Happy Star Wars Day 2018!
It’s May the Fourth again, and this year we’re taking a look back to 1977, but not to the movie itself. Back then, before home video, you watched the movie and that was that. Someday if the movie was a classic it might end up on one of the three networks on a Sunday night at the movies special. Otherwise you relied on books like The Star Wars Storybook, which was released through Scholastic book orders in grade schools. Books like this featured key photographs from the film. The Star Wars Storybook sold so well it seems it will always be available if you want to track down a copy.
But it wasn’t the Storybook that kept the excitement of Star Wars in the minds of moviegoers after the film left theaters. The film actually stayed in the theaters from May 1977 and played in at least 60 theaters in the U.S. for more than a year. It returned nationally in 1978, 1979, 1981, and 1982. So if you weren’t around then, but hear about fans who saw the film ten or more times, know there were plenty of opportunities to catch it again and again. But they also had another way to revisit the film, only from home. And that’s where The Story of Star Wars LP comes in to play.
To this day when thousands of fans see the words “Along time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” they hear in their mind those words spoken in a distinctive voice, and they hear the rest of that sentence as if that is the way it aired in theaters: “Along time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a great adventure took place.” The words are from the opening line from Emmy Award-winning actor Roscoe Lee Browne, narrator of an LP album called The Story of Star Wars. The LP was a benchmark for movie fans, released along with the movie and in advance of all the action figures and playsets that would change how we think of tie-in products from 1978 forward, the record album was produced by George Lucas himself (along with record producer Alan Livingston). Incorporating the actual soundtrack, dialogue, sound effects, and John Williams’ score, plus several pages of photographs, it was an abridged version of Star Wars, but close enough to provide a near-theater experience when a visual version wasn’t yet in the cards. Browne filled in the blanks as narrator, and the result was a major success, reaching Gold Record status as it eclipsed the 500,000 sales mark. It was also released on cassette, 8-track, and 4-track reel-to-reel audio tape.
If you want a trip back to 1977, have a listen to The Story of Star Wars, long out-of-print, it’s available online from several locations on YouTube, including here:
Listen to the entire album and see if you agree–when many abridged narrated stories are crafted, the narration seems to take away from the experience. Here you may find that Roscoe Lee Browne really added something unique and enduring.
Known for his role as Charlie Evans Jeffers on Barney Miller, plus roles on Starsky and Hutch, Good Times, All in the Family, Bonanza, Maude, Soap, Benson, and Magnum, p.i., and big screen roles in Logan’s Run (as the robot called Box) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Topaz, Browne appeared with John Wayne in The Cowboys, and much more. His voice work may be most familiar as the narrator of the two Babe movies and he portrayed Kingpin from the animated Spider-man. Browne passed away in 2007 after a long and successful acting career.
May the Fourth be with You!