Welcome to a look Inside the Holocron. A collection of articles from the archives of *starwars.com no longer directly available.
(*Archived here with Permission)
The Empire Strikes Back Theatrical Experience
When The Empire Strikes Back arrived in U.S. movie theaters on May 21, 1980, audiences may have been pleasantly surprised to discover that the theater they’d seen Star Wars in three years earlier was now upgraded to showcase Dolby-encoded stereo prints, or better yet, Six-Track Dolby Stereo 70mm prints. Star Wars had proven that a theater’s aural presentation was a marketable asset, so many theater owners came prepared to dazzle their audiences with superior sound and image resolution for the saga’s first sequel.
Like Star Wars, though, the real experience of Empire started in the theater lobby. All the posters, lobby cards, displays, and concession premiums were back for the Star Wars sequel, setting the stage for the audience’s return to that galaxy far, far away.
For Empire, benefit and premiere screenings were much more prevalent than they had been for Star Wars, and consequently, a large number of collectible tickets were produced. Tickets for the national children’s premiere in Washington D.C. were printed on shiny reflective stock, while those issued to the press were often a bare-bones presentation of title and venue. The benefit premiere tickets, however, often came in small glossy-stock folders with a second invitation for lunch or dinner, both embossed with the Empire title in silver.
Like Star Wars, a variety of posters were produced for Empire in the classic insert, half-sheet, one-sheet, 30″x40″, and two-sheet sizes. Roger Kastel’s stunning “Gone With The Wind”-inspired artwork for Empire became an instant classic when it was displayed in theaters during the opening weeks, beautifully depicting the icy tones of Hoth amid luminous auroras and a classically-composed Han/Leia embrace. These were quickly replaced by Tom Jung’s more traditional Style “B” the following month, however, when the campaign messaging shifted from romance to action. Interestingly, Yoda would not appear on an Empire poster until the film’s re-release in July, 1981, and again in November, 1982.
Because there was much more public awareness for Empire than there had been for Star Wars, some theaters printed up special premiere posters exclusive to their venues. Though not “official” release posters, they are notable for their historical interest, preserving the date, time and venue of early screenings.
Empire produced an assortment of lobby cards nearly identical to that of Star Wars, with the exception of two extra 20″x30″ scene cards (one of which displayed vertically — unusual for the traditionally horizontal format). The breakdown consisted of eight white-bordered or unbordered 8″x10″ mini cards, eight bordered/unbordered 11″x14″ standards, six 12″x17″ portrait cards (also available on a large uncut sheet), four 16″x20″ scene cards, and four 20″x30″ scene cards (Star Wars had two). (Collectors note: Traditionally, the National Screen Service, or NSS, printed and distributed the mini and standard lobby cards, which included a white border and “disclaimer” information. The movie studio, like 20th Century Fox or Lucasfilm, would also print up the same cards without the border and disclaimer to be distributed directly out of their corporate offices. The studio also seems to have been responsible for those lobby cards larger than the standard 11″x14″, since none carry the NSS disclaimer).
Theater fixture Coca-Cola finally tied in their Star Wars license to a concession sales premium for The Empire Strikes Back, offering an exclusive poster by fantasy artist Boris Vallejo in 1980. Interestingly, a trio of smaller Empire posters by Boris was offered at Burger Chef restaurants at the same time, causing some confusion among modern collectors as to the larger poster’s placement in the set. These were separate promotions (although both sponsored by Coke) with the larger poster offered only at the theater. This hasn’t stopped collectors from displaying the attractive foursome together, though.
For the 1982 re-release of Empire, the cups and pitcher available with the purchase of a Coke during August’s Star Wars re-release were again available in November, when Empire made its final solo theatrical run in unaltered form. Kenner’s Star Wars $1 rebate display was also still likely present for the ’81 and ’82 Empire re-releases.
The program book for Empire was much more elaborate than its predecessor, with in-depth articles, an exclusive Lucas interview, and behind the scenes photos and artwork that were not available in the Star Wars version. It was also three times the size at 64 pages (Star Wars was 20) and full-color throughout.
Like early Star Wars screenings, press and benefit attendees of Empire were handed a slick white fold-out credit sheet listing the film’s cast and crew.
T-shirts and Buttons
Fox and Lucasfilm didn’t formally print up any t-shirts and buttons for Empire as Fox had done for Star Wars, but this didn’t stop some venues from creating their own mementos for special events and advertising. Bay Area theaters, like Richmond’s Hilltop Mall Cinemas and San Francisco’s Northpoint Theater, were just two of many who produced special pinback buttons or premiere night t-shirts for employees or theatergoers in May, 1980.
As fans lined up to see The Empire Strikes Back on the big screen in May of 1980, a dormant volcano erupts in the United States, and a Beatles legend dies unexpectedly. Take a look back at what life was like in 1980 in preparation for the DVD release of the original theatrical edition of The Empire Strikes Back. The original Empire will only be available as a bonus disc packaged with the 2004 Special Edition of Episode V when the Star Wars trilogy is released as individual movie DVDs on September 12. Click here for more information.
Highlights of 1980
John Lennon is shot and killed outside his New York apartment by Mark Chapman.
The U.S. Olympic Hockey Team defeats the USSR in the semifinals of the XIII Winter Olympics in the Miracle on Ice. Later in the year, President Jimmy Carter announces that the U.S. will boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.
Millions of viewers tune into the TV soap opera “Dallas” to discover who shot J.R. Ewing.
Celebrity deaths include Alfred Hitchcock, Steve McQueen, Mae West, Jimmy Durante, Jesse Owens, Henry Miller, Peter Sellers, Dorothy Stratten, John Bonham, Bon Scott, and Ian Curtis.
Mount St. Helens erupts in Washington causing $3 billion in damage and killing 57 people.
Cost of a movie ticket was $2.69, while gas is $1.19 a gallon. A first class stamp is .15.
Top-grossing films: The Empire Strikes Back, Superman II and Nine to Five.
Other films released: Airplane!, Any Which Way You Can, Fame, Flash Gordon, The Fog, Friday the 13th, Ordinary People, Raging Bull, Stir Crazy, The Blues Brothers, The Blue Lagoon, The Elephant Man and Urban Cowboy.
Ordinary People wins Oscar for Best Picture, while its director Robert Redford wins as well. Robert De Niro wins Best Actor Oscar for Raging Bull.
Walter Cronkite retires from the “CBS Evening News.”
The Cable News Network (CNN) — the first 24-hour news TV network debuts.
The Rubik’s Cube hits U.S. toy stores.
Comedian Eddie Murphy joins the cast of “Saturday Night Live.”
The television shows debut: “Solid Gold,” “Strawberry Shortcake,” “Bosom Buddies,” “That’s Incredible!,” ” 3-2-1- Contact,” “Too Close for Comfort,” and “Magnum, P.I.”
The bands Minor Threat, The Sisters of Mercy, and Husker Du form, while Wings, Parliament, The Germs, The Eagles, and Wire break up.
The U.S. ends diplomatic relations with Iran and imposes economic sanctions after American hostages are taken on Nov. 4,1979.
Warner Communications’ Atari releases the Centipede, while Namco releases Pac-Man.
“All Out of Love” — Air Supply
“Ace of Spades” – Motörhead
“Another One Bites The Dust” – Queen
“Call Me” – Blondie
“Don’t Stand So Close To Me” – The Police
“Hit Me with Your Best Shot” – Pat Benatar
“Love Will Tear Us Apart” – Joy Division
“Turning Japanese” – The Vapors
“You Shook Me All Night Long” – AC/DC
“Games without Frontiers” – Peter Gabriel