Craig Miller Interview

JN: Historically we are told that the success of Star Wars took many people by surprise. Within Lucasfilm at that time, were the expectations equally as low or did you all have confidence that you were sitting on something really special?

CM: At Lucasfilm, everyone thought the film would do well. As it got closer and closer to the release, with all the great public response and publicity — things like Time Magazine calling the film the best of the year on their cover — it was felt the film would succeed. That is, not lose money. Would it be a big hit? That was more of a question. Science Fiction wasn’t a popular film genre at the time so it was far from clear just how many would come to see it. Confident of success; yes. Confident of it being huge; not quite so much. No one expected — nor could they — that the film would be received as well as it was. Nor that we’d still be talking about it — or another Star Wars film would be about to come out — nearly 40 years later.

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JN: Back in pre-internet days the setting up of physical fan clubs with magazines, patches, membership cards and exclusive offers was a far more common practise than it is today. How early was it decided that there would be an Official Star Wars Fan Club?

CM: Charley Lippincott, who headed up publicity, advertising, promotion, and licensing in the early years of “Star Wars”, says he wanted one from very early. You’re right that it was more common than today but they were far from ubiquitous. Setting one up turned out to be quite a task. Especially a good one.

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JN: The interest in the fan club was enormous, helped greatly by the fantastic value and contents of that first fan club kit. How did you decide what would be in that initial kit, and were there any items considered that never made it through?

CM: The setting up of the Fan Club and what would go into the kit was left to me to explore and devise (with approvals from on high, of course). I thought about what I would want if I were joining such a club. I looked at what the few other clubs of the type offered and what was out there. I was also setting up, at the same time, our processing of fan mail, so I met with some of the companies that handled it for studios and for individual actors. And, frankly, I didn’t really like what I saw. While based on volume, some amount of form letters are required, but I didn’t like the attitude of the people running the companies and their view of the people writing in. So for both fan mail and the club, we decided to take charge “in house”. A photo seemed obvious. We had received lots of requests for photos. And I knew I’d want a poster and that lots of kids like to put posters up on their walls. The view was that most members would be between 8 and 18 years of age. So I came up with a design for it and was able to work with Ralph McQuarrie on it. Ralph’s art was what everyone thought of when it came to Star Wars imagery so he was the best and really only choice. Because of the view of our members’ ages, people thought some school-type supplies would be in order. So the book cover and the pencil. Appropriately illustrated of course. And the patch. Another item that could be used on jackets, backpacks, etc. One of the other factors we had to keep in mind, of course, was cost. Both for manufacture and shipping. The poster was in many ways the most expensive item. Both because of its size and full-color printing but because it meant we needed to have a mailing tube and the postage to cover it. I can’t recall any other items in specific. We thought about a button — like the “May the Force Be With You” buttons we’d given away as promotional items before “Star Wars came out, but the costs were mounting up and we thought these would be sufficient.

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JN: The magazine went quickly from a bi-monthly release to quarterly. What was behind that decision?

CM: The newsletter was essentially a one man operation (plus, of course, the publications people doing the paste ups — back then you had to do physical paste ups; no computer graphics programs like Photoshop), and I had lots of other duties beyond the Fan Club. Coupled with the costs of printing and mailing each issue, I’m sure it just made more sense to do it quarterly.

JN: Issue 4 of the fan club letter saw Star Wars fan Preston Postle choose the name going forward of the fan club letter – Bantha Tracks. What prompted you to open the naming of the newsletter to fans?

CM: Wow. I can’t imagine doing it any other way. It was, after all, a *fan club*. Why shouldn’t the members be involved in choosing the name? Plus it gave interaction with the fans — back before the internet made that common — and kept people involved.

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JN: Bantha Tracks always felt very much ‘of the fans’ in an age where news was scarce and often only found in the pages of magazines like Starlog, Starburst, the comics or on the school playground. Was that inclusiveness a conscious decision or did it come from the team involved in putting the magazine together?

CM: There really wasn’t a team. It was just me. For the years I was at Lucasfilm (through the week after we opened “The Empire Strikes Back”), I wrote every word that appeared in the newsletter. Except for one article that I ran — with permission — from a fanzine. I wrote the articles, did the interviews, found the photos that I would like to see. No secrets given away that we wanted to keep secret, of course. But talking about all the things I would have wanted to know as a fan. I *was* a fan. I grew up loving comics and science fiction and animation and movies and television. I was attending conventions from the time I was 13. So I didn’t have to work too hard to know what fans would want to see.

Craig Miller, Sesame Street
Craig Miller, Sesame Street

JN: Bantha Tracks seemed to have the inside track on the production of the films in a way that many current publications don’t. With Bantha Tracks being made by Lucasfilm itself, how much direct access was the magazine allowed?

CM: We had complete access. Remember, I was a publicist for Lucasfilm, not just doing the Fan Club. I was writing press releases, setting up articles in magazines. Working with the cast and crew on getting publicity coverage for our films. I wrote the Press Kit for “The Empire Strikes Back”. I created, wrote, and produced the 800-number phone line calls publicizing “The Empire Strikes Back”. I was producer for Lucasfilm on things like episodes of “Sesame Street” guest starring R2-D2 and C-3PO. When I wanted to interview George or Harrison or Irv Kershner, I just called and arranged a time to do it. If I needed a photo to illustrate a story, I’d walk over to our Photo Department and work with the staff to pick out the best one. So access was never an issue while I was there.

JN: Looking back, are you surprised by the amount of information you were privy to?

CM: Not really. In part because my job required I be privy to it all. And part of my job was knowing what to release when.

JN: Is there an issue during your tenure that stands out as one you are particularly proud of, in terms of either content or the information it revealed?

Craig Miller, R2-D2
Craig Miller, R2-D2

CM: I’m very proud of all the issues I did, really. That I had the freedom to go talk to the people I felt had things to say fans of the movie would want to hear, to include some behind-the-scenes details, and all of the stuff we included. I’d also wanted to be able to produce and sell replica movie posters, patches, and other items but, at the time, I was told we couldn’t do it. Later, that decision was reversed and fans were able to get some of those things from the Fan Club. So that was good.

JN: The magazine made famous certain employees of the fan club, endearing themselves to the huge fan base of the time in the same way that years later such people as Steve Sansweet and Pablo Hidalgo would. Was that a happy accident or was it something you and the team considered?

CM: No, actually, we never considered doing that. The Fan Club and the Newsletter was about the films and the people who made them. It wasn’t about the people running the Fan Club. That’s why my name isn’t all over the issues. In fact, it never even says I wrote the material. My name only appears in small print, in the indicia, where it says “edited by Craig Miller”. I guess that’s why one of the major books on the making of “Star Wars” has nearly two dozen quotes about the making of the film citing simply “Bantha Tracks” and never mentions me by name. In retrospect, I guess it would be nice to get the notice that people who came after me have received in recent years — especially ones who had far less to do with the actual films — but I didn’t think that way. It was about the films and the fans; it wasn’t about me.

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JN: Bantha Tracks continued, albeit in a different format, online at StarWars.com and in the pages of Star Wars Insider. While The Insider is essentially the direct descendent of Bantha Tracks, does it please you that the name ‘Bantha Tracks’ lives on within the pages of the magazine?

CM: Oh, of course. Among other things, it shows that there’s at least some memory of the past, the heritage of what came before. Not to mark me, but to mark all the fans and their interests and enthusiasm for the films from the very beginning.

JN: Bantha Tracks left behind a legacy that first generation fans cherish and newer fans have a fascination about. What is your abiding memory of Bantha Tracks?

CM: One of the things I loved about Bantha Tracks was its ability to connect with fans all over the world. We didn’t have the internet. We didn’t have the instant ability to hear what fans wanted or to show them things that would interest them. It was a different world back then. And this was a conduit for it. I loved going to conventions and doing the presentations on “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back” and meeting and talking to fans at them and hearing what excited them about the films. But this spread that to people who couldn’t get to conventions — or to the ones we happened to be doing presentations at. It helped make us all a family.

Mark Newbold
Former Daily Content Manager and Program Director for Jedi News and the podcast network. Co-host RADIO 1138 and Take Cover on the Jedi News Network.