- Matt Wilkins
Dark Times: Examining the Star Wars Franchise at its lowest point from 1987-1991
It’s hard to believe there was a time when Star Wars wasn’t popular. Last year I heard someone on YouTube make a statement that the “Dark Times” for Star Wars never existed. Well…not if you were into RPG’s at the time I guess. But beside West End Games supplemental material and Blackthorne’s failed 3D Comics (of which only 3 were made) it was indeed a dark time for the franchise.
I should know. I was there.
Today I want to give you an account of what it was like growing up in a time were Star Wars was considered a thing of the past.
Back up to 1983. Return of the Jedi was coming out and I couldn’t wait to see how the trilogy ended. I went in the theater for the original release back in 1977 but I was only a few months old at the time. My parents couldn’t afford a babysitter and 3 and under were free at the time so they took me with them. My mom said I watched the screen the whole time. She was surprised I didn’t fall asleep. Guess it was meant to be.
For Empire my brother and I were once again invited. Being 3 at the time I have vague memories of standing in the theater and grabbing the seat in front of me as the terrifying AT-AT’s took the base. That’s about it. Any other memories I had came from repeated viewings of BETA tapes at home or a friend’s house.
For Jedi, I was 6 years old and remember getting to see it 3 times in theaters when it was out. (a rarity in my family considering how poor we were at the time) My Dad took us the first time. I feel in love with Ewoks, I loved the multiple battles going on in the end and when Luke reveals Vader’s true face under the helmet… it freaked me out. But I left the theater and talking about it the whole 45 minute trip back home in the car. What an experience!
To my surprise, our Dad agreed to take us in two weeks after are grandparents left. We were shocked Dad cared so much about us! Later I found out from my Mom that it was Dad’s intention to see the film again because he enjoyed it just as much. But who cares?! We were seeing Star Wars again and that’s all that mattered!
My grandparents came into town and as polite as a 6 years old could be, I kept asking them when they were going to leave. At the end of the week my grandmother took us out to town to go shopping. We each received a toy AND a trip to movies! Hmmm…whatever shall we pick?
I think we all took less than a millisecond to inform my grandmother that we would like to see Return of the Jedi, so she took us for (unknown to her) our second viewing. I still laughed at the Ewoks, loved the battles and excused myself to the restroom as Darth Vader’s helmet came off again. (I just couldn’t look at it!) We exited the theater just as excited as the first time we saw it.
When we arrived back home our Dad surprised us with the news that tomorrow (after my grandparents left) he would be taking us to see Jedi once again. With a coy smile I glanced at my younger brothers like a thief who was about to pull off the greatest heist of his young career when it came crashing down on us by one sentence from my grandmother. “Boys, isn’t that the movie I just took you to see?”
I was in shock. Thoughts of what I could say to control the damage my grandmother had caused with her revelation raced through my mind.
“Oh, so you’ve seen it already then?” My dad asked.
At that moment, pure panic set in an instantly all three of us were on our knees pleading our father for a third viewing. I have no idea what we were promising him either. Who knows at that age? I probably still owe him my entire Thundercat collection, a few baseball cards and house chores for the rest of my life. But whatever we said convinced him to take us yet again because (as my mom said) Dad wanted to see it again too.
Now the movie was out of theaters. Lucas said there would be no more. (for now) And every kid in America was asking “What next?” the answer came the following year.
The Ewok Adventure was the first of two TV movies to premiere in consecutive years ‘84 and ’85 and fueled our love for Ewoks. Also 1985 herald the coming of two Star Wars cartoons, Droids and Ewoks. In my review on YouTube I told you, I never got to see Droids growing up because it didn’t play in our area. Only Ewoks did. But man, did we love some Ewoks. I loved that show for the two years it was on. I personally liked the first season better than the second but overall, it was a great show.
But in ’87 it all came to an end. Marvel comics stopped making their monthly issues (of which I’d only read a few here and there) and Ewoks had been canceled for a season 3, which broke my little 10 year old heart. Star Wars was fading out of the conscious of folks everywhere and new interest were being taken up.
Now I’ve spoken on the key role the Expanded Universe had to play during this time with West End Games involvement and whatnot, so to avoid repetition I’m going to skip over all that and tell you where my interest was at during this time.
Kidding. Just had to say that for laughs. Seriously though, when I found out Ewoks was off the air I was disappointed; but Saturday Morning cartoons moved on and we had other great ones to watch. Silverhawks, Voltron and Muppet Babies. (Oh yeah, you heard that right. I was a Muppet Baby fan through and through!) So my interests, like everyone else at my age, moved on to other things. It was that simple. I still loved watching Star Wars on VHS but other than that I wasn’t missing it as much.
You see, during these “Dark Times” Star Wars fans weren’t in mourning, they were looking elsewhere for their entertainment to come. There’s no more Star Wars movies coming out? Oh well! Bring on the Transformers! No one was that upset about it. We didn’t crave more material. (or so we thought until 1991)
My family moved in 1989 and unlike a lot of kids that age I was stoked to be moving away from home and having new friends! Not that I hated my old ones, I just liked the idea of going somewhere new! When we moved, those kids weren’t talking about Star Wars either. Sure they loved the movies, same as us but that was all they were back then….movies. We didn’t care to see anything more than that.
With encouragement from my Dad’s secretary I started getting in to Star Trek, which was way easy to do. They already had a second TV Show airing at the time, tons of books and games and even movies starring the original cast. It was a great time to be a Trekkie.
I watched every episode and read a lot of the older books from the 80’s but soon discovered a problem. They ran in complete conflict the show at times. I asked my Dad’s secretary (Jackie) at the time about it and she replied “Well, that’s just how books are written. They aren’t considered to have happened within the same timeline as the shows.” (back then the word “canon” was never used)
I was quickly turned off from reading anymore Trek books, but continued to watch the shows because Deanna Troi was a foxy lady. And even when by accident Mrs. Jackie bought me Heir to the Empire I had no desire to read it. Because as I’ve said on YouTube before, I loved the movies, but wasn’t interested in anyone continuing the story of favorite characters from my youth.
That is until one lazy summer day when I had nothing to do so I pulled the paperback off my shelf and cracked open the first page….and the rest is history.
But overall, during the “Dark Times” of the franchise no one suffered. We all went about our daily lives, happy to move on to other interest. And whatever people tell you, don’t believe them. Unbelievable as it is, there was indeed a time when nobody cared about Star Wars…and we were all fine with it.