Friday, August 6, 2010

Great Moments in Movie Spoiler History: The Empire Strikes Back



Being the pack rat that I am, I was digging through my old Star Wars print paraphernalia the other day when I found issue 41 of Prevue magazine from 1980 that was devoted to the then-upcoming release of the eagerly anticipated Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. This Prevue issue featured interviews with director Irvin Kershner, production designer Ralph McQuarrie, Star Wars creator George Lucas, and Al Williamson, the artist who worked on Marvel Comics' adaptation of Empire. The issue also had a fantastic wrap-around cover by graphic artist Jim Steranko, who was also the editor of Prevue. (Sadly, because I was just a wee lad when I got this issue, I didn't think to protect this super-awesome cover from the ravages of time.) To view and/or download images of this issue's cover and interviews, continue reading past the jump.

Yet what really makes this issue a treasure for Star Wars fans is not just the magazine's content, but a tantalizing bit from Prevue's letters to the editor. While I didn't understand it at the time due to my very young, innocent age, it appears that the plot developments and major relevations in Empire--particularly Han Solo's capture and Darth Vader's true identity as Luke Skywalker's father--were in the process of being spoiled for the public at the time of this issue's publication. Read on...

In the age of the Internet, movie spoilers are a dime a dozen (probably even cheaper than that). But back in the days when fantasy, horror and science fiction film buffs had nothing but print media and fan conventions from which to get their latest film production news, spoilers probably weren't nearly as common--or, if they were, they spread at a much, much slower speed. Nevertheless, this letter to the editor of Prevue sounds like someone (Tracy Duncan from Oregon, to be exact) got quite an earful about the first Star Wars sequel and it scared her, enough to prompt her to write to the magazine in the hopes of allaying her fears. Click the image below to see a full version of the Prevue page which features the letter, under "The Star Wars Rumors" heading.


We all know how this particular chapter of the Star Wars franchise went: Empire was a blockbuster hit, fans were shocked about Han Solo's successful capture by Boba Fett and Darth Vader's true identity, and Kenner continued to sell tons upon tons of Star Wars toys as audiences waited for the conclusion of the trilogy in Return of the Jedi. Yet in light of everything that has happened in the Star Wars franchise after Empire, between then and now, this letter gives a tantalizing glimpse of some aspects of the fan community during the very early days of Star Wars:

  • For starters, it showed that Star Wars had the ability to generate a passionate--and at times, obsessive--fan community among a wide age group even at the very beginning, long before it became a complete trilogy (and certainly long, long before feature-length angry fan tirades such as The People vs. George Lucas). This has always amazed me, since my Star Wars geekhood began before I was in kindergarten.
  • This letter is the first example I've seen where a Star Wars fan suggests that a Star Wars movie may be inappropriate for children. I've lost track of how many times I've heard someone argue that a particular general-audience-friendly movie, TV show, comic book or video game is inappropriate for children. Yet to see it applied by a fan to Star Wars--a franchise that is infamous for appealing to children and their parents' disposable income--is pretty funny, primarily because almost all of the reasons cited by the fan as to why Empire might be unsuitable for kids actually did happen in the film and parents nevertheless took their kids to see it in droves without thinking twice. (Then again, my grandmother was shocked when she took me to the first Star Wars movie in '77 and saw the opening scene where a group of Stormtroopers ruthlessly gun down a spaceship full of Rebel soldiers. She still bought Star Wars stuff for me anyway.)
  • David Prowse's open resentment of how he was treated by Lucas and the Star Wars franchise in general--that he was never considered to provide the voice of Vader, that he got the nickname "Darth Farmer" from the Star Wars crew because of his accent, that he didn't get to play the unmasked Vader in Return of the Jedi, etc.--has become common knowledge among Star Wars fans. More recently, Prowse has even said that Lucasfilm has banned him from appearing at any future official Star Wars events. Yet if this letter is to be believed, this is the first time I've heard that Prowse was leaking spoilers to the Star Wars fan community as early as pre-Empire, suggesting that the tension between Lucas and Prowse goes back to before the first sequel itself. 
That said, I wonder if this particular fan letter and the spoilers it details had an impact on Prevue's coverage of Empire. For example, if you look closely at the magazine images posted below, you'll notice that there are no pictures (either photos or concept art) of Yoda and the planet Dagobah, and the articles only make fleeting references to Yoda. Yes, Boba Fett appears frequently in the Empire spread, but by then Fett was no secret: he was already featured in the notorious Star Wars Holiday Special and was the subject of Kenner's first exclusive action figure mail-away campaign for its Star Wars toy line. I'm guessing that Yoda was kept under wraps in Prevue largely in response to the spoiler leak, so that the fans would still have something to be surprised by when watching Empire even if they did know about the spoilers. The staff of Prevue were in contact with Lucasfilm and they were probably encouraged to run the letter in order to help diffuse the spoiler leak--note how the response to the letter does what it can to deny the accuracy of the spoilers, albeit in a vague, suggestive sort of way. Of course, this is just speculation.

(Yes, there are Yoda and Dagobah pictures from the Empire comic book in the Williamson interview, but the pictures are framed vaguely enough to be unclear as to what they really are. Furthermore, Williamson's interview was placed separately from the rest of the Empire content in Prevue--the Empire spread ran from pages 28 to 47, while the Williamson piece was on pages 68 and 69--suggesting some kind of attempt at disassociation or misdirection on Prevue's part.)

Prevue's complete Empire spread can be seen and downloaded by clicking the images below. Unfortunately, I lost the special full color bonus portfolio of additional McQuarrie art for Empire years ago. I also don't have the follow-up Prevue issue, which featured the answer to this question posed to direclty to George Lucas: Where do you see Star Wars thirty years from now? Since "thirty years from now" would be now, summer of 2010, I'd be curious to see how the original answer provided by Lucas compares to the Star Wars franchise as we know it today. Not to worry, though--back issues of Prevue are still available through the online catalog at the Prevue site, including a sale of all nine of the Star Wars issues, which span the original trilogy, for only $30. Nice!


























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