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Knowledge Waits: Mark Gruenwald’s Early Preview of Star Wars

This is the latest in a feature where I just share some bit of comic book history that interests me. Here is a collection of all of the installments in the feature so far.

Mark Gruenwald attended Big Comicon Creation Convention in November of 1976 and he did a write-up on the con for the January 1977 issue of Comics Journal (#32, to be precise).

In his write-up, the future Marvel editor had a fascinating section on the then-upcoming Star Wars film.

Read on to see what Gruenwald had to say!

Following the [costume] contest was what perhaps was the highlight of the con for me: a slide show preview of the forthcoming movie, Star Wars. Although touted as being the first such presentation anywhere, I’ve been told that it was previously given at Worldcon. But this was probably the first showing for a comic convention and I was quite impressed by it.

The show depicted preliminary paintings, blueprint designs of starcraft, and stills from the actual film. By all appearances, the producer (George Lucas of American Graffiti and THX 1138 fame) spared no expense making a space adventure picture that is at once in the tradition of Flash Gordon, the Lensmen, and (oh yes) Star Trek. It is refreshing to see an SF film that avoids being a vheicle for a cliched “message” — a stigma that has afflicted modern SF films since The Day the Earth Stood Still.

If the acting and script can match the visuals and plot, the film will become a standard of the genre. I can imagine that a year from its scheduled May ’77 release, the film will spawn “Warries” to battle the hordes of “Trekkies.”

One member of the audience was perturbed that the show gave away the movie’s ending, but I thought it was necessary to give the presentation closure.

Gruenwald definitely had a good eye, even back then!

It IS kind of weird that they spoiled the end of the movie, though.


Star Wars also had a table in the dealers room at Creation in November 1976 with production stills and concept art on display. Looking back, I assume the gentleman running the table must have been Charles Lippincott. The Star Wars table made an impression on me because just a few months earlier, there had been a “Fall Preview of Upcoming Films” feature in either Time or Newsweek including one piece of Ralph McQuarrie art along with text saying “Coming next spring from the director of American Graffiti is The Star Wars, a tale of juvenile delinquents in space.” My heart sank because it sounded like this was going to be a campy humor thing and not a sincere SF film. So when I saw the set photos at Creation, I thought “Huh, that actually looks a lot better than I thought it would…”

I don’t think I’d even heard an inkling that there was such a thing as Star Wars when I saw the first trailer. It blew my mind right through the back wall of the theater. I barely remember watching thee movie I was there to see. (Black Sunday with Robert Shaw.)
I went back to see it three times just so I could watch the trailer again.

What’s there to spoil about the ending, though? The heroes win and blow up the bad guys and have a happy ending. That’s as simple and predictable a story as you can get. The only thing that I’d really consider a spoiler would be Obi-Wan’s death. It’s not like TESB where there’s a really shocking, game-changing secret revealed in the third act.

Gruenwald definitely had a good eye, even back then!

Fascinating piece. Not to downplay or disrespect what a good eye Gruenwald had, because I do indeed think he had a good one (for example Squadron Supreme is vastly underrated in terms of its influence and prescience). However, I don’t think one had to be a psychic to realize how revolutionary Star Wars become once one saw the finished product of Star Wars. To give perspective, the Academy Award winner for special effects the year before Star Wars was Logan’s Run in 1976. At the time Logan’s Run came out, it was widely heralded as a new pinnacle in sci-fi movies and special effects among both fans and industry trade analysts. Logan’s Run was not only popular, it was being held up as the new gold standard. And if you watch Logan’s Run and the first Star Wars back to back, even the unedited, original version of the first Star Wars, the two aren’t even CLOSE. Logan’s Run, which was considered avant-garde, ground breaking and the new pinnacle of the genre, immediately looks like amateur hour compared to Star Wars, and Star Wars only came out one year later! This isn’t to disparage Logan’s Run, it’s a great, fun movie.

“George Lucas of American Graffiti and THX 1138 fame”

Now that’s a pre-1977 sentence if I ever saw one.

Wow. This really was a long time ago. I can’t think of any other explanation for enjoying a slide show.

Check out the Star Wars channel on youtube, and you can find the original TV teaser trailers, which are basically just a slideshow of the concept art et. al., so I imagine that they are essentially from the same slide show.

You pretty much have to say that Soylent Green is people, though, right?

I don’t know my SF movies very well.

Where was this con?

And didn’t some Star Wars fans embrace the “Warries” label, too? That’s some prescience there!

interesting that mark actully previewed a taste of the begining of a franchise to come. and wrote it up too not to mention how prophetic he was about the battle of star warriors vs trekers

I’d say if everyone was so sure that Star Wars was going to be a hit after seeing things come back from it, the studio probably wouldn’t have let Lucas keep all the rights to it and the merchandising. But they thought it was no big loss.

I saw the slide show presentation at San Diego Comic Con which was several months before Mark’s con. Don’t know if it was the first, but it might have been. It’s shown on the extra disc with the original trilogy (the “enhanced” version).

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