Thanks to the letter archive of an old scifi mag, we can get a glimpse into how the nascent Star Wars fandom reacted to the shake-ups of The Empire Strikes Back. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the reactions were mixed.
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Back in the pre-internet days, it wasn’t as easy to pull the whole Old Man Yells at Cloud routine when a piece of pop culture had you down. For many scifi fans, magazines were the way to go. Books like Starlog had letter columns where they published words directly from the fans, giving readers a glimpse into the dark, troubled mind of fandom. They were a rough equivalent to internet forums, basically, with less memes and more polite salutations.
Fortunately for us, Starlog is digitally archived on archive.org, and the writers at A Critical Hit were kind enough to compile some of the responses to The Empire Strikes Back in Starlog’s 1980 issues. How did fans react to the twists and turns of the film, and particularly the revelation that Luke Skywalker’s dear old dad was Darth frickin’ Vader?
Well, there’s denial, of course, courtesy of one Robert L. Beedy-Scarola:
Is Luke related to Vader? Most think so now that Vader came right out and said it. Well, I say, do you believe everything you hear? Vader may have lied just to enlist Luke to his side. Vader would then dispose of Luke once he got what he wanted.
Dissatisfaction, too, via Sean Bernard:
I know they wanted to leave something to settle in the other sequels, but they left a little too much. For instance, Han Solo’s predicament. The movie should not have ended until Han was either killed by Boba Fett or Jabba or rescued by Lando Calrissian or Chewbacca, the former, preferably. Also, the fate of Bespin is not told. Was it taken by Lando’s troops, taken by Imperial troops or destroyed by Vader? I like Lando Calrissian and Billy Dee Williams was very good playing the part.
You’re right about Lando, Sean. You’re right about Lando.
And, of course, there was shipping.
Quoth one Carol Kane:
C’mon Leia, why don’t you take a look around? Can’t you see what Luke is up against? You could have a “nice guy” like him. Instead, you are turning your back on him. Forget that it was Luke that saved you from having your atoms scattered throughout the galaxy. Forget that it was Luke, and not Han Solo, that wanted you rescued from the Death Star detention area. But you don’t need to remember all that, Leia. As long as hot-lips Han is around, who needs Luke anyway?
H-hot-lips Han? I see. Also, can you imagine what the internet would have been like if it had been around when Return of the Jedi came out and sank that ship in the most awkward way imaginable? Twitter would’ve been unusable for a month.
I really like this glimpse into fandom history—there’s even more at the link—for the way it shows how our fandom, for all its differences, isn’t that changed in substance from what came before. It’s also comforting, in some strange way, to know that the backlash to The Last Jedi isn’t unprecedented. Though, fortunately, Starlog doesn’t record much of the shouting.