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Tiny 1979 Article About "The Empire Strikes Back"

CFQ cover - forbidden planet HLINEOne great thing about looking through old magazines is reading about something we now know to be a big deal, before anyone knew it was going to be a big deal. I was thumbing through the spring 1979 issue of Cinefantastique - one of the most consistently outstanding sci fi film and tv magazines until it ceased publication in 2006. I bought the issue because of the lengthy cover story about Forbidden Planet (a film that I occasionally become obsessed with to this day).

The Forbidden Planet article was fascinating, but also fascinating were the tiny little blind items sprinkled through the magazine about upcoming genre films. In one of the margins was this modest little tidbit...

The Empire Strikes Back in 1980
Lando coffeeShooting title of the Star Wars sequel is "The Empire Strikes Back" which began filming on March 5 in Finse, Norway, on locations which will double as for an ice-covered planet. Directing is Irvin Kershner from a script by Larry Kasdan and the late Leigh Brackett. The recent casting a black actor Billy Dee Williams is a revealing move, executive producer George Lucas' token gesture to those who objected to Star Wars' lily-white universe.
Makeup artist Stuart Freeborn, assisted by his wife and son, is creating a mechanically-operated puppet, described as a 3 1/2 foot tall alien who looks like a "wizened old man, human-like, very ancient and wrinkled. Motivated via a series of offstage wires, this creature is important in teaching Luke Skywalker about the mysteries of "The Force".
A miniature land vehicle to be used with animated people inside it is part of the stop motion effects to be supplied by John Berg and Phil Tippett. The film will be released by 20th Century Fox in 1980.

Tippet ad bergNot exactly breathless with excitement, are they? This may seem a timid description of the sequel to "Star Wars", but audiences really didn't know what to expect. This issue is from 1979, only 2 years after the release of "Star Wars". After the success of the first film, Lucas opened up a bit about Star Wars being just one chapter in a "saga"... but in the movie biz that's just called a "sequel", and sequels didn't traditionally perform as well as the original. For this reason, even after the dramatic worldwide success of Star Wars, Lucas had difficulty raising the money he wanted for Empire. Few wanted to bank on a sequelYoda_2 to what they saw as a fluke hit (releasing blockbuster films in the summer wasn't even popularized yet), especially when the sequel was going to be so expensive.

We all know what happened. "Empire" turned out to be the best film in the series (remember how innocent we all were when we thought that "Return of the Jedi" was the suckiest Star Wars movie?), and Lucas could go on to make any movie he wanted. Like "Howard The Duck", but that's another story.

Confirmation of Star Wars' staying power was still a year away from that issue of Cinefantastique. Before modern-day spoiler alerts, internet script leaks, and trailers that ruin any sense of surprise or suspense, back then we had to rely on genre magazines to report on even the tiniest morsels of info about these films that would go on to change the movie business forever.

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