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'Star Wars': Celebrating 35 years at Comic-Con

How the mega-franchise went from a lowly card table to a convention tentpole

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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (which is to say, San Diego), a nascent film company went to Comic-Con inspired by a thought that would take the rest of Hollywood many more years to embrace. The year was 1976 — one year before Star Wars took the world by storm and transformed pop culture. George Lucas’ marketing maven Charley Lippincott decided to use Comic-Con (then a modest hotel gathering of a couple thousand comic-book fans and sci-fi/fantasy buffs) as ground zero for a grassroots buzz-building campaign for the movie. ”At the time, science fiction was considered a dead genre,” says Steve Sansweet, Lucasfilm’s current fan-relations adviser. ”Charley was brilliant enough, or desperate enough, to know what needed to be done.” Lippincott talked up the movie from a meager card table and hawked special Star Wars posters, made to help subsidize the trip, for $1.75. (Today they sell for more than $3,000.) Lucasfilm has been at Comic-Con every year since. No more card tables, though. This year, the company’s massive booth will include a black-box theater offering a preview of the Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray set (complete with never-before-seen deleted scenes), out Sept. 16, 2011.