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Book Review: “Star Wars Memories: My Time in the (Death Star) Trenches” by Craig Miller

Book Review: “Star Wars Memories: My Time in the (Death Star) Trenches” by Craig Miller

Star Wars Memories: My Time in the (Death Star) Trenches by Craig Miller is unique look into the early days of Lucasfilm, and behind-the-scenes of creating Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. It’s a look only a true insider could provide, and Craig Miller certainly fits the bill.

If you were a member of the Official Star Wars Fan Club back in the day, and enjoyed your copy of Bantha Tracks, you might want to thank Craig. Craig was the first Director of Fan Relations for Lucasfilm, and he was the original founder of the fan club and wrote the articles that populated Bantha Tracks. Years before the internet, message boards, social media, and what-have-you, Star Wars fans were largely dependent on that publication for news about the films, interviews with the cast, and behind-the-scenes information. These days, our culture of instant gratification would probably have a hard time coping, but it was a special time in fandom. Reading about those days in Star Wars Memories certainly made that old nostalgia bubble up to the surface.

In addition to those responsibilities, Craig also wore the hats of publicist, editor, and producer. His insider credentials are solid.

Star Wars Memories is filled with anecdotes and recollections from those early days of Star Wars, both pre- and post-phenomenon. Most of the recountings are first hand, while others are from other sources if Craig wasn’t present. All are immensely engaging. Admittedly, some were familiar to me (I’m 51, so I’ve heard a fair amount of Star Wars stories in my 40+ years of fandom), but I was surprised at how many were new to me. As were many of the photographs! And there are plenty of photos, including ones never before published.

Craig shares his story in a conversational manner, and his passion for Star Wars — and geeky things in general — comes through each page. He casually shares interactions he had with George Lucas, Gary Kurtz (who wrote the foreword before his passing), Mark Hamill (who barbecued burgers for Craig), Carrie Fisher (who introduced the British crew to Mexican food), Harrison Ford (whose in-depth interview with Craig is reproduced in the book), Anthony Daniels (whose last minute visa was approved after Craig intervened with a prominent US Senator), Steven Spielberg (with whom Craig played arcade games), among many others.

Also as part of his duties, Craig was instrumental in promoting Star Wars prior to it’s 1977 release and conventions in locations across the country. Building anticipation for the film was crucial to its success, so there was a lot riding on these appearances. Craig was well-suited to it, having been on the fan side of things prior to working for Lucasfilm. He knew how conventions worked and what would appeal to the fans. From the stories recounted in the book, cons had a much more intimate feel than the massive endeavors they’ve become in recent years. But their promotional impact remains the same.

Aside from the more exciting stories about being on set for Star Wars and The Empire Strike Back, there are also stories of office life, the day-to-day operation of Lucasfilm. That sounds like it could be mundane, but actually it’s quite the opposite. From the beginning, Lucasfilm had its own unique identity and character, certainly reflecting that of Star Wars creator, George Lucas.

As a producer, Craig was involved in things such as Star Wars character appearances on Sesame Street, and those classic Underoos commercials. Being from Illinois, probably my favorite anecdote is in the run-up to the release of The Empire Strikes Back. Craig devised a plan for an 800 number fans could call into and hear messages from their favorite characters — Luke, Han, Leia, C-3PO, and Darth Vader. These were the days of landlines, and the prefix used for the 800 number was 521, which was located in Illinois. There were so many calls coming into the phone company that the 800 system crashed. Oops! I wasn’t making a lot of phone calls back in 1979, since I was just a kid, but I do recall hearing about this incident on the news. Now I know who was behind it!

Star Wars Memories: My Time in the (Death Star) Trenches is an engaging look back at the world that was when Star Wars was born, and Craig Miller makes a great tour guide. Fans of a certain age (ahem), and those too young to have been around at the beginning should both find enough takeaways from this book to round out their Star Wars knowledge.

You can purchase your copy of Star Wars Memories: My Time in the (Death Star) Trenches now from Amazon.

Thank you to Craig Miller for providing a copy of this book for review purposes.

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