Detoo beep like this...LET'S BEGIN NOW."
While those early releases had some wayward vocal performances other than Luke, which was by far the best, they evoked the spirit and romance of the blockbuster they were based upon. And for kids in the late '70s without access to the film anywhere but on the big screen, this was a must-have. In 1979, the year the first book was published, the home video release was still three years away and the book gave a swift summary of the film as well as the movie's sound effects, John Williams music, great stills (some airbrushed by the great Ralph McQuarrie himself) and in its brief running time, it promised -- and always delivered -- a great adventure.
Just one year later and The Empire Strikes Back (151DC/BOW514) arrived, bringing a new story that once again summarized the epic film into 24 pages and 15 minutes. This time out the audio was cleaner, the performances much sharper -- especially an impressive Yoda -- and in its truncated format, it swiftly became an essential part of the wider audio Star Wars story.
In 1983 Return of the Jedi (152DC/BOW517) completed the original Star Wars trilogy and once again sales were stron,g and the quality of the audio had improved even further.
With strong sales, Buena Vista knew they were onto a good thing and so they mined the then-popular Marvel Comics stories for fresh adventures. The first in the Star Wars: The Further Adventures series, Droid World (153DC/BOW515) was adapted from issue 47 of Marvel's run, originally released in February 1981 and written by the legendary Archie Goodwin. This release was available in 7", 33 1/3 RPM and cassette format, all coming with a 24-page book with artwork by Dick Foes.
The much-loved Planet of the Hoojibs (154DC/BOW516), taken from Marvel's October 1981 issue, #55, "Plif!" written by David Michelinie came next, featuring lavish Greg Winters artwork and another great performance.
But expanding upon the wider Star Wars comics universe wasn't all Buena Vista was about. In 1983 it was clear that the Ewoks were a runaway hit, especially with the younger members of the audience, and so The Ewoks Join The Fight (160DC/BOW518) was released, adapting Random House's childrens book with art by Diana de Groat, telling the story of Return of the Jedi from the point of view of our diminutive and furry friends.
Just one year later, to accompany the record breaking showing of The Ewok Adventure (467, a.k.a. Caravan of Courage here in the UK), Buena Vista rolled out the Read-Along Adventure adaptation (in the States only, not in the UK) followed in 1985 by Ewoks: The Battle For Endor (470). Filled with hard-to-find images, these two adaptations of the television movies are among the very best of the releases and tough to locate.
Star Wars audio stories were at an end by 1985, as the Dark Times were about to begin -- but prior to that in 1984 two educational releases arrived in the USA. Star Wars: Adventures In Colors & Shapes (180DC) and Star Wars: Adventures In ABC (181DC) both featured Artoo and Threepio, educating youngsters in the basics of reading, shapes, and colors, continuing a series of releases since the '70s that had used the two droids to impart information to readers.
The success of this series launched a slew of other titles, including E.T, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Gremlins, Goonies, and Tron. Throughout the '80s and right up to the release of two Dick Tracy books in 1990, they were on shelves across the States and the UK, but by 1990 Buena Vista was no more, renamed once again -- this time to Disney Audio Entertainment. Major Disney releases continued to receive the Read-Along Adventure treatment, including Special Edition re-releases of the original trilogy and the first prequel The Phantom Menace.
With the swift turnaround of movies from screen to home video formats and downloads it's likely that the days of the Read-Along Adventure are over, but like 7" records, cassettes, and 8-tracks, they're a part of the fabric of Star Wars. The media may be retired, but the adventure is far from over.
Mark Newbold is a writer for Star Wars Insider and is the daily content editor and co-owner of Jedi News.co.uk. He is about to launch the new UK-centric podcast Radio 1138 with James Burns.