Back to Space-Con Premiere

Pete Vilmur | March 14, 2011

Anyone who’s followed my articles on knows that I’ve got a soft spot for Star Wars’ first fandom – that is, those early fans who pre-empted the official costumes, books, and other merchandise in the months following A New Hope’s May ’77 release and created their own homespun papier mache masks, fanzines, bumper stickers and buttons to share their enthusiasm for the newfound faraway galaxy.

Luke Skywalker costume from a ’70s Space-Con

The appeal of those often clumsy, awkward early days lead me to a small premiere screening at Michaan’s Theater in Alameda this weekend, a somewhat forgotten early century movie palace nestled along the edge of San Francisco Bay near Oakland, California. A new documentary was debuting on DVD celebrating the history of Space-Con, a series of Star Trek/science fiction conventions that got their start at a Bay Area high school in 1975 and made seven more successful runs through 1980, becoming a fondly-recalled facet of Bay Area fandom thereafter.

Now, while the documentary – you can see the trailer here – has a decidedly Star Trek slant, there’s definitely some gems for old-school Star Wars fans here, as Darth Vader, stormtroopers, Luke Skywalker and other Star Wars denizens enjoy increasing play in the footage as coverage moves into 1977 and the years that follow. I especially enjoyed seeing the dealer tables rife with early unsanctioned Star Wars buttons and bumper stickers (“Let the Wookie [sic] Win!”), an all-too-common sight at conventions of the seventies.

’70s TIE Fighter costume

For the documentary, the early convention footage was donated to filmmaker Tom Wyrsch by the estate of the late Bob Wilkins, host of the locally-broadcast Creature Features show, which ran from 1971-84 (Wilkins hosted until 1979). In it, Wilkins’ camera man captures rare 16mm images of Star Wars fandom in its infancy on display at the Space-Cons, emerging from the well-established Star Trek fandom juggernaut that exploded after the show’s cancellation in 1969.

Papier mache stormtrooper from Space-Con

Guests at the Alameda premiere – many of whom were featured in the doc – included several of Space-Con’s organizers as well as Star Wars farce creator Ernie Fosselius, who’s been officially credited by Lucasfilm as a Star Wars fan film pioneer. His Star Wars satire Hardware Wars became a fixture at the Space-Cons after its debut in 1978.

Back to Space-Con is definitely worth adding to your Star Wars video collection, slipped comfortably between your scratchy super-8 movie reel of scenes from Star Wars and your bootleg DVD of “The Star Wars Holiday Special” — encapsulating, for a moment, the era from which Star Wars came.

Check out the Back to Space-Con trailer here (DVD copies available here) and a great interview with the filmmaker here.

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