The Day Star Wars Nearly Died....
How I am still a Star Wars Fan I will never know.....
It’s a Friday evening ( well, here in the UK)! Sit back crack a beer or whatever your tipple and let me tell you a tale!
This article was originally posted on my defunct blog in May. I re-read it to see I wasn’t being too harsh. I wasn’t. I also decided to record it for those of you who can’t be bothered to read it. Which is fair enough! Apologies, as the audio contains a smattering swearing! It’s very conversational and rambling. I promise I will try to get better! Audio quality is not the best as I only recorded it on Windows Sound recorder! If people like it, I might get something better!! Let me know! I may even start a podcast!!
The day I went to go and see Star Wars in 1977 has stuck with me forever. It has brought me the greatest of joy and the depths of despair. A particular tale concerning my brother and an Obi Wan Kenobi figure I didn’t get is a story that gets rolled out at pretty much every family gathering.
However, the lowest ebb has to be the Power of Myth Exhibition I went to see in Manchester, with my brother and a couple of pals plus meeting some of my friends from Liverpool. We were all excited ( except perhaps my brother, any opportunity to take the piss of me would be too good to miss.)
The trailer had been released, controversy, excitement and build up continued as the star wars machine started is engines and began to rev it up the machine to become the behemoth it is today. Realistically, I suppose we probably should have realised what was going to happen that day, but I think the shock may have numbed our brains.
So, I cannot remember how we found out about the exhibition, however tickets were purchased as we were all big Star Wars fans. The buzz and excitement of the new movie was building rapidly, chasing every news report , article and Ask Jeeves searches ( 1999, early internet days!!). A new Star Wars movie?? This was a dream come true!!!!
Plus the exhibition was visiting Manchester?? Nothing ever came north of the border!!!!
So, at the cost of £12.00 each ( equivalent to about 20 quid now.) tickets were purchased , trains booked and meeting places arranged.
“a once-in-a lifetime chance for half a million visitors across Europe to experience the magic of Star Wars and the power of the myth first hand,”
I can tell you right now, this was not what I thought about it later. None of us did.
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Now , I suppose what I have to remember is I was 29 when this happened. I’m sure if I was 10, I would have had a whole different perspective. I also have to say ( brace yourselves , you’re probably going to hate me) I don’t mind the prequels ( or the sequels.) There , I said it! They are clunky, too much blue screen, terrible script. However, my kids loved them. My eldest daughter especially. Let’s remember , at the heart of it they are kids movies. Now , I can almost feel some of you raging at your computer screens. However, this is not the time for that discussion.
What I am about to tell you is a tale of what I think is a beginning , the birth, if you will, of a money making monster and how easy it would be to get a pop culture ( again, that phrase did not really exist back then) fan to part with cash. Proof that you can surely polish a turd and we will happily give you our money so we can put it on the shelf for all to see.
The exhibition was held at Gmex in Manchester, normally used for the giants of music, so , of course, this was going to be massive! Plus a life size space ship from the new movie!!!! Oh my god, this is just getting better. We’d got early tickets, about 9.30 if I remember correctly, so met up in Manchester, excited and giddy. It was also great to catch up with our friends from Birkenhead, so it was going to be a great day! We would be astounded by this epic Star Wars show and share our love of all things we had seen a few hours later with some beers! ( we were actually in the pub just after opening time, 11.30, so you can guess how it goes).
So, we joined the queue of hot ( it was summer ) sweaty fans in Star Wars t-shirts, cos players of sorts ( not such a big thing then) and other strange folk, eagerly awaiting the doors to open.
Once they did, the atmosphere was palpable. We were led into a black curtained room, we all stood as a film started which introduced us to the exhibition. The idea behind the exhibition was how ancient myths had influenced Star Wars. A book from Dorling Kindersley was released at the same time and available to purchase at the exhibition. Just in time for them to publish the hundreds of other titles they churned out as tie-ins to the movies.
As we stood in the black theatre curtained room, a feeling of bemusement came over me. This introduction movie didn’t really seem to have a lot about Star Wars and certainly not about the new one. I think the curtains put me off as well. Something didn’t feel right, that was for sure.
We were then led, across the trainer squeaking black floor to another curtained section ( someone holding it back for us, honestly). We then entered a room with a large painted backdrop of what seemed to be the death star and stage. The Imperial March Music boomed and on walked a couple of stormtroopers , looking amazing, there is no doubt. However we just thought there would be more. They acted outlines from the movie which were fed over a loudspeaker system,( probably from the organisers cousin, a wedding dj) set up behind another curtain. These curtains didn’t even reach the floor, by the way, so light streaming in and shadows of feet doing other non star wars jobs and a very filthy floor. We all looked at each other, trying to figure out what was going on? Then , the recognisable breathing of Darth Vader!!! He walked up on to stage , looking up at his stormtroopers.
Hang on, looking up?
Yep, he was actually about 3 inches shorter than all of them ( aren’t you a little short for a Vader?) The ensuing comedy show had a few people in hysterics, either with good humour or utter panic. We were rolling about laughing. What had we done? A few evil stares were thrown at us, but still , people laughed. The situation was made even worse by the fact one of our chums was nearly six foot, so when the imperial might came to wander among the general public at large , he towered over Tiny Vader!! Even as my pal desperately tried to get near him, it was obvious Vader was having none of it. He avoided him like the plague. So, with utter bemusement , The troops and tiny Vader vacated the area, obviously using the power of the dark side to make a quick exit.
Then as we were led to ANOTHER curtained room, the music got louder and louder, as the commentator explained we were about to see the first of the new ships from the new movie ( we had seen nothing yet) the music got louder and louder until eventually…… BOOM!!!!!
A couple of people moved the black curtains aside as a life size Naboo fighter was trundled into the room , bouncing slightly and looking like it may fall over, with a tremendous cavalcade and a helper. Just a bloke in a polo shirt, not even dressed as a pilot( I think it was on a fork lift truck as well )
A massive spotlight shone behind the fighter, everyone shielding their eyes. The music blaring .However , the most outstanding feature to us all was all of the handprints that were on the silver underbelly of the ship. It looked as if a thousand people had manhandled it and forgotten Mr Sheen.
Well, we were dumbfounded , to say the least.
The lights turned off, a dull yellow spaceship stood in a black curtained ( bloody hell, there were a lot of curtains!!) room. Everyone seemed a bit lost for words. We were then invited and hustled ( yes, you guessed it , behind another curtain) to experience the exhibition in full.
Now this did have some promise. All of us were keen model makers so we hoped to see something?
Well, not really. I think someone had rustled up some Revell kits in a hurry. What we proceeded to witness was a bunch of cheap exhibition boards with Star Wars images , collaged up on Sierra Print , while someone had raided the mannequins from Marks and Spencer skip and dressed them up whatever Star Wars Kit the local fancy dress shops had.
At this point, our utter disappointment and realisation that we had been well and truly ripped off had crumbled into a hysterical, laugh a minute of the ludicrousness of the whole thing. We made the decision, just over an hour into this dream / nightmare ( apparently the experience would take a few hours!!|) and headed for the exit. However, like an actor trying to get back on stage once the curtain had gone down, we seemed to be trapped in the myriad of black curtains. Eventually, just lifting the sodding things up and speeding out of there quicker than Luke Skywalker getting back to the farm!!
We sprinted at full pace to the nearest pub, panicking slightly as it was only just officially opening time!. We found one, sat in the sun nursing our beer, still in shock, trying to numb the pain. . This should have taken most of the day, what were we going to do?
Well, we drank and had a great time. I don’t remember much of that afternoon.
The memory of that exhibition still haunts us today. The absolute balls of whoever organised it was astonishing. It was an absolute shambles, to me and my friends. It honestly looked like it had been thrown together by some ex employees of Lucas film as a brutal revenge exercise on Star wars Fans!!
I suppose this was the start of Star Wars cash in. Before you knew it , there were coke cans, KFC, Burger King, AOL discs and nappies with the Star Wars logo on them. Star Wars could make big money. They could not get away with this today, I hope. Or maybe Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge is just the upgrade?
Some of my friends have never recovered, abandoning Star Wars and everything that has followed.
Not me though, I can take the pain when it comes to Star Wars. I will always forgive, but never forget!!! You beautiful bastard !
There is a great article from Richard Hutchinson on the Fantha Tracks Website, with a bunch of photos.
I think he went on a different day.