RETROVISION EXCLUSIVE: The Selling of Star Wars, Part 1

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... no one would touch Star Wars with a ten-foot pole! As unfathomable as it may seem, in the mid 1970s George Lucas had an incredibly difficult time selling his concept to both production companies and movie theatres.

Helping him break through this barrier of debilitating resistance was Charles Lippincott, then Vice President of Advertising, Publicity, Promotion and Merchandising for the Star Wars Corporation, whose task it was to build an awareness for the film prior to its release.

"The reason I had this long title at the time is that nobody in the movie business really used marketing as a term to incorporate advertising. They still talked about departments with all three titles," reflects Lippincott. "I really conceived marketing as a different way of handling science fiction. In a sense, it was like pre-advertising." Remember, these were the days before the Internet made "pre-advertising" the norm.

In the early '70s, Lippincott noted with fascination the growing interest in science fiction and comic book conventions, as well as the proliferation of genre-centric stores which indicated that SOMETHING was happening.

"My thinking," he says, "was that we should sell to the science fiction and comic book crowd early on. Why not tailor a campaign and build off of that? Do a novelization and comic book adaptation early. The only science fiction film that we had to go on, really, was 2001, which had been sold quite differently."

To begin his efforts to bring an awareness of Star Wars to America, in November 1975 Lippincott sold the novelization of the screenplay. The novel, credited to George Lucas, was actually written by Alan Dean Foster, who would go on to write (among many other titles) the novel sequel, SPLINTER OF THE MIND'S EYE.

"The lawyer for Lucasfilm wanted to put it up for auction, and I wanted to go to the best science fiction publisher and I won out. So we went with Ballantine Books."

Interestingly, ths process began a month before the 20th Century Fox board of directors gave the greenlight to STAR WARS. "Their decision," Lippincott explains, "was based on the fact that 2001 had finally broken even in November of '75 and we were to do the film for around the same budget 2001 was done."

In January of 1976, Fox held the last of their sales conventions, which up until that point had been an industry mainstay where studios invited exhibitors out to Los Angeles to discuss and preview future product.

"The presentation was called '26 in '76' and we were one of them, though far down the line," smiles Lippincott. "The exhibitors weren't interested in STAR WARS at all. I did a presentation, similar to what I would do at conventions, based on the Ralph McQuarrie paintings and Joe Johnston drawings. I did a slide presentation and they were bored out of their skulls. However, the younger people in the audience who worked for exhibitors really loved it. Those few thought it was great, but the older exhibitors thought it was terrible."

Shortly after the presentation, Lippincott proceeded to New York where he hoped to meet Stan Lee to work out a deal for Marvel to do an adaptation of the film.

"Stan kept turning me down," he says. "He said, 'Once you shoot the film, come in and see me.'"

Refusing to give up, Lippincott had a friend introduce him to former Marvel editor Roy Thomas and discussed the idea with him. Thomas was intrigued, knowing he could get a meeting with Lee, and asked Lippincott if he could edit and write the comic book if Marvel went ahead with it. Lippincott agreed and the two of them then approached Howard Chaykin about doing the artwork. Next up was the meeting with Stan Lee.

"Finally," remembers Lippincott, "Stan Lee said, 'Alright, if you want to do it, fine, but the deal is you don't get any money for the comic book for the first 100,000 issues.' I said, 'Fine, but I want a mini-series of comic books.' Nobody had done a mini-series at that time. I said it had to be at least five ocmic books, because I wanted to present three of them before the film came out and two of them after the film came out. Stan Lee agreed to that. I got the deal through and went back to 20th and they said I was stupid. They didn't care about the money issue. They just thought I was wasting my time on a comic book deal."


Before there was Star Wars, there was the Planet of the Apes franchise, reborn this summer with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Check out the first online community devoted exclusively to Planet of the Apes, including the latest headlines, interviews, retrospective features and the ability for fans to connect with each other. Just click on the image below.

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