Rare “The Empire Strikes Back” Promotion Recordings from 1980!
A very ambitious way to promote The Empire Strikes Back was invented back in 1980. It was an automated call-in line using a prerecorded dialogue with the main stars of the movie…
Here’s what Craig Miller, Lucasfilm’s first director of fan relations, remembers from that time:
“In late 1979, as the opening of The Empire Strikes Back was quickly racing toward us, I came up with the idea of doing a telephone line people could call for information about the movie. For the first five months of 1980, people could call a special 800 number and hear a message from one of the characters of the movie: Luke, Leia, Han, Darth Vader, or C-3PO.
“I wrote the scripts for the five messages and, during each actor’s looping session for the movie, we recorded their message (after all, they were already going to be in a recording studio). Harrison had already done his looping session by the time the scripts were ready so he and I met for lunch one day then went back to his house where a sound guy I hired for the occasion met us and recorded his message.
“This was before the telephone system was completely computerized. Back then, there was a lot of mechanical switching equipment and specific prefixes were limited to specific geographic areas. 521 was in Illinois so we had to set up our phone lines to answer the calls in that state. We only promoted the phone line at science fiction conventions, through clubs, and specialty publications like “Starlog” carried the story.
“But the first week the system went live, so many people called the number, AT&T couldn’t handle it. They were so overloaded, the system couldn’t even handle generating busy signals to all of the calls. The 800 system for Illinois crashed and shut down for several hours. AT&T insisted that we add additional phone lines and issue a press release taking the blame for it. Weep wail. Poor us. We contritely agreed to issue a press release to all media saying we were sorry that Star Wars fans were so eager to get information on the sequel that wouldn’t be out for five months, their calls overwhelmed the phone company. And you could call yourself, now that we’d increased the number of phone lines, and listen to the messages [at the number]. The story, of course, got covered everywhere. Best publicity we could have had.”