Category Archives: Star Wars

Man and Moon Man

A Jedi and His Lightsaber

In front of a Destination Moon poster stands author E.E. Smith, SF author whose works were an inspiration for the video game Spacewar!

E.E. Smith in front of poster for Destination Moon, 1950

 

This picture always blows me away. On the face of it, it is an image of E.E. Smith attending the premiere of Destination Moon, a SF extravaganza made by George Pal Studios and released in 1950. Sorry, we’ll get to the Star Wars stuff soon enough, but the ramifications of this photo cause my mind to fly off in as many directions as an asteroid belt.

The 1950′s weren’t exactly known for their level-headed science fiction films, but Destination Moon kicked off the decade with a sober, then-realistic portrayal of man’s first trip to the Moon. Adapted from his short story of the same name, Robert A. Heinlein also worked on the script, and the result was the most technically accurate portrayal of possible space flight on film until Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968. No Amazonian moon-women, no bug-eyed aliens… just four men going to the moon in a nuclear powered rocket and striving to make it back to Earth safely.

E.E. Smith is considered the godfather of the space opera. A food chemist by trade, on the side he authored books with titles like The Skylark of Space and the later Lensmen, released from the 1920′s through to the 60′s. These would be initially serialized in the flagship SF literary magazine Amazing Stories and become hugely popular. They dealt with stoic heroes involved in vast interstellar space battles, and a gang of proto-geeks at MIT in the early 60′s were so heavily influenced by the vast cosmic conflagrations in Smith’s stories that they created an early computer video game around the premise and called it Spacewar! It was the space opera genre into which George Lucas would also delve, releasing his Star Wars movie in 1977. Also dealing with stoic heroes wrapped up in interstellar space battles, the original trilogy of Star Wars movies would change the shape of film-making forever.

An elegant weapon

An elegant weapon

 

Now, let’s take a closer look at Smith’s hands. He is holding a Graflex camera, with a flash attachment. When Lucas created Star Wars, he armed his Jedi and Sith Knights with lightsabers, “a more elegant weapon for a more civilized age”. The prop hilts of these fantastic laser swords were created for the film by using, yes, Graflex flash attachments.

So, this is a picture from 1950 of E.E. Smith, the literary creator of the rollicking space opera genre that begat Star Wars, holding a lightsaber.

The Force was strong with this one.

ee_smith-saber

 

Use the force, George!

George Lucas Takes His First Flight in Atari’s Coin-Op Star Wars Game

On August 10, 1983, the creator of Star Wars sat down for the first time to play Atari’s vector arcade game based off his famous film, via a cockpit cabinet installed at the Lucasfilm HQ in Marin County, CA.

And what a game! Colourful and detailed Quadrascan vector graphics, an elaborate and responsive flight yolk from famed Atari controller engineer Jerry Liachek, a digitized version of John Williams’ rousing score, along with actual spoken snippets of movie dialog. All this, and lots of exciting game play that nicely amps up the difficulty as you advance. You’ll notice a small plaque on the side of the machine on the first picture, towards the nose of the cabinet above Vader’s head. It reads “A special thanks for creating the Force behind so much fun.” A nice sentiment from Atari, indeed.

Watching Lucas on that August day were several anxious Atari and Warner Communications (mother corp. of Atari) execs, along with some Lucasfilm employees. In the middle of the crowd, wearing dark pants, is president of Atari’s coin-op division John Farrand. I believe that’s Warner Communications executive Manny Gerrard, the man who guided the purchase of Atari by his company, standing to the right of Farrand.

In typical style, while George played the game he remained deadpan, without much visible enthusiasm. The execs grew even more nervous, until Lucas emerged from the cabinet saying “That was great!”. 

For my money, Atari’s Star Wars is one of the greatest arcade games ever created. George approves.

For more on the Star Wars arcade game, check out this entry from TDE’s Oscar Week series, 2014.

For more information on Atari, consult your local Dot Eaters bitstory.

Onlookers watch George Lucas play Atari's Star Wars arcade game, 1983.

Onlookers watch George Lucas play Atari’s Star Wars arcade game, 1983.

 

Atari arcade game being played by George Lucas, creator of Star Wars

A reverse angle, with Lucas being advised by Don Osborne, VP of Marketing for Atari.

 

 

Use the... well, you know

Oscar Week at TDE: Star Wars (1983)

George Lucas’ movie Star Wars doesn’t require much of an introduction. The science fiction epic was released in 1977 and forever changed the film industry. The fact that it didn’t snag the Best Picture oscar at the Academy Awards ceremony (that honour went to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall) the following year is often considered a bit of a robbery. Star Wars buffs can take consolation that John Williams won for Best Score, which also features prominently in the arcade game.

It’s to the great credit of Atari’s Star Wars arcade game that it lives up to the original material. Designed by Mike Hally, it was based off an earlier unfinished game by Battlezone creator Ed Rotberg. Utilizing Atari’s colour Quadrascan vector graphics hardware, the game totally immersed players in a galaxy far, far away… especially if they were playing the sit-down cockpit version. The game covered the action that takes place in the film’s final reel: Luke Skywalker as Red Five, joining the attack against the dreaded Imperial Death Star. Controlling Luke’s X-Wing fighter, gamers fended off a wave of enemy TIE fighters, then swooped down into the famous Star Wars trench scene in a race to deliver the final shot into the exhaust port, then out in time to watch the great conflagration as the deadly technological terror explodes. Then rinse and repeat, as the TIE fighters became more numerous and active, and the surface defenses of the Death Star increased in complexity and difficulty.

Not only did we have detailed and fluid vector graphics, we also got snippets Williams’ aforementioned rousing music score, as well as well-done and dramatic voice synthesis straight from the film. Add to that famed Atari controller engineer Jerry Liachek’s great-feeling flight yolk controller, and you had the makings of an undisputed classic. Atari’s Star Wars arcade game deserves its place as one of the greatest games of all time.

Here are the rest of the Oscar Week articles on TDE:

The Towering Inferno (VCS/2600, U.S. Games 1982)
M*A*S*H (VCS/2600 Fox Video Games 1983)
Rocky (ColecoVision, Coleco 1983)
The Wizard of Oz (SNES, Manley/SETA 1993)
Jaws (Amiga, Intelligent Design/Screen 7 1989)

Imperial Stooges Slam U.S. Death Star Decision

It all started with a petition submitted to the U.S. government via the “We the People” website, designed to give voice to citizens about pressing matters to the people.  Any petition that receives at least 25,000 signatures within 30 days of being submitted will get an official response from the White House.

Of course, the idea of “pressing matters” differs among people, and so a petition to secure funding and begin construction of a Death Star, the moon-sized orbiting battle station first revealed in 1977′s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, passed the response threshold with 34,435 signatures.  Hence, the Chief of the Science and Space Branch of the White House Office of Management and Budget Paul Shawcross issued an official statement of how such an appropriation of funds would be fiscally irresponsible ($850,000,000,000,000,000), not to mention immoral and the results easily destructible by a one-man starship.

Now in response to the response, the official Star Wars Blog has presented a PR release by the Galactic Empire, slamming Earth as primitive and cowardly.  I, for one, think we need to get cracking on updating the International Space Station.  Perhaps Lord Vader could think of some ways of motivating us to get back on a Death Star schedule.