Craig Miller (Lucasfilm Director of Fan Relations)
Lucasfilm Director of Fan Relations
Interview: December 2021
From 1977 until 1980 Craig Miller was the Director of Fan Relations at Lucasfilm. If you’re an OG fan you’ve probably read the Bantha Tracks magazine or maybe you remember R2 and 3PO visiting Sesame Street. It was Craig Miller who wrote those magazines and produced that TV episode (he even operated R2-D2!). Back in 2019 he published his memoires in the form of a 400+ page book. In the following interview he talks about how his Star Wars career started and the things he experienced in his time at Lucasfilm.
How did you get the job of Director Fan Relations for Lucasfilm in 1977?
Mostly by accident, honestly. I was a lifelong science fiction/comics/movie fan. And I happened to meet Charley Lippincott, who was heading all the marketing and licensing for what was then called the Star Wars Corporation. He had decided to try to reach out directly to fans to publicize Star Wars. Because there weren’t really any Big Name Actors to book onto talk shows and because science fiction, back in the ’70s, was not a genre that most of the general public was interested in (or, at least, wouldn’t admit to their interest). He knew about fandom and conventions but wasn’t involved or connected to it. So I became a consultant to him. And, eventually, was hired full time.
Could you describe what your exact job was during that time?
That’s a good question. Not sure I can tell you what my “exact” job was. Among other things, what it entailed kept changing. My official title throughout my time at Lucasfilm was Director of Fan Relations and I was tasked with just that, all of our relations with fans and fandom. Early tasks included figuring out how to deal with all of the fan mail the film, George, Gary, the actors, the characters, the crew were receiving. And to create and run the Official Star Wars Fan Club. Then it included working with local clubs and conventions, fanzine publishers, etc. etc. Beyond that, I was a publicist for the film, doing things like writing press releases, working with reporters, writing the Press Kit for The Empire Strikes Back, stuff like that. And special things like being Producer for Lucasfilm on things like episodes of Sesame Street guest starring R2 and Threepio and commercials for Underoos and other licensees, some award shows. All kinds of things.
I know you wrote every issue of Bantha Tracks but what were the other things you did?
With regard to the Fan Club, I wrote almost everything that went into the first three years of the newsletter, Bantha Tracks and selected the items that went into the Membership Kit, including designing the poster that Ralph McQuarrie painted for the original kit.
What do you regard as your biggest achievement while working for Lucasfilm?
I don’t really know how to judge that. Charley Lippincott thought the “biggest” most important thing was creating the Fan Club and doing Bantha Tracks. He said it was a major factor in making and keeping Star Wars an evergreen franchise. I think the Sesame Street episodes were a big deal and something that everyone who saw them loved. I’m also very proud of the 800 number telephone line messages I wrote and produced that you could call the five months leading up to the release of Empire, getting a message from one of the main characters. And, of course, I met the woman who became my wife while doing a preview of Empire at a science fiction convention. So, for me personally, that was a pretty important achievement.
In 1980 you quit as Director of Fan Relations. Could you explain why?
I left Lucasfilm shortly after we opened The Empire Strikes Back. George had told me, sitting in the mixing room working on the sound track for Empire, that he’d decided to not do the rest of the trilogies. He was going to do the third film – eventually called Return of the Jedi of course – and stop. Plus he was going to be shortly closing the Los Angeles offices and move everything up north. I decided I didn’t want to move up to Northern California. Plus if George was only going to be doing one more film, if I was going to stay in the movie industry, I’d have to move right back down to L.A. because there really wasn’t anywhere else to work up there. So thinking coming off the success of Star Wars and Empire was a good calling card, I decided to leave after we opened and start my own business as a publicity consultant. Which is what I did. And almost immediately, Warner Bros. became my first client, for Superman II, Altered States, Excalibur, and other films. And then Disney, Universal and Columbia became clients.
I saw some fantastic photos of you on the set of The Empire Strikes Back with the Falcon, Gary Kurtz and Irvin Kershner. What did you witness while you were on the set?
Wow. That was pretty amazing. I made two trips over during production on Empire, for a total of about four weeks or so. During that time I was “on” Hoth and Dagobah and visited the Carbon Freeze Chamber from Cloud City. Spent lots of time with the cast and crew, doing interviews and asking questions. It was amazing.
You produced the Star WarsSesame Street episodes. Do you have good anecdotes about the making of these?
The Sesame Street episodes were exciting and fun and a big responsibility for me. I’d put that whole project together, from suggesting to Sesame Street that they have R2 and Threepio as guest stars to approving the scripts to overseeing our entire side of the production. And I got to be one R2’s operators (back then, with 1970s technology, it took two people to operate R2). I have a long section in my book, Star Wars Memories, about doing the Sesame Street episodes. One quick thing I remember being amused by. All of my team, all the Lucasfilm people, we wanted our picture taken with Big Bird. All of the Sesame Street crew wanted their photos with R2.
How was it to operate R2?
Operating R2 was both exciting and, occasionally, infuriating. I got to be one of his operators on several occasions for various television appearances and it was always exciting. But his movements were limited – much moreso than modern versions of R2 – and he frequently had problems. Especially when we were shooting in New York. Radio-control technology was also more primitive then and all of the on-set radios, the steel in the construction of the buildings, and all of the radio calls from passing New York taxis made R2 sometimes difficult to control. But even with that, it was always fun.
You have worked with George Lucas. I read that he once told you about his idea to have Boba Fett be the main villain in Return of the Jedi. Are there other little-known facts you could share?
I worked with George quite a bit during my years at Lucasfilm. And one part of my job was to discuss with him things I was hearing from fans. Questions or issues they had with the films. Like parsec being used to describe the Kessel Run seemingly as a measure of time instead of distance. Or why Chewie didn’t get a medal. And we spoke a few times about things in (or not in) the script for Empire. The biggest thing was, as you mentioned, that Boba was intended to be the main villain in Return of the Jedi. That film was going to be about rescuing Han, dealing with Boba, etc. The redemption of Darth Vader and overthrow of the Emperor was intended for the next trilogy. But when George decided in 1980 not to do that next trilogy, Boba Fett became expendable and those things had to be dealt with in the third movie.
Were you involved in the making of the Star Wars movies in any way?
I suppose it depends on how you define “the making of”. Obviously I wasn’t in them nor was I part of the on-set crew. But I was a publicist for Star Wars and Empire. Back then, publicists didn’t get their names listed in the on screen credits although frequently they do now. I was on set for several weeks during production on Empire. I had one of the Bounty Hunter’s names changed before production started. And I gave Tony Daniels some ad libs for C-3PO, one of which made it into Empire.
Who is the Bounty Hunter you’re referring to?
Zuckuss. Originally, in the script, his name was Tuckuss. Which, I pointed out, was unfortunately close to “tuccus”, the Yiddish word for “ass”. His name got changed.
I’m also curious what C-3PO’s ad lib was.
In the early part of Empire, R2 and C-3PO are standing near the doors of the ice cave, looking out into the snow, worrying about “poor Master Luke”. R2 turns and starts rolling back into the cave, toward the Millennium Falcon. Threepio calls him a “miserable short circuit”. Admittedly, not a major addition to the film but it was one of the ad libs that amused Tony and he used it.
When you ran Bantha Tracks it was THE primary source of Star Wars information for the fans. Things have changed a lot with the internet and there are hundreds of Star Wars sites now. A good or bad thing?
Both good and bad. It’s great that there are more ways to get information out and for people to receive information. But, unfortunately, a lot of information that’s out there is wrong. Lots of guesses and suppositions by people not actually involved with the films or TV shows they’re talking about. Sometimes deliberately wrong. Same goes for information on most any topic. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of the internet. Anyone can say anything. And often do. But overall I think it’s a good thing.
I loved my time working on Star Wars and one of the things I loved most was talking to fans of the films. Over the years, I’ve done a lot of convention appearances and continued talking to fans and telling stories about Star Wars and other films I worked on. And for years, people said “You should write a book”. Finally, I did. It’s over 400 oversized pages of information and anecdotes and photographs about my time at Lucasfilm and all the things I was involved with. It starts with getting Fox to say yes to making Star Wars and runs through the premiere of Empire. And one of the things I’m happiest about the book is that it *isn’t* stories you’ve heard or read before. So many of the reviews of the book even from longtime Star Wars fans talk about how surprised they were by the book. They thought they knew everything, heard everything about the making of the films. But this was all new and different. Gary Kurtz, who, of course, produced Star Wars and Empire, wrote the foreword for the book not long before he died.
You’re the Godfather of Star Wars fan clubs. StarWarsInterviews.com is a site for fans, run by a fan (me). Do you have good advice?
You have been around for quite a while and have a lot of faithful followers so I’m not sure there’s much I could tell you. Perhaps just the point of view I took when writing all the issues of Bantha Tracks. Even though, in our case, many of our readers were fairly young, and even though most had little experience with or knowledge of filmmaking, I wrote articles based on what *I* would want to know. I was a science fiction fan. I was a movie fan. Who would I want to read interviews with? What information about making Star Wars and Empire would I want to know? What things would I want explained (always being careful to do it in a thoughtful, adult way, even though some readers were, as I said, quite young). Your audience is more knowledgeable and informed than most people were in the late 1970s and you should always treat them that way. And think about who *you* would want to hear from. I think it’s important to always treat people with respect. Do that and be a Fan Club or a group or a website that delivers what people want and what you promise, and I think they’ll stay with you as long as you’re around.