Retrospective: Time Magazine, May 19, 1980

September 21, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Posted in Miscellaneous | 2 Comments

For awhile now (it seems like forever) I’ve been in the process of moving and downsizing.  Packing to move is bad enough; add downsizing to that and it becomes a real pain.  However, there is an upside.  Besides divesting yourself of a lot of “stuff” you just really don’t need (I call it the modified Jedi possessions plan), you can come across some treasures you forgot you had.

Yesterday I came across a treasure: my May 19, 1980 issue of Time magazine.  Emblazoned on the cover is the iconic Darth Vader and the words, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK!  Yep my copy of Time’s ESB issue, 2 days before the movie premiered.  Now I saw that movie in Hollywood at the Egyptian Theater (where it premiered) the week it came out.  In fact I stood in line for 3 hours with my future ex-husband to see that movie.  It was quite an experience and I still remember the cheering as our heroes made their appearance, the booing for Vader and the Dead Silence as the movie ended.  Boy, had Lucas slapped us with some shockers and an ending that was not an ending at all.  This was not the Star Wars we’d seen and fallen in love with three years before.  Hoping to recapture the feel of 30 years ago I reread the article and got more than I bargained for — in a good way. 

There aren’t a lot of people like me (or I haven’t run into them) who saw the OT in the theater as adults and are still hanging around in the fandom.  What can I say?  Star Wars had me at the Millennium Falcon’s jump to light speed and I was in love.  It’s the one love affair of mine that’s actually lasted.  Like a loyal lover I’m not judgmental about the movies (not much anyway) and I do like the prequel trilogy.  To get some perspective on what it was like to be there at the time here are some interesting and fun facts written at the time that ESB came out.  What follows are direct quotes from the article by Gerald Clarke.  Some of these quotes dispel retcons and myths that have sprung up in that last 30+ years.

1.  This sequel to Star Wars, which easily toppled Jaws as the most successful movie in Hollywood history, opens in Britain and in 125 theaters around the U.S. on May 21, and that is not a millisecond too soon for those children, everybody under the age of 90, who have been waiting since 1977 to find out what happens next.

2.  Kershner added his own touches, such as softer, more reflected lighting than the direct light Lucas employed in Star Wars.  But he was always operating with Lucas’ story, and he knew that Lucas, diffident as he was, was looking over his shoulder.  If Lucas was in California, a videotape of the rushes was flown from London after each day’s shooting.

3.  After the success of Star Wars, which cost $10.5 million to make and has so far grossed more than $400 million at box offices worldwide, he (George Lucas) does not have to explain anything — ever.  After the theater owners took their share, 20th Century -Fox took its piece, and advertising and distribution costs were subtracted, Lucas came away from Star Wars with about $51 million on papers, or 40% of the $128 million in net profits.  To get the $128 million he wanted, however, he gave away through negotiation a quarter of his profits.  Guinness, for example, received, apart from his salary, 2 1/4% of the film’s net — or points, as they are called, which later added up to $2,880,000.  Then Lucas, who is remarkably generous, voluntarily gave away another 25% of his profits.  Someone like Carrie Fisher, who had been given a salary but no points in her contract, received one-quarter of 1% ($64,000).  Some employees in Lucas’ office, who had nothing at all to do with the movie, got a minimum of one two hundredth of 1% ($6,400).  At the end, with other deductions, Lucas came out with somewhere between $22 million and $26 million for himself.  When the IRS left, that was reduced to $12 million.  That’s still a lot of money, but Lucas used just about all of it as collateral to borrow the $22 million ultimately needed to make The Empire.  He says he kept only $50,000 or so for his own living expenses.  “The truth is that I’m very overextended right now.”

4.  The very first surprise in The Empire Strikes Back comes in the opening credits: the movie is identified as Episode V.  Since it is the immediate sequel to the original Star Wars, that opus has been retitled Star Wars: Episode IV, raising a meteor shower of questions.  The answers: Lucas has begun his space saga in the middle, and both pictures are the centerpieces of a projected nine-part series.  The remaining movies, fore and aft, have not yet been laid out in detail, but Lucas has the framework, a kind of history of what happened in that galaxy long ago and far away.  A preview:

For years the universe was governed by a republic, which was regulated by the order of Jedi Knights, who bore a vague resemblance to Japanese Samurai warriors.  But eventually the citizens of the republic “didn’t care enough to elect competent officials,” says Lucas, the historian, and so their government collapsed.  A sorcerer, a bad counterpart of Yoda, blocked all opposition and declared himself Emperor.  He was not seen in Star Wars: Episode IV, but makes a brief appearance in The Empire.

The Emperor subverts Darth Vader to his side, and together he and Vader betray the other Knights, nearly all of whom are killed in their trap.  Ben Kenobi escapes, and after a fierce struggle he does such injury to Vader that forever after Vader must wear a mask and that noisy life-support system.  The fall of the republic and the rise of the empire will form the first of Lucas’ three trilogies.

The second trilogy, which opens with Star Wars: Episode IV, centers on Luke Skywalker, who will be seen as a child in Episode III.  The empire continues the Skywalker story, and Episode VI, the next film to be made, which will be called the Revenge of the Jedi, will end it, with either Luke or Darth Vader walking away from their final bout.  The last three episodes involve the rebuilding of the republic.

Only two of the main characters will appear in all nine films, and they are the robots.  Artoo Detoo and Threepio.  Says Lucas: “In effect, the story will be told through their eyes.”

I hope you’ve gotten a glimpse of what it was like to “be there when it happened”.  If you can get your hands on a copy of the May 19, 1980 issue of Time, enjoy the read.  Just don’t ask me for mine; you’re not getting it.

Posted by Synlah for Roqoo Depot


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  1. Man… I’m speechless. What a walk down memory lane I guess. That was, hands down, the best piece we’ve ever run. If you find anymore treasures in the attic, do share them with us.

  2. That was a pretty good article, Syn. Nice find.

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