What were you doing on Wednesday, March 8, 1978? If you were around back then and living in the UK, there were a number of things you might have been doing. You could have been tuned into Radio 4 and listening to the very first episode of Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a show that changed radio dramas forever. You could have been listening to Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights,” the first self-penned single by a female artist to hit the top spot on the UK charts. You might have been “Taking A Chance On Me” with ABBA at no. 2, “Wishing On A Star” with Rose Royce at no. 4, or “Stayin’ Alive” with the Bee Gees at no 6. Wedged in at no. 34 between “The Floral Dance” by Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band and “Stained Class” by Judas Priest was the Star Wars Original Soundtrack, celebrating its eighth week on the chart.
On television, the fifth episode of Grange Hill saw Tricia have a crush on biology teacher Mr Rankin, and 15.9 million viewers saw the Wednesday episode of Coronation Street. In sports, Liverpool suffered their fourth defeat in five League games, losing 4-2 at Derby County to fall nine points behind Nottingham Forest.
Meanwhile in a galaxy far, far away, what were our star-hopping heroes up to? Let’s pay our 10p, turn the first page and find out.
The first thing we see is the regular Who’s Who, which takes a look at Luke, Ben, Leia, Artoo, Threepio, Vader, and Chewbacca, as well as the crew of the film in a mini-credits box. It’s always reassuring to see this right at the front of the comic, the stars who made the story come to life and the company releasing it, Twentieth Century Fox. Where else would a six-year-old learn the words “Panavision,” “Technicolor,” and “Prints By Deluxe?”
We rejoin the story as Luke and Ben encounter Han and Chewie in the cantina while Vader continues to try and break Leia’s will. The Millennium Falcon evades three rather small Imperial Star Destroyers before leaping into a distinctly psychedelic hyperspace.
You know the story of Star Wars so let’s advance to page 14 and…
…a classic double-page Palitoy advert shows us a juicy array of Star Wars goodies that kids could buy back in March ’78. We have the obligatory 3 ¾-inch Palitoy action figures, as well as the much-loved Escape from Death Star board game which “takes you through the thrills and spills of space adventure.” We also have the Star Wars keel kit, available in March “when the winds really begin to blow.” There’s the little seen Star Wars Poster Art Set, which allowed kids to color in big Star Wars scenes with felt pens, as well as Dip Dots and Playnts painting sets which gave kids the scope to make all manner of different pictures. Coming after Easter were Play-Doh modeling sets and Star Wars masks available in Darth Vader, See Threepio, Chewbacca, Stormtrooper, and Tuscan Raider (LOVE that spelling error, feels so Mediterranean).
Basically, anything with Palitoy attached to it is going to give UK fans a frisson of excitement, as that brand was closely associated with Star Wars from the late ’70s through the mid ’80s and double-spreads like this are a joy to behold.
Nestled among the pages of an action-packed Tales of the Galaxy lies a very unique opportunity: the chance to “WIN THE CAST OF STAR WARS IN MINIATURE!” Yes, issue no. 5 gave you the chance to win 25 sets of Palitoy’s 12 Star Wars figures. “Each set contains 12 characters, ranging from Darth Vader to Princess Leia. Four inches high, these authentic miniatures cost 99p each — that’s £11.88 per set!” The first 25 correct replies won a set of these figures. The questions were:
- Who is the writer/director of Star Wars?
- Which planet did R2D2 and C3PO eject to at the beginning?
- Who plays Princess Leia in the film?
- What is the name of the ship Han Solo flies?
- Who is Han’s co-pilot?
- What do Luke and Ben both believe in?
Not the toughest questions in 2015, but back in 1978 without the benefit of the Internet more than a few kids would have tripped up on some of those.
Page 22 brought The Sword in the Star (written by Bill Mantlo with art by Ed Hannigan, Craig Russell, and Rick Bryant), a sci-fi tale set on a distant world with a black wizard who jive talks like he’s just dropped in from an episode of Starsky and Hutch. Next up on the inside back page are a pair of Star Wars ads. The first gives us a taste of what’s to come the following week with a look at the Falcon approaching a uniquely drawn Death Star under the words “CAN LUKE AND HAN SAVE THE PRINCESS? WILL BEN MEET THE SINISTER DARTH VADER?” We’re then given the chance to win a whole host of galactic goodies while Threepio (remember, this is in the days before C.Y.R.I.L) invites us to send our letters via light speed to “Space Mail Sector Three.”
We’re also reminded that the 80-page Official Collectors Edition is still available for only 95p at your local newsagent with “PICTURES, INFORMATION, TECHNICAL DETAILS…in fact all you want to know about the making of Star Wars!” Marvel UK were masters in the art of “hatch, match, and dispatch,” and getting the right comic to the right people and self-promoting within their own titles was essential. Star Wars was saving Marvel as a company, and the savvy minds behind this and other weeklies were making the most of the white-hot interest in the film.
The back cover gives us the “Star Wars Foto Feature’” (back in the late ’70s in the UK, alliteration was practically a legal requirement in print and TV), a blue-tinged photo of the late Peter Cushing as ‘The Grand Moff Tarkin.” Mini features like this were essential to kids of the time wanting to soak up as much information as possible.
“The Grand Moff Tarkin, Regional Governor for the Imperial Empire. Answerable only to the Emperor himself, Governor Tarkin roams the universe seeking to destroy the Rebel Alliance.”
It’s worth noting the use of the word “universe” instead of “galaxy” back when the world of the saga was still being established. Also notice the mention of the Emperor, who was unseen but ever present throughout the events of the first film.
“He conceived and built the Death Star, the awesome battle station, for the sole purpose of inspiring fear in those who live under the iron rule of the Empire, so that they are discouraged from any uprising.”
That may have been giving Tarkin a little too much credit here, but it’s essentially correct as the purpose of the station was to strike fear into the hearts of the galaxy and discourage rebellion.
“Cold and ruthless, Governor Tarkin is the personification of evil, aided in his missions by Darth Vader, the sinister Dark Lord of the Sith.”
Here we can see that Vader is very much “the muscle,” while Tarkin’s brains and cold, calculating menace is the real threat in the movie. It’s not until the next two films that Vader’s power is elevated and his part in the grander scheme of things are revealed. At this time, Vader is a dark, menacing servant of evil while Tarkin is the puppet master.
So that wraps up issue no. 5. Let’s do the timewarp again next time as we take a look at issue no. 6 of UK Star Wars Weekly.
Mark has contributed to Star Wars Insider for almost a decade, is the owner of Jedi News, writes for the UK’s largest free newspaper The Metro and DeAgostini’s Build The Millennium Falcon magazine, and co-hosts RADIO 1138. He’s an honorary member of the UK Garrison, a friend of the Rebel 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.