Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Retrospective: Starlog

In keeping with the Star Wars theme of this week, I thought, I'd thought I'd take a sidestep away from gaming for this installment of my retrospective series to focus on another huge influence on me when I was a younger person -- Starlog magazine.

Living in 2010, it's hard to remember what it was like to be a kid in 1978. There was no Internet, cable TV was practically unheard of (and in any event only had a handful of channels anyway), and people actually read newspapers and magazines. And there were many, many magazines devoted to all sorts of special interests of which Starlog was a good example. The magazine had exclusive interviews, photos, and other features dealing with current and upcoming sci-fi movies and TV shows. Back then, reading a magazine like Starlog was one of the few ways you could learn about "Star Wars II" or the next Star Trek feature film. There simply were no other options available at the time.

I never subscribed to Starlog, but I picked up a lot of issues over the period between 1977 and 1984 or so. I'd dutifully walk down to the corner store every month to see if the latest issue had anything about movies or TV shows I liked, with particular attention paid to Star Wars. I still remember the incredible feeling or euphoria and confusion I had upon picking up an issue that included early stills from the still-unreleased The Empire Strikes Back. I'd spent several years imagining what another Star Wars movie would be like and nothing that I saw in those stills was at all like I expected. I remember being quite unnerved by a still depicting Han Solo frozen in carbonite. What was going on in this movie? I was even more excited -- and frightened -- of seeing it now, thanks to Starlog.

What's interesting is that, because Starlog was primarily intended to promote interest in the films and TV shows it covered in its articles, there wasn't a lot of criticism of them. Based on what I read back then, everything looked cool, with photos chosen to give that precise impression. I wish I could remember now how often I was duped into believing that some silly Star Wars knock-off film was actually cool, based solely on the article I read about it in Starlog, not that it mattered. Back then, I was so starved for information about science fiction films and television shows that I didn't care whether or not Battle Beyond the Stars was a good movie (it wasn't). There were lots of cool photos and they inspired my imagination, which is all that mattered to me in the end.

I can't say that I miss Starlog. I have a certain nostalgia for it and remember it as a big influence on me when I was younger, but I don't think it was a great magazine. Its primary virtue was that it was a major source of information I wanted at a time when such information was not otherwise readily available. I wouldn't want to go back to those days of information scarcity, even if they did make me better appreciate what little information I did manage to get hold of. Certainly there's virtue in mystery and upcoming movies were generally plenty mysterious in the late 1970s, when there weren't websites updated daily cataloging every single thing revealed by any means about every single movie in production between now and Doomsday.

I suspect another reason I retain fond memories of Starlog is that, despite all the dreck it covered, it also covered a lot of movies and TV shows from an era when science fiction was still lots of fun, at least from my perspective. I realize that's a purely subjective thing, of course, but it's something I genuinely feel nonetheless. I guess I am getting old. Ah well, it happens to us all.

17 comments:

  1. I had few entertainment dollars back then, and what didn't go to D&D and comic books went to Fangoria over Starlog every time. Like you said, not a great magazine, but I needed to know what horror movies were coming out so I'd know what R-rated movies my mom had to take me to see when I got straight A's. :)

    There was a golden window for the usefulness of Fangoria (and I assume Starlog) with the advent of VHS. Before the internet, it was helpful in triaging the horror titles at the local video store. At least until I'd seen them all.

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  2. My favorite magazine of the period was Monster magazine(also known as Famous Monster). Not only did it cover new horror, sci-fi, an fantasy, but it also had articles about older movies, directors, studios and actors. The coolest part was actually the ads in the back where you could order masks from Don Post Studios and really cool toys and collectibles you couldn't find in stores (at least not in Iowa!). I still have my old collection and puruse it ocassionally.

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  3. I read the odd issue of Starlog, here and there. My first was the one you used to illustrate this post. Fun stuff.

    Wish I still had them.

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  4. The issues of Starlog I owned were treasured and reread many times. I especially remember the interview with Larry "Buster" Crabbe who liked Han Solo, but preferred Dale Arden to Princess Leia. And the Star Wars contest issue in which readers submitted photos of their own dioramas with Star Wars action figures.

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  5. Like Shawn, I also enjoyed Famous Monsters, but my younger brother and I divided our collecting duties. I bought Starlog and he bought Famous Monsters, and then we shared.

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  7. Starlog was truly awesome back in the day. The cover you posted was the first one I ever bought, as I recall.

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  8. One of my favorite Starlog articles was a preview of the upcoming TV series Buck Rogers when it was still being envisioned as a relatively serious SF show -- more like Star Trek than Star Wars. I would still like to visit the parallel Earth where that version got made.

    I also loved the articles about how special effects pros did up their houses for Halloween.

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  9. I remember trying to make costumes and build models from the small and sometimes fuzzy pictures in Starlog.

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  10. I wasn't even aware that they'd ceased publication until I just wiki'd it.

    Which is indicative, I guess, of exactly why it ceased publication.

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  11. I do so miss those days. Starlog and Fangoria were my two favorites. I recently picked up an issue of Fangoria and was astounded at just how expensive those things are these days. Special interest rags are still out there, but man...you REALLY need to be interested, now, at those prices!

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  12. I saw Battle Beyond the Stars in the theater when it came out. So terrible....so damn terrible.

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  13. Starlog was never hugely popular. Somehow (at least last I knew) its sister magazine Fangoria is still going. Albeit at 9 bucks an issue for something that looks only slightly higher quality than a fanzine in production. (Half the pages are usually 2 color one grade above newspaper quality paper.)

    In the late 80s everyone who was into such things read Fango and dismissed Starlog.

    Hell, for a while Fango was so huge they also had a second magazine called Gorezone out.

    I can sort of see why Starlog went away. Even though it and Fangoria did the sort of more in depth coverage the Internet doesn't much do, it was never massively popular.

    Plus given review groups like the B Masters' Cabal, That Guy With the Glasses, and so on, most of the retro and nostalgia coverage they used to shore up the issues is available online in other places anyhow.

    Though at least G Fan is still running. (A Godzilla fanzine. Its usually 60 or more pages and has been running since the mid 90s.)

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  14. You make me feel a great kinship with you. Growing up in a little cow town in Texas, Starlog was the only link I had to "FANDOM" in general.

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  15. Thanks for sharing the memories, James. I'd like to add that there were competitors at the time, where fans could learn about the Star Wars sequel and other films/TV/books, but the options – Fantastic Films, Questar, Famous Monsters, etc. – simply weren't as good as Starlog. Not as broad, not as good at speaking the language of the young SF fan, not as successful at snagging the big interviews or fielding the best genre journalists.

    Yeah, Starlog received lots of criticism over the years about supposedly being a shill for the studios and not criticizing bad films, but that criticism is to some extent unwarranted. Besides the three annual 100-page reviews issues it published in the early 1980s, it also featured its editors and publishers commenting on movies they liked (Bucakroo Banzai, Empire Strikes Back, etc.) and hated (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, etc.).

    If anyone's interested, I have been chronicling each issue of Starlog on my blog, and as of early September 2010, I'm up to issue #167: http://weimarworld.blogspot.com/search/label/starlog%20internet%20archive%20project

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  16. I don't know about the movie reviews, but... I have a couple on the shelf such as #31 (Black Hole cover) and #41 (Flash Gordon cover) and I read a bunch of them at the Merril Collection here in Toronto. It may have been shill-esque to studios. But it was also hugely gossipy. A decade after StarTrek had been canceled you'd get a producer and writer screaming at each other in editorials about the show. There were a bunch of pieces like that - Fontana, Gerrold, Frieberger. Harlan Ellison wrote a piece dissing Star Wars. Mark Hamill calling some special effects guy a traitor for going to Battlestar Galactica. And the lead to Buck Rogers Gil Gerrard criticizing the writing on his own show. Yikes. I do recall it being kind of gossipy. They had an offshoot magazine called Future Life that was ...futurist.How the world was going to be fed by kelp harvested in the ocean and people would live in space etc. Didn't last. But the founding editor was a flat out Objectivist. He counted one of his most important moments on earth meeting Ayn Rand. To such a person, I difference between science and fiction was something of a blur, I'd say. To our benefit. Until some time in the 80s the magazine was a powerhouse. They caught the wind of scifi becoming mainstream.

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  17. I had a massive, exhaustive even, collection of Starlog. One day sometime in '78 or '79 I got bored and thought 'hey, instead of paging through all these to look at the Star Wars pics, I could make a scrapbook and look at them all at once!'

    Thus was committed the most heinous deed of my youth. Forgive me, please..

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