I often wondered who won the Kenner Star Wars Sweepstakes where the lucky winners would see a “Special Screening” of The Empire Strikes Back before the release in 1980. A full page color ad announced this new contest in the Sunday newspaper and I was determined to win.
Over the next month I sent in dozens of postcards with hopes to be one of the five grand prize winners who would get to see The Empire Strikes Back with R2-D2 and C-3PO as stated in the ad. These winners would also receive a, “complete collection of Kenner’s 1980 Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back toys,” and an all-expense paid weekend to Washington, D.C. where the screening was to be held.
Alas, I did not win. I also wasn’t one of the fifty second place winners who would receive the complete collection of 1980 Empire toys. I wasn’t even chosen as one of the 1,000 third place winners who would receive a specially designed Empire patch.
Recently, I posted several threads in Star Wars Facebook groups hoping to find a first place winner. Members in the Igrewupstarwars group responded that Steve Lang, who was six years old at the time, was the winner I’d been looking for.
I tracked Steve down and he told us all about the contest and his Special Screening.
How many times did you enter the Sweepstakes?
My dad would have sent in the entries, but I believe he has said it was just one entry for me and my sister. I know some kids in my neighborhood entered many more times.
What did you think when you heard you won?
It was pretty crazy – I just remember my mom telling me and my sister when we got home from school, and just jumping up and down in the kitchen a lot!
Were you more excited to get the complete line of Empire toys or seeing the film?
Definitely getting all the toys was the best part of it. I received two huge boxes initially, and then a few other toys came later as they were manufactured. I still have all my small figures in the Darth Vader carrying case. I sold most of the more collectible items in the mid-1990s to buy a computer.
Five winners had won this grand prize, did you meet the other winners?
Yes – one of the other winners is the other boy in the picture with Mark Hamill, Kenny Baker and Billy Dee Williams. He was a year or two older than me and from Kansas. The other three grand prize winners we were told took the cash value of the prize instead of making the trip to Washington, D.C.
Tell us about the “Special Screening” held May 17th which was also a benefit performance for the Special Olympics at the Kennedy Center.
I don’t remember much about it. We did have the meet and greet with the actors before the movie. I know I was familiar with all the actors and their names from the Star Wars books but I didn’t know who Billy Dee Williams was! Meeting Mark Hamill was the best. We also met Peter Mayhew and David Prowse, and got autographs from everyone except Mark Hamill. (He said he would mail them to us. I’m still waiting!) Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher were at the screening but we did not meet them. My mom took a picture of Carrie Fisher running into the theatre.
The Sweepstakes promo said you would see the film with R2-D2 and C-3PO. Was Anthony Daniels inside the 3PO suit?
I don’t remember seeing C-3PO (either Anthony Daniels or anyone else wearing the costume), but we did get to see the R2-D2 prop and meet Kenny Baker.
You also won an all-expense paid trip and a sightseeing tour of Washington, D.C. What did you do while visiting?
We got a tour of the White House, and visited the main monuments and the National Air & Space museum. I think the full trip was about 3 days.
Was this day documented in video or film by Kenner or Lucasfilm?
I haven’t seen any. I have recognized some photographs from that era, based on the clothing cast members were wearing that day.
Outside of friends and family, have you told your story before?
Nothing formal, but it tends to always come up when I would start a new school, or job. All throughout elementary school I was definitely known as “The Star Wars Kid”.
Thank you Steve Lang for sharing your story. I would also like to thank the members of the igrewupstarwars facebook group. Visit http://igrewupstarwars.com/ for great vintage pics of galactic childhoods.