Rare 1980 "Empire Hotline" Recordings Discovered

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June 28, 2010

By Pete Vilmur

Fans old enough to remember the days before the Empire struck back in 1980 might recall a little-known promotion launched in the months preceding the first Star Wars sequel. As reported in the Spring 1980 issue of Bantha Tracks -- the original Star Wars Fan Club newsletter -- a telephone hotline was set up to allow callers to dial in and hear teasers for The Empire Strikes Back several months before the film's release. In the years since the Bantha Tracks story, fans savvy to the existence of the "Empire Hotline" have sought out recordings of the four messages described in the article, which were actually performed exclusively for the hotline by actors Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), and James Earl Jones (voice of Darth Vader).

Enter Craig Miller, Lucasfilm's first director of fan relations, who recently uncovered his cassette copy of the phone messages (likely the only copy in existence) and generously shared them with us. To our surprise, the recording revealed five -- not four -- voice performances, including a previously unknown Princess Leia message recorded by Carrie Fisher!

In addition to the five messages, which you can play or download below, Craig sent some comments on how the Empire Hotline came to be:

Craig Miller and George Lucas in 1980

"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."

Thanks to Craig, these long-lost recordings can now be heard and enjoyed for the first time in 30 years, a testament to the innovative spirit he and the film promoters used to stoke excitement for The Empire Strikes Back.

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C-3PO 1980 Phone Message | Download

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Han Solo 1980 Phone Message | Download

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Princess Leia 1980 Phone Message | Download

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Luke Skywalker 1980 Phone Message | Download

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Darth Vader 1980 Phone Message | Download



Keywords: Audio, Actors, ESB 30th, Retro

Filed under: The Movies, Episode V

Databank: Vader, Darth, C-3PO (See-Threepio), Solo, Princess Leia Organa, Skywalker, Luke, Solo, Han
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