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Feature: Starburst at 300
One Vision, 7 Editors, 26 Years…
It all began in 1977, with the release of a movie that few people ever dared dream would be successful. Star Wars, a lavish, family-oriented spectacle filled to the brim with state-of-the-art effects, transcended its limitations as a film and became a world-wide cultural event. It defined the term ‘blockbuster’ (quite literally, US audiences would queue around the block to get a ticket), initiated a whole slew of pale imitations (Disney’s The Black Hole, Battle Beyond the Stars...) and brought an unfashionable genre back into vogue.
To appreciate the state of Science Fiction before Star Wars, you really had to be there. For this writer, then a 14-year-old schoolboy hooked on Doctor Who and Space: 1999, there really was no temptation to spend all my pocket money on Sci-Fi related merchandise. The core audience for Science Fiction was there, but, bar the occasional poster magazine or one-off special, few publishing companies had had the foresight to capitalize on the market. So when Starburst first hit newsagents, hot on the heels of the UK release of Star Wars, it helped change the genre in its own unique way. It brought Science Fiction fans together, gave them a voice, as well as being the primary source of news, reviews and interviews.
Then published independently and edited by Dez Skinn, Starburst Issue One had few pretensions, but what it may have lacked in variety and flair was easily compensated for by sheer enthusiasm. The Sci-Fi boom Star Wars created would never go away, rather it would change and grow with the times: there were many abominable Outer Space cash-ins, but upcoming film-makers like Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott and James Cameron brought an added degree of sophistication that took the genre to a still wider audience. Close Encounters of the Third Kind stepped away from space battles, star cruisers and evil aliens to deliver an enchanting character-based tale of extra-terrestrial visitation. Blade Runner was an adaptation of a classic Philip K Dick tale, at first criticized for the re-edits demanded by the studio, until Scott’s original version was finally released years later – because fans, many of them Starburst readers, had demanded it. Alien allowed Scott to test the boundaries of Science Fiction, combining it with visceral horror, a baton that Cameron would later carry with the sequel Aliens – and to some extent his Terminator films.
Significantly, Science Fiction did not just dominate the movie industry’s output – it also changed the face of theatrical entertainment as we know it. Lucas, who made his fortune from Star Wars, reinvested much of his fortune in ILM, a company that would pioneer special effects techniques, while helping to define standards for cinema exhibition. Spielberg embraced the work of ILM and joined forces with Lucas (most notably for the Indiana Jones fantasy adventure trilogy), while some years later, with The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Cameron entered a whole new realm of film-making by pioneering the large-scale use of computer graphic effects. From then on, Sci-Fi movies could only be confined by the limits of the script-writers’ and directors’ imaginations. And throughout this incredible revolution in cinema, Starburst has been there – although by the mid-80s it had left the Marvel stable, which it had joined after the first three issues, and been bought out by Visual Imagination.
by David Richardson
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