From the moment an Imperial Star Destroyer roared across movie theater screens in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, a seemingly endless expanse of pale metal looming over the surface of Tatooine, fans were hooked. Exactly 40 years after the May 25, 1977, premiere of A New Hope, Star Wars is more popular than ever. But before the series could become a billion-dollar enterprise with a world-encompassing reach and a fan base that spans generations, George Lucas’s pet project had to find an audience to put their butts in theater seats. A majority of that job fell to Charles Lippincott, the rarely-lauded vice-president of advertising, publicity, promotion, and merchandising for A New Hope. Marketing was key.
“I thought they had a great project on their hands, so when George and I met we ended up having a long conversation about all the possibilities, including toys which would be sold in comic book stores,” Lippincott told The Drum back in December 2015.
The Star Wars franchise changed the movie marketing landscape forever. Aside from copyrighting everything he could think of for Star Wars — “If it was possible to copyright a paper clip I would have” — Lippincott and his crew only marketed the film toward people they knew would be interested.
With a comparatively bare-bones budget, the Star Wars team targeted science fiction conventions and comic-cons, as well as college radio stations and newspapers. Wasting money on a general audience would have been a waste at first for such an enormous cultural experiment. Lippincott knew the majority of his team’s effort had to be focused on young nerds, the kind of people who’d be interested in a Marvel comic book introducing the characters before the film even premiered.
These people were the die-hard fans, the ones who came to the opening weekend and left starry-eyed, only to pass the gospel on to a larger audience by word of mouth. And because of Lippincott and his team’s concerted effort, Star Wars has lasted for exactly 40 years, with no end in sight.
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