It is a nearly unanimous opinion amongst Star Wars fans that The Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the growing franchise, the gold standard of Jedi adventures that properly balances Force magic, gritty battles, and beloved new characters. Some hold it especially close in an era in which the franchise is rapidly expanding and diversifying with movies that they suggest don't hold a candle (or lightsaber) to Empire.
That stance is more than a little bit amusing to Craig Miller, who served as the inaugural director of fan relations for Lucasfilm from 1977-80 and remembers quite a different response to the second chapter in the Jedi saga.
"People are surprised now that when The Empire Strikes Back came out, there were a lot of fans who had exactly the same complaints about it that they do about The Force Awakens [and The Last Jedi]: there was too much humor and a Jedi wouldn't go off and be a hermit," Miller remembers in a new episode of The Fandom Files. "I always think that's the funniest complaint about [the new movies], because pretty much every Jedi we've met has gone off to be a hermit. Obi-wan was a hermit. Yoda was a hermit. And now Luke went on to be a hermit. That's what they do."
Miller left Lucasfilm in 1980 and went on to a career writing and producing in Hollywood. He's also been a Comic-Con mainstay, and not only due to his work in the industry. In what was some kind of act of fandom fate, Miller grew up with Fred Patten, the man who is now known as the father of anime fandom in the United States. They met as 14 years old and became fast friends; Patten would take Miller to private screenings of bootleg 16mm animated films around Los Angeles, where they would talk for hours with cartoon enthusiasts and aspiring animators themselves.
Patten soon got into Japanese animation, despite not speaking the language or being able to fully understand what was happening on screen.
"Many of them were not the most in-depth of material, so they were fairly easy to follow," Miller, who confessed he wasn't at first particularly enamored with anime, remembers. "A lot of people were just into the giant robot and heroes, they weren't getting into some of the others. That was one of Fred's regrets: He wasn't able to get people early on into some of the other areas of anime."
Patten passed away last week, the anime fandom having long blossomed past focus on the mecha-tech and space adventures that first attracted people to the form.
Miller waxed poetic on more of his Star Wars days — including his gleeful stoking of the pre-internet rumor mill — and his relationship with Patten on this new episode of The Fandom Files.
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