‘Star Wars’ Collectibles & Toys Review: Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure)

Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure) repackages Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series: Luke Skywalker #21 from 2016 in a “Kenner” cardback based on the original 3.75-inch micro-action figure’s 1978 packaging. Photo Credit: Hasbro via Walmart. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm, Ltd. (LFL)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

From Farm Boy to Hero of the Rebellion

In the spring of 2017, in anticipation of the 40th Anniversary of the theatrical premiere of George Lucas’s Star Wars (aka Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), Hasbro, Inc. of Pawtucket (RI) released its first wave of Star Wars The Black Series 40th Anniversary 6-inch scale action figures with “Kenner” branded cardback packaging based on the packages for the original 1978 Star Wars “micro-action figures”  

Introduced in Hasbro’s exhibit area at the 2017 International Toy Fair, the first batch of Star Wars 40th Anniversary figures included Princess Leia Organa, Han Solo, See Threepio, Artoo Detoo, and a young moisture farmer-turned-Rebel named Luke Skywalker.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s review of the Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) figure, most of the figures in this consignment are repackaged items from Star Wars The Black Series’ 2016 production run. In this case, Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) is actually a reissue of the Luke Skywalker (#21) figure but in a slightly modified replica of the “12 Cardback” package used for 1978’s Luke Skywalker, the first of the original wave of 12 3.75-inch scale figures.

Accordingly, this Star Wars 40th Anniversary collectible is a 6-inch scale rendition of the original Star Wars Trilogy’s protagonist dressed in his iconic Tatooine farmer’s outfit and equipped with his father Anakin’s lightsaber and a set of macrobinoculars.

What’s in the Package?

Photo Credit: Hasbro via Walmart. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Luke Skywalker

A young farmboy living on the remote desert planet Tatooine, Luke Skywalker yearns to escape the dull routine of his daily chores on his uncle’s moisture farm. Luke dreams of becoming a space pilot, but is torn between his desire to enroll in the Academy and his loyalty to his uncle and aunt, who need him on the farm. When Luke discovers a cryptic message hidden in one of his new droids, he sets out on a quest and is catapulted into a world of adventure which will at last fulfill his true destiny. – Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary

In Star Wars: A New Hope, Luke lives with his Uncle Owen Lars and Aunt Beru in a remote homestead some distance away from the town of Anchorhead and Mos Eisley Spaceport. To work and live in the inhospitable desert of Tatooine, the moisture farmers and other residents must wear comfortable clothing that reflects the twin suns’ light and keeps the body cool. Luke’s clothing reflects these exigencies of the desert climate, so he wears a loose-fitting white farm tunic, light-colored pants, leggings to keep the ever-present Tatooine sand out of his shoes, and work boots with grip soles.

Luke also wears a belt with pouches and hooks for various items, including survival gear, a droid caller to summon any of the droids on the homestead – including Artoo Detoo and See Threepio – and (eventually) a belt clip to attach an unexpected heirloom – his father’s lightsaber.   All of this is reflected in Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure).

This figure is, as described earlier, a reissue of Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (#21), which depicts the character played in six of the Skywalker Saga films (and two Radio Dramas!) by actor Mark Hamill as he appears throughout much of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Luke is outfitted with the following articles of clothing and accessories:

  • Tatooine farm tunic (made of fabric)
  • Light pants
  • Sandproof leggings
  • Footgear with grip soles
  • Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber (with detachable “energy blade”)
  • Set of macrobinoculars

A Closer Look at Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure)

Although this Hasbro action figure is a linear descendant of Kenner Toys’ original 1978 Luke Skywalker #1 micro-action figure – the 40th Anniversary variant even comes in a “cardback” bubble pack with Kenner indicia and the same art and Star Wars collection logo used for that 3.75-inch figure – it is a vastly different product altogether.

First, the Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure) is rendered in a larger size – 6-inch scale, to be precise. This allows Hasbro to add many features that Kenner Toys – a former rival that the company absorbed in a merger in the 1990s – simply couldn’t give its 1978-1985 figures at the time.

This well-preserved specimen of Kenner’s Luke Skywalker #1 from 1978 was sold by online store Brian’s Toys for $700. Someone with deep pockets bought it. Photo Credit: Brian’s Toys.

Advances in toymaking tech – especially computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) methods – gives Hasbro the ability to create action figures with better sculpts and paint jobs. As a result, Star Wars figures now more closely resemble the human, non-human, and robotic characters from the films and TV shows than the original Kenner figures ever could.

Second, because most of Hasbro’s consumers of Star Wars figures, vehicles, and other collectibles are adult fans and collectors, the company puts a lot of effort into making character-based products as realistic and lifelike as possible.

In order to give Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure) – which was originally released as Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (#21)  these desirable traits, Hasbro not only tried hard to make the sculpt and paint job on the figure so good that it looks like the then-24-year-old Mark Hamill. And for the most part, it does, especially if you make the – unfair, I know – comparison to Kenner’s original Luke Skywalker #1 from 42 years ago.

Promotional photo of the original Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker #21 figure from 2016; in April of 2017 Hasbro re-issued the same figure in “Kenner” branded cardback packaging for Star Wars’ 40th Anniversary. Photo Credit: Hasbro (via Amazon). (C) 2016 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

For instance, where Kenner used a too-bright yellow color for Luke’s late-1970s shaggy hairstyle in at least two iterations of the farmboy-turned-Rebel-and-Jedi (Luke Skywalker and Luke Skywalker (Bespin Fatigues), Hasbro has used – for the longest time – a paint color that approximates Mark Hamill’s dirty blond hair color. The skin color on Luke-based figures is also more lifelike, and whereas Kenner never could give its 3.75-inch scale human figures accurately colored pupils, Hasbro has been doing so since at least its late 1990s Power of the Force 2 collection. (To be fair, Kenner could, and did, give its 12-inch line of Star Wars figures that kind of verisimilitude back in the 1970s, but that’s because the larger size makes that task easier.)

Photo Credit: Hasbro via Walmart. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm, Ltd. (LFL)

And if you look at the figure closely (either still in its cardback or loose), you’ll notice that the 21st Century Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker gets the details of Luke’s Tatooine farmer’s outfit right, too.  The white tunic – which symbolizes the character’s naivete and innocence at the start of his “hero’s journey” – is made of fabric and cinched at the waist by Luke’s survival gear belt.

Luke’s light-colored work pants, sandproof leggings, and grip-soled boots have a lighter, less monochromatic shade of beige-grey compared to Kenner’s dark-tan coloring for that part of the figure’s outfit. The only commonality, function-wise, between the newer figure and the 1978 original’s paint and sculpt job is that both simulate various articles of clothing and footwear via molds and paint rather than use fabric for the pants and leggings.  The 1978 micro-action figure was cool for its time (and I wouldn’t part with mine in any case), but this one looks way cooler.

Again, it’s unfair to compare the new with the old due to the fact that as time has passed, the look of toys – especially those that are sought after by avid fans of a franchise such as Star Wars – has evolved in tandem with toymaking tech and methodology.  So it stands to reason that this version of Luke Skywalker is closer to the character’s look than its Kenner ancestor.

Hasbro also makes it easier to place the figures in more lifelike poses by incorporating at least 12 points of articulation (POAs) – which are analogous to joints in human anatomy, such as the neck, elbows, wrists, hips, etc. –  in human or humanoid character-based action figures. In the “early age” of Kenner action figures, especially its famous 3.75-inch figures, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Stormtrooper, Chewbacca et al had five – sometimes less – POAs. (Chewie and Imperial stormtroopers lacked a neck POA to turn their heads!)

Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (#21) – or, in this case, its 2017 Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure) incarnation boasts at least 13 POAs, most of which are hidden by Luke’s Tatooine tunic. These points of articulation are:

  • Neck  (1)
  • Shoulders (2)
  • Elbows (2)
  • Wrists (2)
  • Waist (1)
  • Hips (2)
  • Knees (2)
  • Ankles (2)

By my count, Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure) boasts 14 points of articulation.

Accessories

Casting aside his humdrum life on Tatooine in favor of galactic adventure, Luke Skywalker learns the ways of the Force under Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi and quickly ascends to Rebel leader. – Packaging blurb, Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker #21 (the original version of this figure)

No discussion of a Hasbro Star Wars action figure is complete without a look at the accessories that come in the package, so let’s see what Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure) is equipped with.

In contrast to its Kenner Toys counterpart from 1978 – which only came with a permanently-attached lightsaber with a telescoping yellow blade – Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure) is lavishly equipped in comparison.

Yes, the 21st Century Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure) also comes with a lightsaber, but this one is not “built into the figure” but is a separate accessory with fine black and silver detailing on the handle and even has a red activation button. The lightsaber hilt even has a small hook that attaches to Luke’s utility belt. The “blade” is made of translucent blue plastic that resembles the energy blade of the “Skywalker lightsaber” and can be detached so that the “deactivated” Jedi weapon can hang from Luke’s belt clip.

Photo Credit: Hasbro via Walmart. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The other accessory in the Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure) package is a replica of Luke’s macrobinoculars. The figure can hold this high-tech optical device in one- or two-handed grips to make the figure appear as though he’s looking for a particular runaway astromech droid or a space battle just beyond Tatooine’s atmosphere. The “binocs” are painted black with silver detailing to simulate metallic parts of Luke’s vision-enhancing gear. They, too, can be attached to the clip on the figure’s utility belt.

The fabric tunic, I suppose, is an accessory and can be removed, although I’d only recommend doing so to carefully wash it if the figure gets dirty.

My Take

Photo Credit:Walmart. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

When I began collecting Star Wars figures back in 1978, the first figures I bought with my own money was Kenner’s Luke Skywalker #1, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, and Han Solo.[1]  I used to earn a weekly allowance of $15 by doing chores around the house, and because Kenner figures had a MSRP of around $2.69 at the time, I was able to, as the cardback with the Star Wars figure checklist used to say, collect all 12 by year’s end, as well as the original X-Wing Fighter[2] and the Imperial TIE Fighter.

Luke was my favorite character at the time, and he is the protagonist of the Original Trilogy, so it is logical that his figure would be at the top of my “To Buy” list. And since I was 15 when I started collecting Star Wars stuff, I was aware of the figure’s strengths and weaknesses.

Like most of the figures from the Kenner Toys period, Luke Skywalker #1 looked best – from a collector’s point of view, at least – as a static displayable on the figure stands that were an integral part of the 1979-era Micro-Action Figure’s Collector’s Case or seated, with the Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, See Threepio, and Artoo Detoo action figures on the Landspeeder. At most, I sometimes placed the figure next to – but not in – my then-new X-Wing Fighter; I was too old at 15 years of age to use my imagination and “pretend” that Luke was in his Rebel-issue flight suit when I created static displays with my collectibles.

As I wrote earlier, the problem was that Kenner’s Star Wars figures and vehicles lacked the realism  and authentic details that Hasbro’s 21st Century products have. First, Kenner wasn’t targeting its Star Wars toys to teens and adults. Look at any Kenner Star Wars product commercial from the period and what do you see? Child actors – boys usually – under the age of 12, gleefully creating their own Star Wars adventures with the figures or vehicles being shilled in the ads.

Second – and I’ve already discussed this in great detail in the sections above – even if Kenner did have the collector’s market in mind, the technology simply wasn’t there in the late 1970s and early 1980s to make Star Wars The Black Series-style action figures.

So even though I loved collecting the figures and setting them in rather impressive static displays that hardly anyone ever saw – I wasn’t friendless by any stretch of the imagination, but I didn’t have any close friends in East Wind Lake Village, and I rarely had any social gatherings at the house in any event – in the back of my mind I always thought that the figures did have their limitations. (I’ve always thought this is an interesting dichotomy – I was an avid collector, but I always wished that the figures would, well, look better.)

I’ve written elsewhere about why I started collecting, albeit in a deliberately limited fashion, the new Star Wars The Black Series figures, so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice it to say that I bought this Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) figure and 10 other figures in December of 2017 to complement the Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure with Legacy Stand) that I received from a friend that Christmas.

The display stand that started it all…. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

I think that even though Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker #21/ Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) doesn’t quite pull off the “Hey, this figure really looks a lot like Mark Hamill!” trick – the facial details aren’t 100% accurate, even though the hair and eye coloring are right – it’s still worth displaying on that Star Wars 40th Anniversary Legacy Stand, along with Princess Leia Organa, Han Solo, Death Squad Commander, Tusken Raider, Jawa, and the rest of “The Original Dozen.”

I will probably regret having to open the Star Wars 40th Anniversary “Kenner” cardback packaging. I think nostalgia is one of the big “draws” that these figures have for collectors, especially those of us who are in our fifties but still remember Star Wars as one of those Big Cultural Events that happened when we were adolescents or almost-adolescents.  One of the reasons why I was so bowled over when my friend gave me the Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure with Legacy Stand)  set was the feeling of “Wowser! This is way cool!” when I saw, peeking from the box’s front panel “window”  the old-school Kenner cardback style packaging.  

Anyway, this is one cool and exciting figure from Hasbro’s successful Star Wars The Black Series collection. I suppose I’m a sucker for Star Wars and/or nostalgia for my (somewhat) misspent youth, but I am impressed by the attention to detail Hasbro lavished on the figure and its accessories. I like the the fact that the tunic, at least, is made of fabric, and that it comes with two authentic-looking accessories from Star Wars: A New Hope.

Well, this brings us to the close of another Star Wars The Black Series action figure review. I enjoyed writing it and reminiscing about my older figure, and I hope you have fun reading this.

So, until next time, Dear Reader, May the Force be with you, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.


[1] The first Star Wars figures I acquired were given to me as birthday presents by Chuck and Sheila Blanchard, who had been our neighbors in Westchester from the late summer of 1972 to September of 1977, which is when Mom sold our house on SW 102nd Avenue and bought a brand-new townhouse in a new section of Fountainbleau Park called East Wind Lake Village. Their sons Robert and Patrick were friends of mine (Patrick more so than Robert), and since Chuck and Sheila knew I was a Star Wars fan, they gave me the original Kenner Landspeeder vehicle and two action figures, See Threepio (C-3PO) and Artoo Detoo (R2-D2).

[2] A gift from my late maternal grandmother, “Tata.”

‘Star Wars’ Collectibles & Toys Review: Star Wars The Black Series Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure)

Photo Credit; Hasbro. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Princess, Diplomat, and Rebel Fighter

On April 21, 2017, Hasbro, Inc. of Pawtucket, RI released Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary), one of an initial series of 12 Star Wars The Black Series 6-inch scale action figures sold in “Kenner” branded packaging based on the original 1978 cardbacks used for Kenner Toys’ 3.75-inch scale “micro-action figures”). Designed and marketed to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of writer-director George Lucas’s original Star Wars (aka Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), this initial wave included:

  • Luke Skywalker
  • Han Solo
  • Chewbacca
  • Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi
  • Artoo Detoo
  • See Threepio
  • Jawa
  • Sand People (Tusken Raider)
  • Stormtrooper
  • Death Squad Commander
  • Darth Vader (with 40th Anniversary Legacy Display Stand)

In most cases, the 40th Anniversary figures were repackaged versions of existing Star Wars The Black Series figures from 2016, and at least one (Death Squad Commander) used Kenner’s original product name from 1978 instead of the more canonical Death Star Trooper. Princess Leia Organa, however, was a revised version Star Wars The Black Series #30; the 40th Anniversary figure uses the same body and includes the fabric replica of Leia’s hooded Alderaanian Senatorial gown, her small sporting blaster, and the E-11 Imperial blaster she uses aboard the Death Star when she escapes from that Imperial battle station with help from Luke, Han, Chewie, Artoo Detoo and See Threepio. However, Hasbro was not happy with the sculpt of the head on Princess Leia Organa (#30), so the Kenner cardback figure features a new-and-improved head with features that more closely resemble the late Carrie Fisher as she appeared in the 1977 Star Wars film.

What’s in the Package?

Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) , released by Hasbro in April of 2017, is an updated version of a Star Wars The Black Series figure released a year earlier. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Kids and fans alike can imagine the biggest battles and missions in the Star Wars saga with figures from The Black Series! With exquisite features and decoration, this series embodies the quality and realism that Star Wars devotees love. Celebrate 40 incredible years of Star Wars action and adventure with vintage Star Wars figures, featuring classic design and packaging. – Manufacturer’s product description, Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary figure)

The 2017 figure – as I mentioned earlier – is a slightly different version of 2016’s Star Wars The Black Series Princess Leia Organa (#30). Slightly smaller than, say, Luke Skywalker or Han Solo at 5.25 inches in height (Carrie Fisher was also not as tall as either Harrison Ford or Mark Hamill), the figure represents the Senator/Princess from Alderaan as she appears throughout much of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. The figure is clad in a replica of Leia’s white gown, which is the traditional outfit worn by members of Alderaan’s Royal Family. Based on the Academy Award-winning costume design by John Mollo, Leia’s hooded gown is made out of fabric and fastened to the figure by a symbolic belt worn by Alderaan’s royalty. She also wears white travel boots.  In addition, the new-and-improved head on Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) features the character’s iconic “cinnamon buns” braids, which George Lucas borrowed from the practical and “out-of-the-way” braids worn by female fighters during the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th Century.

Princess Leia Organa

Hasbro promotional photo of Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary). Note that her Alderaanian gown is made of fabric. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Princess Leia Organa was one of the Rebel Alliance’s greatest leaders, fearless on the battlefield and dedicated to ending the tyranny of the Empire. – Manufacturer’s packaging blurb, Star Wars The Black Series Princess Leia Organa #30

In Star Wars, Leia was a tough-as-nails idealist and Rebel cell leader who, although she was in distress, could hold her own against formidable foes. She stood up to both Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader even though she was their prisoner after Vader’s 501st Legion captured her consular ship – the Tantive IV – above the desert world of Tatooine. She somehow managed to keep herself together after the Empire destroyed her home world of Alderaan as a demonstration of the Death Star’s – and the Empire’s – power. And she confidently took over her own rescue aboard the Death Star from the eager-but-inexperienced Luke Skywalker and the cocky Han Solo after the two guys nearly bungled the attempt to break out from the battle station’s detention center.  Naturally, most of Kenner/Hasbro’s Star Wars figures have usually included a weapon of some sort.

Accordingly, the Star Wars The Black Series Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) figure comes with:

  • Sporting Blaster
  • E-11 Imperial-issue blaster
Princess. Diplomat. Rebel leader. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The first weapon is a small, thin-looking laser pistol that resembles the weapon she uses for self-defense aboard the Tantive IV when it’s boarded by Imperial troops searching for the stolen Death Star plans. The original 1978 3.75-inch figure that Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary)  pays homage to featured a primitive (and smaller) version of this sporting blaster, as did most of Kenner’s action figure variants based on Leia, including Leia Organa (Hoth Outfit) and Leia Organa (Bespin Outfit) from the 1980 Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back collection.

A vintage Princess Leia Organa micro-action figure from Kenner’s Star Wars collection (1978-1980). This one is being sold on eBay for $200 plus shipping and handling by a California seller. Photo credit, drtorch2004

The E-11 Imperial blaster included with Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) allows collectors to pose the figure to recreate scenes set during her rescue attempt by Han and Luke aboard the Death Star. This accessory was not included with the original 1978 3.75-inch figure. However, when Kenner was a Hasbro subsidiary in the mid-1990s, its Power of the Force 2 Princess Leia Organa 3.75-inch figure from A New Hope came with a more detailed version of Leia’s sporting blaster pistol and the E-11 blaster rifle. The Leia figure in Hasbro’s 25th Anniversary Swing to Freedom mini-diorama accurately equips the Rebel Princess with the E-11 blaster.

Recall moments of intense battle with this Star Wars Black Series 40th Anniversary 5.25-inch Princess Leia Organa figure that includes character-inspired accessories and features premium deco across multiple points of articulation. – Manufacturer’s product description, Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary figure)

Like most Star Wars The Black Series figures, Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) has multiple points of articulation (POAs) that allow for more realistic action poses than Kenner’s 1978 “micro-action figure” based on Carrie Fisher’s iconic sassy and self-reliant character. Where the ’78 3.75-inch scale Kenner Princess Leia Organa only had five basic POAs, the 2017 5.25-inch figure has at least 12. Most of these are hidden – thankfully – by Leia’s fabric-based hooded gown, but they do make the figure look more life-like when you are trying to pose the figure. (The original Kenner version was cool – for its day – but you could only pose it in stiff-looking stances that didn’t look realistic enough, especially if you were a teenaged collector who liked to display the figure on collector’s stands or on the Death Star Action Playset.) This figure can even hold an Imperial-issue E-11 blaster in a two-handed grip; her 1978 forebear could only wield her small blaster pistol in one hand, and in a stiff, almost straight-armed stance at that.

My Take

“This is some rescue. When you came in here, didn’t you have a plan for getting out?” Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Although I’ve been collecting Star Wars action figures since I was given Kenner’s Landspeeder vehicle and two micro-action figures for my 15th birthday back in 1978, most of my collection consists of the 3.75-inch scale micro-action figures and their associated vehicles and “action playsets” from Kenner’s original 1978-1985 collection and the later Star Wars product lines (Power of the Force 2, Star Wars: Episode I, The Power of the Force, and Star Wars Saga). Life changes, the rising costs of collecting (due more to inflation than any other factor), and a limited amount of space for both storage and display have caused me to cut back on this hobby, especially over the past 15 years. In fact, when Star Wars: The Force Awakens premiered in December 2015, I figured that I’d only buy the home media version of the movie when it came out in early 2016, as well as the novelization and the soundtrack  

However, that changed when a friend started giving me some of Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series 6-inch figures as either Christmas or birthday presents, starting in the 2017 Christmas season. Not many, because my friend was aware that I don’t have much space to put a lot of Star Wars stuff in, either in the way of shelves (floating or otherwise) or storage space. (Coincidentally, the first Star Wars The Black Series vehicle in the 6-inch scale category I received that year is the Landspeeder with Luke Skywalker, which is a callback to how my collection started 42 years ago!)

I probably wouldn’t have acquired Princess Leia Organa or any of the other figures I mentioned earlier had I not been given the Hasbro Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader 40th Anniversary Figure (With Legacy Display Stand) in December of 2017. My friend happened to get one of the last ones she saw at a local store (Target, I think it was), not realizing (perhaps) that it would have a ripple effect on my collection.

After all, Darth Vader 40th Anniversary Figure (With Legacy Display Stand) is a cool collectible in its own right, but if I opened it and put it on a display shelf in my study/man cave, it would look…incomplete without the other 11 figures in the first wave of Star Wars The Black Series 40th Anniversary collectibles.

In what perhaps was my biggest – and most expensive – one-time purchase of figures in my many years as a collector, I spent close to $300.00 at Amazon when I ordered Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) and 10 others. Most of them were available from Amazon LLC at or just a bit above the manufacturer’s suggested retail price and came in the Kenner-branded cardbacks. However, some of the “Kenner” branded figures, such as Chewbacca, Stormtrooper, Tusken Raider, and See Threepio were only available through third-party sellers who were asking $50 or more per figure. So I had to get the “regular” Star Wars The Black Series figures for those characters at more reasonable prices.

I am happy with my Star Wars The Black Series Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary figure, partly because I like the nostalgia-inducing “Kenner” branding and the 1978-style cardback packaging that, with the exception of a few minor details, looks exactly like the original micro-action figure’s 1970s-era 12 Cardback, down to the still photo of Leia in the Massassi Rebel HQ on Yavin Four on the front cover.

The main reason why I enjoy this figure – in spite of the expense it incurred on me – is that the figure looks good. The sculpt – especially the much improved head on this version of Princess Leia Organa is impressively well-done, and while the figure’s facial features don’t make it a ringer for a 19-year-old Carrie Fisher, they come close enough. And, of course, the figure comes with not one but two blasters, just like the ones Leia wields in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.  

Happily, I am having a floating shelf installed in my study for my 40th Anniversary Legacy Stand, and I’ll be able to unbox Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) along with the other heroes, villains, and sidekicks that I bought almost three years ago to go with the Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader figure I received on Christmas 2017.  Those 12 figures sure will look good as a displayed collectible.

Sunday Thoughts for June 7, 2020

Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com

Hi there, Dear Reader. I hope all’s well with you, wherever you may be on this Sunday in June, 2020. Here in my corner of Florida it’s just past two on a cloudy and rainy afternoon; Tropical Storm Cristobal is churning out in the Gulf of Mexico, and though it is further north from where I live, we are still getting some of the outer band’s wind and rain.

I woke up later than usual this morning, having gone to bed sometime after 1 AM after watching The Longest Day, John Denver: The Wildlife Concert, and Great Voices Sing John Denver. I’m not sure at what time I finally made my way to the bedroom and went to sleep; suffice it to say that it was so late that even though I woke up shortly before 9:30 AM, I still feel sleepy, despite the consumption of a hearty breakfast and two cups of coffee.

Yes, this is really my coffee mug. (Photo by the author)

I wasn’t going to post here today, but I changed my mind because tomorrow I’ll only have Internet access for about an hour early in the morning, then for about another hour around noon, and then will have to cool my heels – as it were – till around five or so. Other people in the house need to be online during the day, and as I explained in an April post about life with COVID-19 social distancing, bandwith is not exactly in abundance here. I don’t need it as much as others, so I can put my Lenovo all-in-one on airplane mode and work offline.

What that means for this blog is this: I can write my posts at any time during the day, even on airplane mode, but I can’t publish anything until after 5 PM during business hours four days a week. So I have to make good use of my weekends and write/publish posts for A Certain Point of View, Too whilst I can be connected to the Internet.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Anyway, as I write this I’m listening to the digital copy of the remastered version of Star Wars: A New Hope’s soundtrack, which I reviewed here on May 29; this is a cool reconstruction of one of my favorite records of all time, and it is appropriate underscore because I’m looking for photos of some of the Star Wars: The Black Series figures I plan to review over the next few days.

Because we’re in the process of decorating my office/mancave, we finally took the Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader with 40th Anniversary Legacy Stand out from a storage bin – after almost three years – so we can put it and the other 11 figures that I bought to go with it in late December 2017. We need to put a floating shelf up on the office wall first, but when that’s done, we’ll assemble the stand – which comes with a cool-looking backdrop – and place all 12 figures on it to show ’em off.

A promotional photo of Star Wars The Black Series’ 40th Anniversary Legacy Pack (with Darth Vader Action Figure). Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

I’m not sure when this project will finally be complete, but now that the figures are out of the storage bin and where I can get a hold of them, I can at least review individual figures, such as Luke Skywalker…..

This repackaged Star Wars The Black Series figure from 2016 was given a “Kenner” cardback based on the original package design for the original 3.75-inch scale action figure back in 1978.

….and Princess Leia Organa…..

Admittedly, when I bought this figure in late December of 2017, I could not find this figure in the “Kenner” cardback. Luckily, Amazon had the original 2016 figure in its red and black Star Wars The Black Series box. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

In other news, I just received my copy of Library of America’s Barbara Tuchman: The Guns of August & The Proud Tower. I’m still reading my other Library of America hardcover, Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, but if curiosity gets the better of me I might browse through my new hardcover later today. The Guns of August, published in 1962, is about the first month of World War I and is perhaps Tuchman’s most famous work; cited by President John F. Kennedy during that year’s Cuban Missile Crisis as a primer on how a badly-managed crisis led to a catastrophic war that killed millions and destroyed four great empires, The Guns of August earned a Pulitzer Prize in the History category in 1963. I think I might have borrowed an earlier edition of The Guns of August from the Miami-Dade Public Library system back in the day, but I probably did so at an age where Tuchman’s book might have been a challenging read.

(C) 2012 Library of America/Penguin Random House

I’ve never read The Proud Tower, which is about the period right before the start of World War I and could be seen as a prequel to The Guns of August. So, yeah, I’ll probably give the Library of America volume at least a quick look-see later.

Coming Soon to ‘A Certain Point of View, Too’




© 2012 Library of America/Penguin Random House

Hi there! Welcome to the Saturday, June 6, 2020 edition of A Certain Point of View, Too, my newish blog here on WordPress. It’s been a gray and stormy Florida day; we’re into the first month of the 2020 hurricane season, after all, as well as the second of the wet season here in the subtropical zone of the Lower 48. So…yes. We’ve already had a few showers pass by and cast their dark and cold shadows over my little corner of Florida…nothing particularly nasty, mind…but just enough to make me wary about lightning strikes and whatnot.

Photo by Martinus on Pexels.com

Earlier today I spent some time working on the original A Certain Point of View blog on Blogger; when I started this WordPress iteration I’d hoped – perhaps a bit presumptuously – that I’d be able to write two blog posts a day…one here, one there. That, sadly, hasn’t happened yet; I’ve focused a great deal of my time and energy nurturing this blog and trying to create good content, but I’ve neglected my older blog in order to do so.

I don’t have any new reviews, mini-memoirs about growing up in Miami, or even the odd bit of political commentary for you today; I didn’t plan on writing much during the day due to the stormy forecast; I knew as early as last night that thunderstorms were “on the menu” today, and since I’ve lost a television set and a computer to lightning strikes, I have a healthy respect for cumulonimbus clouds and the capricious electrical bolts they fling down from the heavens.

Photo by Vlad Chețan on Pexels.com

What’s Coming Up?

Over the next few days, I plan to write several new reviews for your perusal and, hopefully, approval. I just ordered a second Library of America book from Amazon: Barbara W. Tuchman: The Guns of August & The Proud Tower, another hardcover volume with two classic books by the eminent Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author. I won’t get it till tomorrow and I probably won’t read it until I finish Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, but that’s one of the reviews I’ll be working on in the near future.

(C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

I also have some Star Wars The Black Series collectibles that I have yet to write about, including this charming fellow from Star Wars: A New Hope, the Tusken Raider. I’ve owned that figure for almost three years; I bought it and 10 other Star Wars The Black Series figures in December of 2017 after a friend gave me a Star Wars Black Series 40th Anniversary Collection – Darth Vader Figure With Decorative Backcard and Display Stand for Christmas.

My Legacy Pack….it’s still in the box…and it’s the gift that triggered the biggest one-time purchase of Star Wars in my 42 years as a collector.

Hopefully I’ll have a better idea of what new content I’ll create this coming week; reviews, most likely, since that’s my favorite blogging category, and it’s what I did most when I was a journalism student in the early to mid-1980s. As of right now, it looks like there are at least two Star Wars action figure reviews and at least one book review on my “To Do” list, but sometimes I improvise and come up with stuff that’s not planned beforehand.

Well, Dear Reader, that’s all I have to say for now. I’m off to watch The Longest Day; today is the 76th Anniversary of D-Day, and it’s sort of a personal tradition to either watch that movie or Saving Private Ryan. Or I just might go ahead and read a little more from Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far. So, until next time, I hope you have a happy and safe weekend wherever you may be. I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things!

Movie Review: ‘The Longest Day’

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Longest Day  (1962)

(Also known as Darryl F. Zanuck’s The Longest Day)

Directed by: Andrew Marton (American Exterior Episodes), Ken Annakin (British Exterior Episodes), Bernhard Wicki (German Episodes), Darryl F. Zanuck (Uncredited)

Written by: Cornelius Ryan, based on his book; Additional Episodes Written by James Jones, Romain Gary, David Pursall, and Jack Seddon

Starring: 42 International Stars (including Eddie Albert, Arletty, Richard Beymer, Richard Burton, Henry Fonda, Jeffrey Hunter, Curt Jurgens, Peter Lawford, Christian Marquand, Robert Mitchum, Wolfgang Preiss, Robert Ryan, Richard Todd, Stuart Whitman, and John Wayne)


“The Most Crucial Day of Our Time….”

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel: Just look at it, gentlemen. How calm… how peaceful it is. A strip of water between England and the continent… between the Allies and us. But beyond that peaceful horizon… a monster waits. A coiled spring of men, ships, and planes… straining to be released against us. But, gentlemen, not a single Allied soldier shall reach the shore. Whenever and wherever this invasion may come, gentlemen… I shall destroy the enemy there, at the water’s edge. Believe me, gentlemen, the first 24 hours of the invasion will be decisive. For the Allies as well as the Germans, it will be the longest day… The longest day.

On October 4, 1962, 20th Century Fox released The Longest Day, an epic dramatization of the first 24 hours of Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy in German-occupied France, which took place on June 6, 1944. The brainchild of Fox president Darryl F. Zanuck, the three-hour-long film is based on the 1959 best-selling book by Cornelius Ryan, who also wrote the screenplay. (Four other writers, novelist James Jones, Romain Gary, David Pursall, and Jack Seddon, wrote “additional episodes” and were credited separately as a result of arbitration by the Writer’s Guild of America.) Filmed in various locations in France, including St. Mere Eglise in Normandy, The Longest Day is one of the last Hollywood extravaganzas shot in black-and-white; with a budget of $10,000,000 (in 1962 dollars), it was the most expensive black-and-white movie made by any major studio until Steven Spielberg filmed Schindler’s List (1993), which cost $22 million (in 1992 dollars).

Like the eponymous non-fiction book it is based on, The Longest Day is a mosaic of episodes that depict various events that took place before and during D-Day, told in a semi-documentary style. It tells the story of D-Day from the Allied and German points of view, on a scale that can only be described as “epic.” Although it features – as its tagline boasts – “42 International Stars,”  the docudrama doesn’t have a leading character (or a group of leading characters, such as the eight-man squad led by Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan) that we follow from start to finish. Instead, D-Day itself is the “star,” while the actors, drawn from the various countries – on both sides of the war – that were belligerents in 1944, have glorified cameos as counterparts to real-life participants, such as Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (Henry Fonda), General Max Pemsel (Wolfgang Priess), Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (Werner Hinz), Major John Howard (Richard Todd), and Lt. Col. Benjamin Vandervoort (John Wayne).

(Although many of the well-known actors played real people who appear in Ryan’s nonfiction book, some play composite characters invented for the film. Eddie Albert’s “Col. Thompson,” Richard Burton’s “Flying Officer David Campbell,” and Roddy McDowall’s “Private Morris” are loosely based on real D-Day veterans but were inventions that producer Darryl Zanuck – who also did some uncredited directing – insisted upon for artistic purposes. This sort of artistic license displeased Cornelius Ryan, who wanted The Longest Day to be as historically accurate as possible.)  

Like Ryan’s book, the film consists of many separate incidents that, when edited together, form a more-or-less coherent depiction of the events of the sixth day of June 1944. Its set-pieces include:

  • A quick overview of the German preparations for the cross-Channel attack, including Rommel’s plans to stop the Allies on the beaches and German intelligence efforts to determine where and when the invasion will take place
  • The marshaling of American, British, and Canadian forces in assembly areas (known as “sausages”) in southern England
  • The fateful weather forecast by RAF meteorologist Group Captain J.N. Stagg (an uncredited Patrick Barr) and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s (Henry Grace) decision to go on June 6
  • The French Resistance’s supporting role in D-Day and the now-famous series of coded messages – including verses from a poem by Paul Verlaine and “John has a long mustache” – sent by the Allies via the BBC to activate resistance cells in Normandy
  • The British glider assault on the Orne River bridge (the Pegasus Bridge)
  • The night-time airborne drops to secure the eastern and western flanks of the invasion area, including Lt. Col. Ben Vandervoort’s (Wayne) efforts to assemble a suitably large fighting force with badly-scattered paratroopers despite a broken ankle
  • The initial German reaction – mostly confused – to the parachute landings and Gen Max Pemsel’s (Preiss) deduction that the Allies aren’t mounting a simple raid or diversionary attack
  • The naval bombardment and the landings on Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches
  • The U.S. Army Rangers’ assault on the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc
  • “Bloody Omaha”
  • The French Commando attack on the small but strategically-located village of Ouistreham
  • The breakthrough at Omaha Beach and denouement
Fan made trailer for The Longest Day

The Longest Day – which had its world premiere in France (as Le jour plus long) a little over a week prior to its release in the United States – was a big hit for 20th Century Fox, which at the time faced bankruptcy as a result of several box office flops and the incredibly expensive Cleopatra. It was not the first Hollywood film about the D-Day invasion, but it was based on the popular non-fiction book that imprinted the events of June 6, 1944 in the public mind at the end of the Fifties and the brief bright days of the Kennedy era Sixties, not just in the U.S. but in many other countries, especially in France. During its original theatrical run in 1962 and subsequent re-releases, 20th Century Fox collected $50,100,000 ($425,334,069.54 in 2020 dollars, adjusted for inflation) in cumulative worldwide gross; that, plus the success of The Sound of Music three years later, was enough to put Fox in “the black” for most of Darryl Zanuck’s tenure as head of the studio.

The movie also earned two technical Oscars for 1962, including Best Special Effects, as well as good reviews from film critics. The New York Times’ Bosley Crowther wrote in his review:

From the climactic concentration of Allied forces along the English coast, ready to launch the invasion in early June, 1944, to a few sample incidents at nightfall on D-Day, June 6, the immensity and sweep of the great battle to crack the Nazi’s hold on France are portrayed.  

****

No character stands out particularly as more significant or heroic than anyone else. John Wayne is notably rugged as Colonel Vandervoort, the dogged officer of the 82d who hobbled through D-Day on a broken ankle, using a rifle as a crutch. Robert Mitchum is tough as General Cota, who led his men of the 29th Division onto Omaha Beach and then off it after a day of deadly pounding by forcing a breach of the Vierville roadblock.

Red Buttons is very effective as paratrooper John Steele, who watched the pitiful slaughter of many of his buddies in the town square of Ste-Mère-Eglise while hanging from the church steeple in the harness of his parachute. Richard Beymer does well as a young soldier who wanders dazedly through the whole thing, never connecting with his outfit and never firing a shot. And dozens of other actors are convincing (and identifiable) in roles that call for infrequent appearances (or only single shots) in the film.

My Take

John Wayne was 54 years old when he portrayed Lt. Col. Benjamin Vandervoort, who was 27 years old on D-Day. Wayne, of course, was a major star in the early Sixties, and he demanded – and got – a bigger paycheck and a special credit for his glorified cameo. But even taking that into consideration, this was Hollywood miscasting at its worst.

But Crowther wrote his rave review of The Longest Day in an era when war movies were so sanitized that when the Motion Picture Association of America implemented its rating system in the mid-Sixties, The Longest Day was rated G. Though epic in scale, it’s the kind of war movie  where GIs “die” on screen using grossly exaggerated “I’m hit!” gestures with little to no effusion of fake blood.  As a result, modern audiences which have been accustomed to the realism of war films such as Saving Private Ryan, Flags of Our Fathers, or Black Hawk Down will shake their heads at Crowther’s closing comment that “it is hard to think of a picture, aimed and constructed as this one was, doing any more or any better or leaving one feeling any more exposed to the horror of war than this one does.”

I’ve watched The Longest Day countless times – on over-the-air broadcast and cable TV airings, on VHS videotape, on DVD, and Blu-ray – since the 1970s. I’m a fan of Cornelius Ryan’s original book, and the movie version is  an emotional favorite of mine.

That doesn’t mean that The Longest Day is a flawless movie. Even taking into account that it was filmed at a time when war movies rarely showed truly horrific scenes full of gore a la Saving Private Ryan’s recreation of the Omaha Beach landings, Darryl F. Zanuck and his crew, including the three credited directors (Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki, and Ken Annakin) not only took artistic license with Ryan’s script, but also allowed a plethora of historical inaccuracies to slip in, including:

  • American paratroopers jumping into Normandy from British Lancaster bombers (they actually jumped from U.S, Army Air Force C-47 transports)
  • Actor Robert Ryan was 55 years old when he was cast as Brig. Gen. James M. Gavin, the 82nd Airborne’s assistant division commander; the real “Jumping Jim” Gavin was only 36 in June of 1944 and was the youngest general in the U.S. Army at the time.
  • The real “Rupert” dummies used to simulate Allied paratroopers dropped far from the actual landing zones as a distraction were far less elaborate than the movie props in The Longest Day
  • The Allied infantry that waded ashore and fought its way up the beaches did NOT charge against German positions en masse or yell like Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. The men were too seasick to run and shout like banshees, and large groups of soldiers were juicy targets for German mortar and small-arms fire
  • Although some of the U.S. warships seen in the movie were of World War II vintage, they were still in service with the Sixth Fleet in 1961-62. Careful observers, especially Navy veterans, can tell that the ships were (then) modernized for Cold War service
  • The landing craft seen in the film are not LCVPs from 1944, but are LCM-8s that were introduced in 1958
  • Irina Demick, who plays a French Resistance fighter in The Longest Day, sports a hairstyle that was in fashion in 1962 but was not used in 1944. She was also Darryl Zanuck’s French mistress! 

A classic case of getting a part not just based on looks, which Irina Demick clearly has here, but also on who one knows. Demick was not only a stunning French model-actress; she was also Darryl F. Zanuck’s girlfriend.

Still, The Longest Day remains one of American cinema’s true war epics. Yes, it is an old-school Hollywood production full of razzle-dazzle and (muted) glamor; as a result,  its cast of “42 International Stars!” and visual design made the Normandy invasion look glamorous and nowhere as terrifying as the actual event truly was. Yet, for all its issues (such as a 54-year-old John Wayne playing a lieutenant colonel in the 82nd  Airborne Division who was actually 27 years old on D-Day) and historical anachronisms, such as the (brief) appearance of Douglas AD-1 Skyraiders or Irina Demick’s 1960s-era hairstyle, The Longest Day is still the definitive account of the big picture of June 6, 1944 from various perspectives, including French civilians caught in the cross-fire between the Allied forces of liberation and the occupying German forces. 

An on-set publicity photo from The Longest Day, With two 50+ year-old actors playing men who were far younger in 1944. Photo Credit: IMDb.com

(Another case of casting gone wrong was when Robert Ryan, then 55, was chosen to play the 82nd Airborne’s assistant division commander, Brigadier Gen. James M. Gavin. Ryan was a good actor who had worked with Wayne in other war films, but he looked nothing like the boyish brigadier who was one of the first U.S. generals to land during the night-time airborne drop on Normandy,)

The real James M. Gavin, seen here after his promotion to major general (two star rank) and appointed commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.(Official U.S. Army photo)

Interestingly, some of the actors and extras were themselves veterans of D-Day. British actor Richard Todd was a young captain in the 7th (Light) Parachute Battalion on June 6, 1944; he was asked if he could play himself. According to the Internet Database (IMDb), Todd “was offered the chance to play himself but joked, ‘I don’t think at this stage of my acting career I could accept a part that small.’ He played the commander of the actual bridge assault itself, Maj. John Howard, instead.”  

Another veteran who had climbed up the cliff at Point Du Hoc as a Ranger, Joseph Lowe, repeated the feat nearly 18 years later as “U.S. Army Ranger Sparrow.” 

Also, 20th Century Fox had the benefit of full cooperation by various military forces during production, including the French and British defense ministries, as well as the U.S. Department of Defense. All in all, 23,000 military personnel on active duty participated, most of them as extras portraying Allied and German soldiers. U.S. Marines, dressed in 1944-era Army uniforms and carrying WWII weapons, were among the “Normandy landing” recreators, landing on a beach on the French island of Corsica – the real beaches on the Calvados coast were off-limits for various reasons. U.S. Sixth Fleet ships – most of them of WWII vintage –  on maneuvers were filmed to portray portions of the 5,000-ship armada, even though sharp-eyed warship buffs or Navy vets can tell they were modernized for Cold War duty.  

The Longest Day is one of the first war movies to attempt to give audiences of the time a touch of cinema verite by using a “documentary-style” visual style and having French and German characters deliver their lines in their own languages – with English subtitles added, of course. This technique is highly effective and adds authenticity to a film that is trying to recreate an epic battle without giving viewers a case of combat fatigue (or, as we call it nowadays, PTSD). 

Another 1962 poster for The Longest Day. This one features the cast, which includes Sean Connery, Robert Wagner, Arletty, and Hans-Christian Blech. © 1962 20th Century Fox Film Corporation


 

The producers of The Longest Day also tried hard to bring the reporting of Cornelius Ryan’s book to life as best it could, even though it uses artistic license in several places. Events that happened in real life to American participants are depicted in the movie as happening to British characters, and in some cases, fictional characters are added to the wide array of real-life persons. Richard Burton’s “Flight Officer David Campbell” of the RAF is one, and the role of the private played by Roddy McDowell was created for the actor during a long and boring lull in the Cleopatra shoot.

Still, Zanuck (who was present on D-Day as a Lieutenant Colonel with the Army Signal Corps and led a combat film unit at Normandy) made a huge effort to tell some of the stories in Ryan’s now-classic book on film as best as he could. And, for the most part, he succeeded. Considering the times in which both the book and movie were created, The Longest Day is still a moving tribute to the men (and a few women) who fought to liberate Western Europe from Adolf Hitler’s evil Third Reich.

Movie-Watcher Memories: The Late Show and ‘The Longest Day’

Photo by Burak K on Pexels.com

I was 12 years old when I saw Darryl F. Zanuck’s The Longest Day for the first time. It was sometime during the summer of 1975 – I don’t recall the exact date, but it was around the tail end of my summer vacation from elementary school.

Back then, my widowed mother, Beatriz Diaz-Granados, and I lived in a house in Westchester, a residential neighborhood in unincorporated Dade County, not far from Miami. My older half-sister Vicky had just moved out under less-than-happy circumstances, so Mom and I were still adjusting to the calmer and less-tense environment at home.

At the time, we only had one television set – my mother’s Zenith color TV. Until earlier that spring – shortly before Vicky moved out of the house that we’d all shared since the fall of 1972 – I had owned a small portable black-and-white television, also from Zenith. But I was deprived of its use when a thunderstorm passed over our area and a lightning bolt struck somewhere close to the house whilst Vicky and I watched TV in our respective rooms.

Photo by Martinus on Pexels.com

The lightning strike must have hit somewhere extremely close to the house; I didn’t see where it landed, but my bedroom was briefly illuminated by a brilliant blue-white flash – sort of like the ones from old school camera flashbulbs, but 100 times brighter – and the whole house trembled with the K-r-a-a-a-a-k BOOM! of thunder that followed a millisecond later. My 9”-screen black-and-white TV, which I’d owned for about a year, flickered off with a quiet but final “Click!” So, apparently, did Vicky’s, which was set on a small TV table in her bedroom, which was across the hall from mine. (In a scene that would have been comical under different circumstances, Vicky and I exited our rooms simultaneously, stood in front of our respective bedroom doors, and said, in unison, “What happened?”)

At first, Vicky speculated that the power was out, but was disabused of that notion when she flipped the hall light switch to “on” and the ceiling lamp came on, illuminating the dark hallway between our rooms with a soft, warm yellow-white glow. I saw that my night light – I slept with one still because I was terrified of sleeping in total darkness – still worked, as did my alarm clock/radio. The only two electronic devices that were obviously dead were our two TV sets, fried by the powerful bolt of lightning that had struck nearby.

That episode lay in the not-so-distant past during my Summer Vacation of 1975, as did Vicky’s sudden – and involuntary – departure from our Westchester home. And even though Mom had promised to replace my killed-by-lightning TV as soon as she could, her first priority had been to transform Vicky’s former bedroom into a guest room in case my grandparents or any other relatives came to visit from Colombia.

So, on the weekend in question – which must have been shortly before the start of summer vacation – when The Longest Day was shown as a late night offering by one of the Big Three networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC), I had no TV of my own.

I don’t remember how I found out that the 1962 adaptation of Cornelius Ryan’s best-selling book about D-Day (June 6, 1944) was going to air – divided into two parts – over two consecutive nights on that weekend. It’s possible that I might have seen the listings on the South Florida edition of TV Guide; Mom bought an issue every week, and eventually became a subscriber when we moved to our townhouse in Fountainbleau Park in 1978. Or maybe I saw a network promo for the rare showing of the classic war film. The important thing here is that I knew The Longest Day was going to be on TV, and that I really wanted to watch it.

It’s possible that I might have read about The Longest Day’s Late Show airing in an issue of TV Guide from the same time period as this late July issue.

You see, The Longest Day is one of the first books that I remember reading as a child. I’m sure that there were others; I learned to read – and to love reading – at the age of three, doubtlessly encouraged by my maternal grandmother, whom we all called Tata, when we lived in Colombia.

Obviously, I’m not sure how I came across the issue of the Spanish language edition of Reader’s Digest that featured a condensed version of Ryan’s 1959 book about the first 24 hours of the Normandy invasion. Sometimes I think I might have read it at my grandparents’ house in the section of Bogota called Santa Barbara; other times I think that my Uncle Octavio – Mom’s brother – gave it to me to peruse. It doesn’t matter, really. What does matter, though, is that even though it was condensed and translated from English – a language that I wasn’t familiar with at the age of six anyway – to Spanish, Ryan’s account of how American, British, Canadian, French, and other Allied forces stormed ashore on five invasion beaches or dropped from the skies in parachutes or gliders to liberate France from German armies that had occupied the country for almost four years.


© 1959, 1995 Simon & Schuster

From that moment on, I was a young, precocious, and enthusiastic World War II buff. Maybe I was too young to comprehend the political and ideological reasons for the war, and I tended to see everything in starkly simplistic terms (Germany was bad, Japan was bad, Italy was also bad, the Allies were the good guys), but I was fascinated, nonetheless. I loved the hardware – the planes, the tanks, the ships, the uniforms, the personal weapons and equipment, and the helmets – and I also appreciated the fact that in many ways, World War II was a necessary war, if not necessarily a good one. (This nugget of wisdom was passed on to me by my cosmopolitan grandfather, who we all called Quique. A highly educated man who had gone to a private military academy in New York State as a young man and studied in Europe and Colombia, Quique often had long conversations with me about history and allowed me to read some of the books in his library when we were still living in Bogota.)

So, yep. As soon as I found out that The Longest Day was going to be on TV that weekend…I had to watch it.

The problem was, of course, that since my TV was fried by lightning, and Mom had not been able to get me a new one, I’d have to watch it – in Mom’s room.

So, this is – more or less – how that came about.

12-Year-Old Me: Er…Mom, can I ask you a favor?

Mom: Sure. What is it?

12-Year-Old Me: (hesitantly) Well, I noticed that The Longest Day is going to be on TV this weekend. Can I watch it?

Mom: Oh, your father and I saw it here in Miami when it was out in theaters when I was expecting you. He loved it. I thought it was good.  When is It going to be on TV?

12-Year-Old Me: Saturday and Sunday. It’s in two parts, I think.

Mom: Well, it is a long movie. About three hours long,  if I remember correctly. What time?

12-Year-Old Me: I think it’s going to be on Channel – at 11:30.  You know, as a Late Show kind of thing.

Mom: That’s a bit late, isn’t it? I mean, it is summer, and you’re on vacation, but…11:30? I don’t know.

12-Year-Old Me: I know it’s late, Mom, but I’ve never seen it before….

Mom: I don’t know…you know that I don’t like to stay up late, especially now that I have so much stuff to do fixing the guest room.

12-Year-Old Me: What if I watch it with the volume turned down as much as possible while you sleep? I’ll sit on the floor, next to the bed, and you won’t even know I’m there. Please, Mom?

My mom looked at me with a neutral expression on her face. She didn’t like the idea of me watching TV in her room so late at night, perhaps thinking that she wouldn’t be able to sleep while I watched the movie. At the same time, however, she knew how much seeing The Longest Say for the first time meant to me. And considering that not so long ago she had shot down my hopes of seeing Steven Spielberg’s Jaws in theaters, she was willing to accommodate me on this occasion.

Mom: Okay. This is how we are going to do this. You can watch the first part of the movie on Saturday night. Now, I’m still going to go to sleep at my usual time, so don’t think that I’m going to make Jiffy Pop popcorn and watch it with you. You have to watch The Longest Day with the volume turned down as low as possible. And here’s my one condition: if the movie wakes me up at any time, you have to turn it off and go to your room. If it doesn’t – and if you can stay awake that late – then you can watch both parts.

I eagerly agreed. I wasn’t thrilled with the various loopholes, especially the one that stipulated that if Mom woke up, the whole exercise would be called off, but I knew it was either that or nothing. The volume thing I understood, but I was already experiencing hearing loss (a year later I had my hearing checked and was told I needed a hearing aid), so I knew I’d have to find a happy medium between a noise level that my mom could sleep through and one that would let me hear the dialogue, especially during battle scenes.





© 1962 20th Century Fox Film Corporation

So, on the Saturday night in question, I changed into my PJs, brushed my teeth, and washed my face before going to Mom’s room at the appointed time. She had already gone to bed and was fast asleep, but she had left her lamp on so I could easily turn on the TV set and fiddle with the volume. I’d turn off the light as soon as the TV was on and I’d adjusted the sound.

I had almost perfect timing – as soon as I’d made the proper adjustments to the sound level on the TV during the break between the 11 PM news and the network’s Late Show and turned off Mom’s nightstand lamp, a voice-of-God announcer said something like, “And now, So-and-So Network presents: The Saturday Night Late Show. Tonight’s feature, Part I of Darryl F. Zanuck’s classic World War II film, The Longest Day, starring 42 international stars and based on the best-selling book by Cornelius Ryan.”

Nervously, I looked at my mother’s sleeping – or so I hoped -form, covered in her bedsheets and a bedspread. I looked for a sign – a sudden fluttering of her eyelids, or an unexpected movement of her head or hands – that she might be awakened.

But even as the film started with its iconic shot of a GI’s upended and abandoned helmet on a French beach, underscored by the sound of the surf and a timpani beating the Morse code for V-for-victory (three short beats – or “dots” – and a long one – a “dash,” the same cadence of the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony), Mom slept soundly.

Happily for me, she slept soundly throughout the entirety of the Saturday Late Show broadcast, although there were a few times when I lowered the volume even more – usually in scenes that involved roaring aircraft engines or gunshots. She also slept soundly during the even more intense Part Two, which encompassed the recreation of various landings and skirmishes between the movie’s Allied and German forces along the invasion front in Zanuck’s recreation of Normandy. (The scenes set on the beaches were filmed on the French island of Corsica, with warships and Marines from the U.S. Sixth Fleet portraying the Allied fleet and landing forces.)  And somehow, I managed to stay awake on both nights to enjoy The Longest Day.

And that’s how I got to see The Longest Day for the first time.  

Book Review: ‘Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far’ (No. 318 Library of America Series)

© 2019 Library of America/Penguin Random House

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Two Classic WWII Histories in One Commemorative Volume

On May 7, 2019, the non-profit Library of America published Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, a 75th Anniversary commemorative reprint of two classic “popular histories” of World War II: The Longest Day (1959) and A Bridge Too Far (1974). Published a decade and-a-half apart, the two books told the stories of the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944 and Operation Market-Garden (Sept. 17-26, 1944), the star-crossed attempt by the Allies to capture a bridgehead over the Lower Rhine River and end the war by Christmas of ’44.

Edited by Rick Atkinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Liberation Trilogy (An Army at Dawn, The Day of Battle, and The Guns at Last Light) this Library of America edition presents both volumes as closely as possible as their first printings, with the legendary illustrator Rafael Palacios’ full-color endpaper maps for The Longest Day and 88 black-and-white photographs from both books’ photo inserts. Additionally, Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far includes some of the author’s wartime dispatches for the London Daily Telegraph, articles written for various magazines – including Reader’s Digest – to supplement The Longest Day, letters written to his publishers, and two sample questionnaires that Ryan sent to veterans during the research phase for the two books.

Along with The Last Battle, Ryan’s 1966 account of the Battle of Berlin, The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far comprise what many history buffs call Ryan’s World War II Trilogy. Written in an episodic “minute-by-minute” style based on thousands of personal accounts by veterans and civilian participants on both sides of the European Theater of Operations, Ryan’s books featured careful, almost obsessively relentless reporting and a narrative approach that is novel-like in its detailed descriptions of individuals, places, and events. (In his introduction, editor Rick Atkinson remarks that Ryan’s stylistic choices, first perfected in articles for the now-defunct Collier’s magazine in the 1950s, could put The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far into the non-fiction novel genre, along with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Thomas Kenneally’s Schindler’s List.)

The Longest Day

“Into the Jaws of Death — U.S. Troops wading through water and Nazi gunfire,” photograph of Omaha Beach landings, June 6, 1944, by Chief Photographer’s Mate Robert F. Sargent, courtesy National Archives and Records Administration.

The Longest Day (which was originally published in 1959 by Simon & Schuster to commemorate the 15th Anniversary of D-Day) is perhaps Ryan’s best-known work; in part because for many years it was the definitive popular history about the events of June 6, 1944, and also because Darryl F. Zanuck and 20th Century Fox adapted it into a 1962 movie. (Zanuck hired Ryan to write the screenplay; as Atkinson notes in his short biography of the author, Ryan disliked the legendary producer, mostly because Zanuck wanted to use more artistic license, while Ryan insisted on historical accuracy. In fact, things became so heated that the two men stopped speaking to each other during the filming of The Longest Day in France, using intermediaries to communicate about the screenplay.)  Ryan conceived the book during a visit to the Normandy beaches in 1949, and with the help of the Reader’s Digest Association, interviewed or corresponded with hundreds of military and civilian participants in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, France, and West Germany. A consummate researcher, Ryan also scoured official government records and published works about D-Day and the war in Western Europe, collecting a vast amount of facts and anecdotes for the book that would make him a best-selling author.

A visit to the Normandy beaches in 1949 inspired Ryan to write a book about D-Day, a task that took a decade to complete. The Longest Day is a democratic history in which American paratrooper John Steele, hanging from a church steeple in the midst of battle, and German infantryman Josef Häger, trapped inside a besieged bunker, share the stage with top commanders General Dwight Eisenhower and Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Ryan captures the nervous anticipation felt by Allied servicemen and French civilians as they await the signal for the invasion; chronicles the confused German response to the Allied onslaught; and provides cinematic depictions of the grim battle for Ste.-Mère-Église, the desperate assault on the Merville battery, and the bloody struggle to get off Omaha Beach. – Publisher’s dust jacket blurb, Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day/A Bridge Too Far

The Longest Day is divided into three parts, The Wait, The Night, and The Day. Part One is an overview of the last few weeks of preparations for the cross-Channel invasion on the Axis and the Allied sides. Ryan covers some of the “backstage drama” aspects of Operation Overlord, such as near-disasters when the plans for the operation were mailed by accident to a GI’s relatives back in the States and nearly exposed, and a tale of extraordinary coincidences involving some of the code names related to the invasion and a London newspaper’s crossword puzzles.

Part Two deals with the night drop of Allied paratroopers to secure the far ends of the invasion area and a somewhat romanticized account of the French resistance’s role in assisting the D-Day landings. The Germans’ confused reaction to the drops and some of the airborne troopers’ adventures and mishaps throughout the predawn hours of D-Day also described in this section of the book.

The third part of the book delves into the daytime activities on the various airborne drop zones, in the Bay of the Seine – where the greatest invasion armada ever assembled was arrayed – and on the five invasion beaches, as seen through the various accounts from military and civilian participants. In The Day, Ryan captures the chaos, the fear, the courage, and the mix of triumph and tragedy that seared the words “Normandy” and “D-Day” into the collective consciousness of the late 1950s and early ‘60s.

Members of an Army Engineer Special Brigade (identifiable by the insignias on their helmets) assist troops whose landing craft was sunk by enemy fire off Omaha Beach, near Colleville-sur-Mer, on June 6, 1944. (Louis Weintraub, Army Signal Corps / National Archives)

Published on November 22, 1959, The Longest Day spent 22 weeks on the New York Times’ best-sellers’ list. The book’s success couldn’t have come at a better time; Ryan was $60,000 in debt at the time of the book’s release, but royalty payments from Simon and Schuster and the sale of the film rights (French producer Raoul Levy bought them for $100,000 and hired Ryan to write the screenplay) put the author’s finances “in the black.” And although other works about D-Day – including Stephen E. Ambrose’s D-Day: June 6, 1944 – The Climactic Battle of World War II have revealed new facts about the Normandy landing and even reinterpreted some of Ryan’s conclusions, The Longest Day has never been out-of-print and is still popular among readers.

Though flawed in many ways – John Wayne’s miscasting, for one – The Longest Day’s 1962 film adaptation was an international box office hit and saved 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy.  © 1962 20th Century Fox Film Corporation

A Bridge Too Far

Cover of the 1974 edition of A Bridge Too Far,  © 1974 Simon & Schuster

The success of The Longest Day – reinforced by the popularity of Zanuck’s three-hour-long film epic – encouraged Ryan to write a second book in what Ryan planned to be a five-book series about World War II in Europe: The Last Battle, which “jumped” ahead in the timeline to the European war’s end in the spring of 1945. Ryan spent five years working on his account of the Battle of Berlin, a task that entailed getting access to the then-closely held Soviet military archives and interviewing Red Army veterans who participated in the capture of Adolf Hitler’s capital.

Although – like The Longest Day – The Last Battle is meticulously researched and most of its narrative is historically sound, Ryan’s thesis that a politically inept Dwight D. Eisenhower “allowed” the Russians to “beat” the Allies in a race for Berlin is flawed. In The Last Battle, Ryan not-so-subtly hints that many of the Cold War tensions that had Berlin as their epicenter – including the East German government’s construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 – could have been avoided had the Western Allies captured the German capital. (As Rick Atkinson points out, Ryan’s argument is not supported by the historical evidence. Berlin was deep in the zone of Germany that had been already allocated to the Russians in various inter-Allied agreements, including those made at the Yalta Conference of early 1945.

Furthermore, Ryan dismisses the harsh reality that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin would not have allowed the Anglo-Americans to cross into the Soviet zone without opposition. In his book about the fall of Berlin in 1945, British historian Antony Beevor states that the Red Army’s massive forces around Berlin would have fired on their Western Allies if they had made a last-minute bid for the German capital. Needless to say, former General and two-term President Eisenhower was not amused by The Last Battle’s argument that Ike, perhaps the most politically-adept World War II commander, was “naïve.”)

Despite the controversy, The Last Battle was also successful with readers and most critics; it spent 30 weeks on the New York Times bestsellers’ list. Metro Goldwyn Mayer – with an eye on the success of Fox’s The Longest Day – bought the film rights and hired Ryan to write the screenplay. The movie was never made; Ryan was already working on his book about Operation Market-Garden – a project that was beset by the author’s failing health – and the divisiveness of the Vietnam War had soured the public’s taste for World War II epics. In 1969, MGM canceled The Last Battle.

Ryan began working on his book about Market-Garden a year after the publication of The Last Battle, once again assisted in the research by Reader’s Digest, which used its various foreign bureaus to help the author gather information from veterans and civilian eyewitnesses scattered throughout the U.S., Britain, West Germany, and the Netherlands. However, his screenwriting efforts for MGM (he also wrote an adaptation of Leon Uris’s novel Armageddon, set in post-World War II Berlin, along with The Last Battle) and the painful symptoms of prostate cancer (which was diagnosed in the fall of 1970) caused delays.

Tired, anxious, and in constant pain, the author – then in his early 50s – struggled to complete A Bridge Too Far in a neck-to-neck race with terminal cancer. He completed the manuscript on October 27, 1973; Simon & Schuster published the hardcover edition of A Bridge Too Far on September 16, 1974, one day before the 30th Anniversary of Market-Garden’s D-Day (September 17, 1944).  

Cornelius Ryan at Pointe du Hoc, France, on June 5, 1964. (Paul Slade; courtesy Paris Match via Getty Images)

In Ryan’s tragic masterpiece A Bridge Too Far (1974), Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s uncharacteristically bold plan to end the war in 1944 by crossing the Rhine in Holland sets in motion the greatest airborne assault in history. Ryan narrates with consummate skill the heartbreaking hour-by-hour unraveling of Operation Market Garden as the Allied offensive encounters unexpected German resistance, precipitating a series of merciless battles fought in the Dutch countryside and the shattered streets of Nijmegen and Arnhem. Written as Ryan was fighting his own private battle with cancer, A Bridge Too Far is an unforgettable story of physical and mental suffering, bewildering confusion, stubborn endurance, and unyielding courage. – Publisher’s dust jacket blurb, Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far

In this almost hour-by-hour account, Ryan describes the badly-planned and ultimately-doomed combined-arms bid to capture a series of bridges along a single highway in Nazi-occupied Holland by dropping three elite airborne divisions (two American, one British) and a Polish brigade) from Eindhoven at the southern limit of the Market-Garden area to Arnhem – 64 miles behind enemy lines – on the Lower Rhine, to be relieved by Lt. Gen. Brian G. Horrocks’ British XXX Corps. Horrocks’ armored and infantry units had to meet an unforgiving deadline: they had to reach the lightly-armed paratroopers and their Polish reinforcements within a window of two-to-six days. But a shortage of transport aircraft in the European Theater meant the parachute drop could not be carried out in one day – so the plan called for three “lifts” over three consecutive days.

As Ryan points out in the book, overconfidence at almost every level infected the planning stages of Market Garden. In order for Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s plan to work, the Allies needed:

  • Three days of clear weather – a rare occurrence in Northwest Europe in late summer
  • The quick capture of all the bridges on D-Day
  • The absence of elite German units, including panzer and SS troops, from the Market Garden drop zones and the bridges
  • Reliable communications between the airborne units and the various commands involved – including forward air controllers and higher command levels
  • No delays to the advance of XXX Corps to Arnhem

But as A Bridge Too Far painfully points out, none of these bits of wishful thinking came to pass, and the Allies did not grab a bridgehead over the Rhine at Arnhem as planned. Instead, as Ryan  – quoting John C. Warren, an American historian – bitterly observes, “All objectives save Arnhem had been won, but without Arnhem, the rest were as nothing. In return for so much courage and sacrifice, the Allies had won a 50-mile salient – leading nowhere.”

The Library of America Edition

“A gifted reporter and writer, Cornelius Ryan set the standard for telling war stories that fly by like the best novels. Any reader seeking both the broad strokes of military strategy and the gritty, surprising, inspiring, and often terrible details of combat can do no better than these two books.” — Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down and Huê 1968 – Back dustjacket blurb, Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far

As I said earlier, Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far was published by Library of America in May of 2019 to commemorate the 75th Anniversaries of both the Normandy landings in France and the Market-Garden operation in Holland, which took place in that fateful year of 1944. It also marked the 60th year since The Longest Day’s publication, and the 45th year since A Bridge Too Far was published – and, of course, Cornelius Ryan’s passing.

 Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far is not – as one might expect – a huge doorstop of a book. It is a hardcover book, but it’s almost the same size as a trade paperback – its dimensions are 5.1 x 1.4 x 8.1 inches and only weighs 1.6 lbs. Nevertheless, including the various indexes, bibliographies, and other addenda, it is 1008 pages long. Neither The Longest Day nor A Bridge Too Far have been abridged, and great care was used by the producers of the Library of America edition to maintain the integrity of Ryan’s text. Only in instances where there were egregious printer’s errors in the 1959 first edition were any corrections made to The Longest Day, and only one photo and its cutline were swapped for a new one in A Bridge Too Far.

© 2019 Library of America/Penguin Random House

Table of Contents

Introduction by Rick Atkinson

THE LONGEST DAY: JUNE 6, 1944
Foreword: D Day, June 6, 1944
Part One: The Wait
Part Two: The Night
Part Three: The Day
A Note on Casualties
D-Day Veterans: What They Do Today
Acknowledgments
Bibliography

A BRIDGE TOO FAR
Foreword: Operation Market-Garden, September 17–24, 1944
Part One: The Retreat
Part Two: The Plan
Part Three: The Attack
Part Four: The Siege
Part Five: Der Hexenkessel
A Note on Casualties
The Soldiers and Civilians of A Bridge Too Far: What They Do Today
Acknowledgments
Bibliography

OTHER WORLD WAR II WRITINGS
Selected Dispatches for The Daily Telegraph, 1944–45
The Major of St. Lô (1957)
The Longest Day (1965)
Untold Stories from The Longest Day (1974)
To William Buckley, November 19, 1957
To Peter Schwed, February 24, 1959
Sample Response to Questionnaire for The Longest Day: William Rhinehart Washington (c. 1958)
Sample Response to Questionnaire for A Bridge Too Far: J. T. Richards (c. 1967)

Chronology
Note on the Texts
Notes
Index

Per the publisher’s website, Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far is “printed on acid-free paper and features Smyth-sewn binding, a full cloth cover, and a ribbon marker.”  The acid-free paper is lightweight and will not turn yellow or brittle over the years. With careful handling, the Library of America edition Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far is intended to last for centuries.

Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far is just one of over 300 volumes in the catalogue of Library of America, a non-profit organization based in New York City and founded in 1979 to “ preserve our nation’s literary heritage by publishing, and keeping permanently in print, America’s best and most significant writing.”

My Take

© 2019 Library of America/Penguin Random House

I first read a condensed edition of The Longest Day in an issue of the Colombian (Spanish-language) edition of Reader’s Digest some time in 1969, when my mother, my older half-sister, and I lived in Bogota. I was six going on seven at the time, so I don’t remember if it was a Reader’s Digest from that year or if it was from a relative’s collection. I do remember that even at that age I could read material at the sixth grade level, and that even then I often read books from my mom’s personal collection. In fact, The Longest Day – even in an abridged and translated version –  made such an impression on me as a young boy that I became a history buff.

So it should come as no surprise when I say that I have owned several paperback editions of all three of Cornelius Ryan’s classic works about World War II, The Longest Day, The Last Battle, and A Bridge Too Far since 1975. My mom bought me the (then) new paperbacks of all three books in late 1975, which is when A Bridge Too Far was released in a mass paperback edition by the New American Library, under license from Simon & Schuster. I lost those much-read paperbacks during the 1977 move from our Westchester home to the last townhouse I shared with my mother till she died in July of 2015, but I replaced A Bridge Too Far and The Longest Day with reissues in the early 1980s. I still have those copies, too  – I recently saw my battered and held-together-with-Scotch tape 40th Anniversary of D-Day paperback from 1984 among a stash of books that is still packed in a Home Depot moving box from my last move.

The 1995 Touchstone cover for the trade paperback edition.

I also have larger “trade paperbacks” of what buffs call Ryan’s “World War II Trilogy” issued in the late 1990s by Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone paperback imprint. I acquired those in the early 2000s either at Waldenbooks or in my early days as an Amazon customer. I read all three just enough times to give them creases on the soft covers, but by and large they’re still in good, if not quite mint condition.

Still, I love hardcover editions of books. If taken care of properly, they can last – barring an unforeseen catastrophe such as a house fire or a flood – for many years. For this reason, mostly, I prefer to get hardcovers rather than paperbacks or even e-books. They are a bit more expensive, but they’re durable and – in most cases – are easier to read due to the larger print size of the text vis a vis the smaller print in mass-market paperbacks.

And although I have read hardbound editions of all three of Ryan’s books, mostly borrowed from the Miami-Dade Public Library system or the Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus library, I’ve never owned any of then in hardcover editions.

That is, until now.

This authoritative Library of America volume also collects seventeen of Ryan’s wartime dispatches for the London Daily Telegraph, including his eyewitness account of D-Day as seen from an American bomber; magazine stories that supplement The Longest Day; revealing letters to publishers; and samples of the research questionnaires he sent to veterans. It restores to print the full-color endpaper maps from the first edition of The Longest Day, and includes an introduction, a chronology of Ryan’s life and career, explanatory endnotes, eighty-eight pages of photographs, and eleven black and white maps. – Publisher’s dust jacket blurb, Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day/A Bridge Too Far

Since I have read The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far countless times before I received my copy of Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far yesterday afternoon, I am not in a rush to read the “main text,” at least not for the moment. I did, however, read editor Rick Atkinson’s  introduction, which recounted the amazing but all-too-brief life of Dublin-born émigré Cornelius “Connie” Ryan, a life that included a stint as a young war correspondent for a major London newspaper, a freelance writer who wrote pieces not just for the long-gone Collier’s, but also for Sports Illustrated, The Saturday Evening -Post, Holiday, and Reader’s Digest, and – of course – the writing of his three most-remembered books. Atkinson also discusses Ryan’s plans for a five-book series, of which The Longest Day, The Last Battle, and A Bridge Too Far were a part, plans that Ryan never fleshed out or got a chance to finish due to the cancer that cut his life short at the age of 54 just a few months after A Bridge Too Far hit bookstores in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The introduction, as well as the supplementary materials appended to the two books in this beautifully-crafted Library of America edition, is reason enough for anyone who has read Ryan’s World War II Trilogy to get a copy of Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far. Atkinson (who is my current favorite active historian) does a good job of revealing the real man behind the legend known to readers everywhere as “the author of The Longest Day.” Ryan comes across as a man on a mission – his desire to write an account of D-Day that is both historically accurate and accessible to the average reader is almost an obsession, really – and a guy who, although he is generally sincere and scholarly, is not above changing the historical record to fit his personal opinions, as he did in The Last Battle, which is not included in this Library of America edition.

(Ryan, like some of his American contemporaries, tended to see the Battle of Berlin through the prism of the Cold War. There is, throughout The Last Battle, a not-so-subliminal message that strongly suggests that the postwar world might have been better off if the Anglo-American forces under Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower had been allowed to capture Berlin in the spring of 1945, even though the Red Army was closer to the city than any American or British units on April 16, 1945, and even though the city lay deep in the part of Germany already designated as the Soviet occupation zone  in various agreements signed by the Big Three in 1944 and early 1945. One can only speculate that Ryan, a devout Catholic with moderate but clear conservative leanings, allowed his personal views to color his usually objective reporting. His dismay over Berlin’s postwar fate as a divided city is obvious – just read the dedication to The Last Battle and you’ll understand why I think Ryan was so harshly critical toward Eisenhower on the issue of Berlin.)

The Last Battle aside, though, Cornelius Ryan clearly deserves all of the accolades – including a distinction of France’s Legion of Honor – and good reviews he received during his life as a reporter and respected amateur historian. (That term, incidentally, is not a putdown. Ryan was, by any standard, a professional writer of history; he wasn’t an academic who taught history in colleges and universities. A few months before he died, Ryan received an honor he had long hoped for – he was elected as a Fellow of the Society of American Historians.) And this Library of America edition of Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far is a fitting literary memorial to a man who sought to tell stories about “ordinary people caught up in fear and crisis” – and preserve those stories for future generations in his works.

Computer Game Review: ‘Strategic Command WWII: World at War’

Main menu screen from Strategic Command WWII: World at War © 2018 Fury Software/Matrix Games/Slitherine Ltd. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Challenge of Command

As we enter the sixth month of the COVID-19 global pandemic and the third month of living with social distancing and an economic lockdown, I have found ways to keep myself occupied and not go “stir crazy.” As a writer and blogger, I usually spend my waking hours at my desk, writing posts for my two blogs or – less frequently – trying to come up with ideas for future screenplays or even that novel I aspire to write (but have avoided working on). So far, I have managed to stick to my writing routine without fail, although I have to admit that I haven’t quite been able to write new material for the original Blogger version of A Certain Point of View since May 10.

Of course, as much as I love writing, I don’t spend every minute of every day doing that (even though it sometimes seems that way). I have other interests and  hobbies, and I enjoy a variety of activities to relax and keep from getting burned out or even (God forbid) bored. These include fun and entertaining activities such as:

  • Watching my favorite movies and episodes of classic TV shows and miniseries on Blu-ray and DVD
  • Reading
  • Listening to music
  • Spending time on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) when I can use the Internet
  • Gaming
A “sneak preview” video about Strategic Command WWII: World at War by the popular YouTube war game enthusiast thehistoricalgamer.

I have played computer games since I acquired my first personal computer – an Apple IIe – in 1987. With rare exceptions, such as Epyx Games’ Street Soccer or LucasArts Games’ Star Wars: X-Wing, most of the games I own tend to be from the strategy/war games genre. Some, like the Sid Meier’s Civilization series, aren’t focused solely on armed conflict, even though they do feature wars of conquest and the evolution of military hardware through the ages as an integral part of gameplay. Others, such as the Hearts of Iron series, Civil War II, Order of Battle: World War II, and Battle Academy are straightforward military-themed strategy games.

Currently, the game that I’ve played the most during the “corona” pandemic is Strategic Command WWII: World at War, a grand strategy game that allows players to take command of either the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) or the Allies (China, the British Empire (including Australia, Canada, India, and New Zealand), France, Poland, the Soviet Union, and the United States) in a conflict that takes place in various theaters around the globe. A rebooted version of a classic game in the Strategic Command series, World at War is a fun beer-and-pretzels game that challenges armchair generals to refight the greatest war in history – and even change its outcome!

The Game

Developed by Toronto-based Fury Software for Matrix, Strategic Command WWII: World at War (or WAW) is part of the rebooted Strategic Command series that includes Strategic Command WWII: War in Europe, Strategic Command Classic: Global Conflict, and 2019’s Strategic Command: World War I.  Fury created this long-running series in the late 1990s, publishing its original game, Strategic Command: European Theater in 2002 through Battlefront.  Released in December of 2018, WAW is the fifth game in the series and it was designed by Hubert Cater and Bill Runacre, Fury Software’s president/lead developer and lead designer, respectively.  

As mentioned above, the game lets you take command of either the Axis powers or the Allies during the Second World War. You can play  Strategic Command WWII: World at War in several modes:

  • As a solo game against the game’s artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Against a human opponent, either remotely (Play-by-Email or PBEM) or by taking turns on the same computer (the “hotseat” method)

In either option, you can directly command all of your coalition’s forces, or delegate command of one or more of your countries to the game’s AI. (I recommend this option for novice players; commanding the armies of one country, such as the Soviet Union or Japan, is difficult enough; trying to make decisions for two or more major belligerents in a global conflict is much harder.

A screenshot from the late stage of 1944 Triumph and Tragedy, the only scenario that I have successfully played through. © 2018 Fury Software/Matrix Games/Slitherine Ltd. 

 Strategic Command WWII: World at War is turn-based, which means that one coalition – usually the Axis, who were the aggressor states during World War II – starts one of the game’s campaigns. A turn usually involves a set of decisions you must make, such as deciding how to spend the in-game currency (military production points, or MPPs) – buying new units or improving existing ones, investing in research and development (R&D), or using MPPs to fund your country’s diplomatic efforts to sway neutral powers to join your coalition – or where your armed forces will either attack or defend. After you’ve spent your MPPs and made all of your combat moves, you end your turn. The computer then calculates how your armies, air forces, and navies are resupplied, your nation collect its income – which increases as a result of your territorial gains but can be adversely affected by enemy moves such as interdiction of your shipping lanes (convoy routes) or strategic bombing. Then your opponent – another human or the AI – gets his initial supplies and income, and you have to watch his coalition’s ripostes on the battlefield.

In addition to the Axis and Allied coalitions, Strategic Command WWII: World at War includes minor powers that are (like Spain, Switzerland, or Sweden) neutral or are (like Hungary and Romania) co-belligerents that join either alliance depending on various factors, including political leanings, diplomacy by the major powers, or invasions of their territory by either side. The AI controls these minor powers, and while at times it seems as though the game designers put in them in the game as mere window dressing, they can often be force multipliers that can make or break a player’s war aims.

It goes without saying that Strategic Command WWII: World at War is a map-based game that uses counters – either 3D “sprites” or NATO unit symbols – that represent various types of military units. These counters show:

  • Air force units of different types – interceptors, ground-attack, and light, medium and heavy (strategic) bombers
  • Land warfare units – infantry, armor (tanks), mechanized infantry, horse cavalry, anti-tank artillery, artillery (different types), airborne, special forces (Commandos, Brandenbergs), garrisons, and engineers
  • Naval units – capital ships (battleships, cruisers, aircraft carriers), escorts (escort carriers or “baby flattops”, light cruisers, destroyers), torpedo boats, and submarines

Each nation starts the war on the start date of the European War – the Asia-Pacific War is already underway, with Japanese forces already fighting in China – with its armed forces deployed in a simplified rendition of the historical “balance of power” in the late summer of 1939. Each nation’s units reflect the tech level at which they start the war – Germany, for instance, enters the war with He-111 and Do-17 medium bombers as their main “strategic” air force, while Me-109s and Stuka dive bombers represent interceptors and ground attack units. As the war progresses and if Germany invests heavily on R&D, players can upgrade these units; if the tech levels are high enough, the plane units then “morph” into more modern types, such as the He-177 long range bomber and the Me-262 jet fighter. In theory, investing MPPs into R&D and industrial upgrades gives every major power the ability to improve its military capabilities; I’ve seen both sides developing jet fighters by the late stages of a game, but players have to be gutsy enough to divert MPPs from buying units and invest them in other areas of the war effort.

Campaigns and Scenarios

The promo trailer from Matrix Games

Strategic Command WWII: World at War contains several major campaigns and scenarios, each with a specific starting date and unique victory conditions.  I have the following campaigns and officially-released modifications (or mods) that are present at this time:

  •   1939 World at War  (1 September 1939)
  • 1942 Axis High Tide (4 June 1942)
  • 1943 Allies Turn the Tide (5 July 1943)

Those are the three basic scenarios in Strategic Command WWII: World at War as designed by Bill Runacre and David Stoeckl, with AI programmed by Hubert Cater. In all three scenarios, the Axis player (Human or AI) initiates the game and moves first during each turn; both sides have victory conditions they must meet by the end of the scenario, usually involving the capture of various national capitals and other major cities of strategic importance to either side. 

For instance, if you’re playing as the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan), the victory conditions for the 1939 World at War campaign state that you must control Berlin, Paris, London (and adjacent hexes), Manchester, Moscow, Stalingrad, Cairo, Tokyo, Seoul, Chungking, Delhi, Manila, and Canberra in order to win a decisive victory. 

Conversely, if you’re playing 1939 World at War as the Allies (China, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, France, and the U.S.), you need to have control over Berlin, Rome, Paris, London (and adjacent hexes), Moscow, Washington, DC, Tokyo, Seoul, Chungking, and Delhi to achieve a decisive victory.  

In addition, Strategic Command WWII: World at War offers three Race to Victory variants of the campaigns listed above. Designed by the same team which created the original main campaigns, the Race to Victory scenarios have the same victory conditions for each side. However, the game places time limits on the rival coalitions, hence the name Race to Victory.

Strategic Command WWII: World at War also has several “mods” created by the design team at Fury: three are Naval War mods based on the World at War, Axis High Tide, and Allies Turn the Tide scenarios and have the same victory conditions. The main difference is that these Naval War variants have different mechanics for the various warship units depicted in the game. 

There are two more official mods, 1944 Triumph and Tragedy. which depicts the Allied onslaughts in Europe and the Pacific Theaters against Germany and Japan in the summer of 1944 and after, and 1941 Rostov, in which Germany (and her Axis allies) duke it out with the Red Army in October of 1941 for the city of Rostov. 

My Take

I’ve tried several playthroughs of 1939 World at War, but I’ve never completed the entire war. © 2018 Fury Software/Matrix Games/Slitherine Ltd.

Strategic Command WWII: World at War can probably best be described as a cross between the original Milton Bradley board game Axis & Allies from 1984 and the modern computer game series Panzer General.  The game features grand strategy on the nation-state level in which players not only have to deploy military units and plan offensive and defensive moves, but they also have to manage different aspects of a larger war effort to make sure that their forces can fight, stay supplied, and possess information needed to defeat the enemy and emerge victorious.

But where Axis & Allies tends to simplify the mechanics by reducing the home front experience to a few essential details (industrial complexes that can be placed on territories controlled by a player, newly purchased units placed on the board at the end of each turn, etc.) Strategic Command WWII: World at War handles this in ways that are simultaneously simple and complex.

The USSR’s Research screen. © 2018 Fury Software/Matrix Games/Slitherine Ltd.

First, the game starts with each country already carrying out some R&D; depending on the nationality and its level of industrial capacity, your bureaucrats, scientists, and inventors will work hard to develop new techs and improve industrial and logistics methods. It’s up to you, though, to increase R&D spending (or not) and in what categories. Based on historical reality, some countries can develop specific weapons that others can’t. Per the Strategic Command WWII: World at War manual:

  • Only Germany and the USSR can deploy Rocket Artillery units.
  • Only Germany can research and deploy Rocket units.

And this is an excerpt that explains how R&D works:

  • For every chit invested, progress will be made at the end of each side’s

turn towards reaching their next levels of research.

  • Per turn increments to achieve levels 1-3 in a technology field average

5% per turn, in reality between 2-7% per chit.

  • Per turn increments to achieve levels 4-5 in a technology field average

4% per turn, in reality between 2-6% per chit.

  • Research automatically succeeds in gaining the next level on reaching

100% progress, though there is a small chance of a breakthrough

speeding up your progress by an extra 10-20% once the 45% threshold

has been crossed. Researching Intelligence can speed up this process.

  • Chits can be recouped at 50% of their original cost.
  • Costs rise with unit upgrades, generally by 10% per level of upgrade,

though some like Anti-Submarine Warfare only cost 5% and others like

Mobility cost 20% (30% for Germany).

In this playthrough of 1944 Triumph and Tragedy,the war lasted until January of 1947! © 2018 Fury Software/Matrix Games/Slitherine Ltd.

It is a good idea to invest in R&D from the start of the war; I have watched The Historical Gamer’s series of playthroughs of Strategic Command WWII: World at War on YouTube, and in at least one – where he plays as the Allies and controls all of them without delegating control of any  to the AI – and consciously decides to not pay a great deal of attention to research and development in the early turns of the game. Meanwhile, the AI (which was set on the Hard difficulty level) invested on R&D and by mid-war the Axis had tanks, planes, and other weapons that were far more advanced than his Allied nations could field. So, not only was the Axis AI more aggressive and efficient, but it had better weapons than The Historical Gamer.

Additionally, Strategic Command WWII: World at War has a plethora of features that give players a taste of how difficult it is for a major power to fight a global conflict. For example, you can play the game with “Weather” as a variable that affects how units fight and move under different climatic conditions. 

If you activate Weather effects when you set up a new game, you will not just see large sections of your map showing precipitation, rough seas, or even dust storms in the desert, but you will find that your units won’t perform well in bad weather. If it is snowing or raining, air units can’t fly. Land units will get mired in muddy terrain. Enemy units in North Africa can’t be spotted during a dust storm, and you’ll get reports from ships suffering damage from rough seas if you let them linger too long in one operational area.

There are other war-related concepts depicted in the game, including partisan uprisings in occupied territories, the effects of terrain on movement and supplies, conducting economic warfare, and the importance of planning and production of new units. Though it sounds terribly complicated, Strategic Command WWII: World at War is a joy to play because even though you should think about such things when you play a game, the designers have done a good job of balancing real-world concepts and ease of play. 

Strategic Command WWII: World at War is a fun, entertaining, and challenging war game that allows players to try different strategies and make decisions that allow them to either recreate history or change the outcome of the war. When playing against the computer, you can control all the nations in your coalition or let the AI take over one or more of your allies so you can focus on one country’s war effort. 

I really like Strategic Command WWII: World at War. It has cool graphics and a design that is reminiscent of Axis & Allies – the color scheme for the various warring nations (gray for Germany, khaki for Britain, olive drab for the U.S., etc.)  is similar in its palette, and the map, while it’s more detailed and less stylized tan that of the famous board game, still has some geographical oddities that make gameplay easier but still look odd.

This is a fun, entertaining, and challenging strategy game.

So, General. Prepare to choose your alliance and take command of its forces. Will you choose to play as the Axis and attempt to create a Tripartite Empire that encompasses three continents (Europe, Africa, and Asia?) that will stand the test of time? Will you succeed where Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo failed?

Or will you throw your lot with the Allied cause, defend against the German, Italian, and Japanese offensives of the early years of the war, holding on as long as possible until the industrial might of the U.S. asserts itself, then strike back with your own counteroffensives in China, North Africa, the Mediterranean, the vast expanses of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the snows of Russia, and – eventually – the coast of Normandy?

Your armies, air forces, and navies are at high alert. Your nation-states’ industrial and economic resources are ready to support your war effort. Now, all that is needed as the world stands on the brink of a global conflict is a leader with a stout heart, a sharp mind, and nerves of steel.

Music Album Review: ‘Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – Original Soundtrack’ (International Edition’)

The front cover illustration for Polydor’s 1985 compact disc edition of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back’s soundtrack, based on the RSO “international edition” from May 1980. Photo Credit: Discogs.com. Copyright 1985 Polydor and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

On May 16, 1980, five days before the theatrical release of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, RSO Records released Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: Original Soundtrack on vinyl, eight-track cassette, and audio cassette formats. Featuring a front cover that shows Darth Vader’s menacing mask against the backdrop of space and a back cover illustrated with Roger Kastel’s now iconic “Gone with the Wind”-style poster, this album presented an abridged suite from composer John Williams’ score for the second film – in release order, at least – in the Star Wars saga.

Curiously, RSO Records (the initials stand for “Robert Stigwood Organisation”) released two radically different versions of the album: the 2-LP gatefold album sold in the U.S. and Japan featured almost 75 minutes of musical material composed and conducted by Maestro Williams and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, while the “international” edition released in Great Britain and elsewhere contained just over 41 minutes’ worth of music.

Here’s the track list for the 2-LP edition sold in the U.S. and Japan as it was presented in the vinyl record set:

No.TitleLength
1.“Star Wars (Main Theme)”5:49
2.“Yoda’s Theme”3:24
3.“The Training of a Jedi Knight”3:17
4.“The Heroics of Luke and Han”6:18
No.TitleLength
5.“The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)”2:59
6.“Departure of Boba Fett”3:30
7.“Han Solo and the Princess”3:25
8.“Hyperspace”4:02
9.“The Battle in the Snow”3:48
No.TitleLength
10.“The Asteroid Field”4:10
11.“The City in the Clouds”6:29
12.“Rebels at Bay”5:23
13.“Yoda and the Force”4:01
No.TitleLength
14.“The Duel”4:07
15.“The Magic Tree”3:32
16.“Lando’s Palace”3:52
17.“Finale”6:28

Total Time: 74:34

And here is the track listing from RSO Records’ “International Edition”:

First release on CD by Polydor.

  1. “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)” – 3:00
  2. “Yoda’s Theme” – 3:27
  3. “The Asteroid Field” – 4:10
  4. “Han Solo and the Princess” – 3:26
  5. “Finale” – 6:25
  6. “Star Wars (Main Theme)” – 5:48
  7. “The Training of a Jedi Knight” – 3:05
  8. “Yoda and the Force” – 4:02
  9. “The Duel” – 4:03
  10. “The Battle in the Snow” – 3:48

Total Time: 41:23

The cover for the 2-LP album features the art from the 1979 “Coming to Your Galaxy Next Summer” teaser poster for Empire. (C) 1980 RSO Records and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

At the time of the Empire soundtrack’s release, the mostly-disco RSO label was at the apex of its success in the highly competitive recording industry. It was coming off a string of hot-selling records, including the soundtracks to Saturday Night Fever and Grease. However, it was also entering the twilight of its 10-year existence; Robert Stigwood, the label’s co-founder, had produced the box office disaster known as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and the Bee Gees (which were managed by RSO) had filed a successful $200 million lawsuit alleging mismanagement,

I don’t know whether or not the behind-the-scenes drama at RSO Records influenced the label’s decision to create two vastly different editions of the Empire soundtrack. It did sell well, and along with the older soundtracks from Grease and Saturday Night Fever, it helped keep RSO alive until 1983, the year that it was absorbed by its London-based parent Polygram.

My Take

My Take

I have reviewed the more complete Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back -Original Soundtrack Album (Special Edition) elsewhere; there’s no need for me to repeat my remarks about John Williams’ skills as a composer/conductor or the London Symphony Orchestra’s peerless performance of the score in this space. 

Instead, I’ll confine my comments to this lackluster recording by saying, “Don’t buy this album unless the seller only asks $1.00 for it at a garage sale.” 

Seriously. It’s really that bad.  The producers and engineers at Polydor/Polygram should have at least asked someone to get the original recordings of the 2-LP album and given the Empire soundtrack the same level of attention to detail that they gave to the 2-CD album of Star Wars music. Certainly, someone had access to the complete master tapes from the 1980 recording sessions. Otherwise, how could soundtrack specialist Nick Redman have restored the scores to Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in 1993 for the The Star Wars Trilogy: The Soundtrack Anthology for Arista Records/20th Century Fox Film Scores and later for RCA Victor’s 1997 Special Edition albums? 

I am a huge John Williams/London Symphony Orchestra fan. I’m also, in case you just happened to start reading my blog, a die-hard Star Wars fan. So for me, this recording was an insult, not just to my intelligence as a soundtrack aficionado, but also as a consumer. (The CD came wrapped in that thin plastic shrink wrap that covers all brand-new jewel cases; this one also had a round “Super Saver Price” sticker affixed.) I only own it because it was the only edition that was available when I was starting my CD collection back in 1990.

Now, this edition of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – Original Soundtrack is no longer “in print,” as they say in the industry. It was supplanted long ago by the more complete versions released by Arista Records, RCA Victor, and Sony Classical. 


And even the new (2018) Walt Disney Records digitally remastered re-issue of the 1980 album, which doesn’t contain Williams’ complete score but replicates the 75-minute vinyl edition, is better than this CD. 

Music Album Review: ‘Star Wars: Original Soundtrack Composed and Conducted by John Williams/Performed by The London Symphony Orchestra’

Album cover from the 1977 2-LP gatefold album. (C) 1977 20th Century Records (aka 20th Century Fox Records)

The Album

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In June of 1977, shortly after the May 25 limited release of writer-director George Lucas’ Star Wars, 20th Century Records released a 2-LP gatefold album titled Star Wars: Original Soundtrack Composed and Conducted by John Williams/Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.

And just as the film it was derived from became both a box office hit and a cultural phenomenon, the album became a certified Gold and Platinum album per the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), selling well over a million copies in its first year and winning three Grammy Awards (Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media; Best Instrumental Composition – for Main Title; and Best Pop Instrumental Performance).

John Williams picks up the Academy Award for Best Original Score for 1977 at the 50th Academy Awards on April 3, 1978

The complete film score also took home several awards, the most prestigious being the Academy Award for Best Original Score; this was composer John Williams’ third Oscar, having won his first two trophies in 1972 (for his adaptation of the music for Fiddler on the Roof) and in 1976 for Jaws.

Produced for 20th Century Records (the music label of 20th Century Fox) by George Lucas, Star Wars was recorded in an eight-day period in March of 1977 at London’s Anvil Studios. It was orchestrated by Williams’ long-time collaborator Herbert W. Spencer, edited by Ken Wannberg, and recorded by Eric Tomlinson. And because the album was intended to be a musical suite rather than an aural beat-by-beat recreation of the music as it’s heard in Star Wars, Williams chose nearly 75 minutes’ worth of music from a soundtrack with a running time of 88 minutes.

Designed to be played on long-playing record players with autochangers, the 2-LP album presented its music thusly:

No.TitleLength
1.“Main Title5:20
2.“Imperial Attack”6:10
3.“Princess Leia’s Theme”4:18
4.“The Desert and the Robot Auction”2:51
No.TitleLength
5.“Ben’s Death and TIE Fighter Attack”3:46
6.“The Little People Work”4:02
7.“Rescue of the Princess”4:46
8.“Inner City”4:12
9.“Cantina Band”2:44
No.TitleLength
10.“The Land of the Sandpeople”2:50
11.“Mouse Robot and Blasting Off”4:01
12.“The Return Home”2:46
13.“The Walls Converge”4:31
14.“The Princess Appears”4:04
No.TitleLength
15.“The Last Battle”12:05
16.“The Throne Room and End Title”5:28

Total Time: 74:58

This Tom Jung poster of Darth Vader is the basis for the reverse cover of 20th Century Records’ Star Wars 2-LP album from 1977. It’s also used in a similar fashion on the CD “jewel box” for the 1980s-era Polydor compact disc release. Photo Credit: CineMaterial.

On the LP version, the tracks were placed in such a way that you “stacked” one record on top of the other on the autochanger, so that when the first disc’s Side 1 finished playing, the record on top would “drop” and the music would resume in a more or less continuous fashion. Then you flipped the records over, stack them in such a way that the player presented the music in the proper order. (Of course, in other formats, such as eight-track tape, audio cassettes, and CDs, the process was less complicated.)

The 2-LP gatefold album (so called because when you opened it, it featured a selection of stills from Star Wars) also included a poster by John Berkey and a set of liner notes written by the late Charles Lippincott, who was the vice president at Lucasfilm for media affairs in the early days of the company.

The Music

As noted above, Star Wars: Original Soundtrack Composed and Conducted by John Williams/Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra presented nearly 75 minutes from Maestro Williams’ 88-minute score. The concept was not to provide listeners with every cue written for the 121-minutes-long film but to create what amounts to a symphonic suite comprised of material edited from the master recordings made in London in March of 1977.

In this album – as well as the 2018 Walt Disney Records reissue – the creative team of Lucas, Spencer, Wannberg, and Williams went more for an aesthetic-based approach rather than a completist one. As such, many of the tracks combine re-edited cues from different scenes in Star Wars. For instance, Mouse Robot and Blasting Off mixes material from a scene where Luke, Han, and Chewie infiltrate the Death Star and run into a MSE-8 droid in a corridor with an earlier scene that shows the Millennium Falcon escaping from Imperial stormtroopers in Tatooine’s Mos Eisley Spaceport and evading of an Imperial blockade in order to jump to hyperspace.

Although there is quite a bit of incidental music in Star Wars, the score is dominated by a handful of themes or leitmotivs that Williams, following in the artistic footsteps of Hector Berlioz and Richard Wagner – assigns to various characters, locations, or even mystical concepts such as the Force.

Basically, these are the themes that are the building blocks for Star Wars:

  • Luke’s Theme: Williams’ approach to musical material in Star Wars is more romantic than strictly thematic, and what he usually refers to as Luke’s Theme (aka the Star Wars theme) is more of a generic heroic theme used in action scenes where Luke himself is often absent. (In many instances, especially in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Williams uses Ben’s/The Force Theme as underscore in Luke-specific scenes.)
  • Princess Leia’s Theme: This motif is used to represent Leia from Luke Skywalker’s idealization of her rather than as a straight-forward musical description. It blends a sense of femininity with inner strength and a longing for a long-gone era where honor and justice prevail over evil.
  • Ben’s/The Force Theme: This motif appears quietly (as an English horn solo) early on in the film, and becomes more prominent and potent as the story progresses from the desert world of Tatooine to the do-or-die Battle of Yavin and its aftermath. It is unleashed in full form in the iconic “binary sunset” scene (where Luke contemplates his uncertain future and longs for adventure), then progressively appears as sort of a Jedi battle theme and triumphant march, as heard in the cues The Last Battle and The Throne Room and End Title.
  • Imperial Theme: This was a prototype of what eventually became The Imperial March/Darth Vader’s Theme. It’s not as well-developed or iconic as its 1980 counterpart, but it does feature a dark, brooding motif (usually played by a bassoon) in the minor register that’s heard whenever Darth Vader or Imperial stormtroopers are onscreen.

There are also a few other motifs that recur throughout Star Wars (and many of the other follow-on media projects), including the Rebel Fanfare and the Death Star theme.

The only piece of “source music” – that is, in-universe music that is heard by the characters in a scene as well as the viewer – is the Cantina Band jazz-piece.

Inspired in part by jazzy film music composed by Williams’ friend and fellow film composer Henry Mancini (as well as Big Band music played by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra), Cantina Band (aka Cantina Band #1, as there were two source music tracks in the film) is the only composition on this album not performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.

Instead, Cantina Band is performed by an ensemble of nine jazz musicians led by Williams himself.

My Take

I was given the 2-LP gatefold album as one of the many gifts I received for my 15th birthday on March 5, 1978 – the first anniversary of John Williams’s first recording sessions at Anvil Studios with the London Symphony Orchestra. I don’t think my album came with the John Berkey poster – I do not remember seeing it, at any rate – but it did have the liner notes by Lucasfilm’s PR guru at the time, Charles Lippincott.

Back then, I wasn’t a devotee of classical music; I liked short, familiar compositions along the lines of Johann Strauss, Jr.’s On the Beautiful Blue Danube and The William Tell Overture by Gioachino Rossini, and I loved Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C-minor (Op. 67), but that was about as much of the repertoire that I enjoyed in my teens.

Star Wars: Original Soundtrack Composed and Conducted by John Williams/Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra was not, technically speaking, a classical music album; it was composed, performed, and released in 1977.

By design, though, with the exception of Cantina Band, Williams’ Star Wars score is written in the musical styles of the 19th Century’s Romantic era; director George Lucas believed that mixing the fantastical visuals of alien worlds and epic space battles with a score grounded in the language of symphonic music from an earlier time would help the audience get its bearings and follow his space-fantasy story set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

(Originally, Lucas wanted to do what Stanley Kubrick had done in 2001: A Space Odyssey nine years earlier: to underscore his vision of the future with different compositions by various composers rather than a thematic score. Williams, who had been recommended to Lucas by Steven Spielberg, disagreed and argued that Star Wars, being a “space opera,” needed an operatic-type score. Williams convinced Lucas that this approach of using leitmotivs would work better.)

Well, my 15-year-old self’s mind was blown when I played my Star Wars soundtrack for the first time; since then I have listened to it countless times in various formats (from vinyl records in ’78 all the way to digital MP3 files in 2020). It’s been my go-to album when I’m seeking inspiration for a new writing project, when I feel the need to remember my younger days in South Florida, and especially when I feel down and lost, especially in these turbulent times of political and economic turmoil.

As I wrote recently in my review of the 2018 Walt Disney Records reissue:

As much as I like the more complete 1997 Special Edition double-CD album – and I have multiple editions of that one, too – the material in (the original Star Wars album from 1977) is my favorite. I love the overture-like ambiance of Main Title, which was made by splicing the first three minutes of Main Title/Blockade Runner with the second half of Williams’ End Title cue. That’s the arrangement I heard for the first time in 1978 on my 15th birthday, and it’s the one that most orchestras perform, with minor adjustments made by Maestro Williams for concert hall “covers” in live performances or albums such as 1983’s The Star Wars Trilogy.

Fun Fact: Although composer/conductor John Williams had recorded film scores – starting in the late 1950s – with studio orchestras, Star Wars was the first time he worked with a symphony orchestra.

I still have my 1980s era 2-CD set in my audio library; I’ve owned it since 1990 and it’s still in good condition. It’s the only version of the original Star Wars soundtrack album that I have with the album art from 1977. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

If I had to make a list of the 10 essential albums I’d take with me to live out my days on a desert island (with a reliable source of electricity and a kick-ass stereo system), Star Wars: Original Soundtrack Composed and Conducted by John Williams/Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra would be at the top of my list.