…and Bantha Tracks was Born!

Recently I was combing through vintage issues of the Official Star Wars Fan Club newsletters and Bantha Tracks looking for future podcast interviews and website articles for Skywalking Through Neverland. I stumbled upon various names of fans that have been spotlighted because of their artistry, stories they shared and contests they won.

For episode 169 of Skywalking Through Neverland, I tracked down Matthew Pak who won a trip to London and spent a day on the set of The Empire Strikes Back schmoozing with the cast and crew. Then I remembered as a child reading an article about another fan who won a contest where he came up with a new name for the Official Star Wars Fan Club newsletter. The winner was a teen from Ohio named Preston Postle and that winning name was…Bantha Tracks!

I sought Preston out to catch up with him. After all he came up with a name that means so much to us first generation fans and I wanted to hear his story. Like many of us, Preston was hit hard by Star Wars at first sight. Let’s find out a little about his fandom and how it started…

“The first thing I ever heard about Star Wars (it was just Star Wars back in the day, with no sequels, prequels, or episode numbers) was during the spring of my 8th-grade year. I was 13 years old. I remember a friend of mine in my English class passed me a copy of Time magazine with a story about this new sci-fi movie coming out. I was a Star Trek fan at the time, but the pictures that accompanied this article – robots, spaceships, space wizards – were amazing. These characters, these devices looked REAL. And I was absolutely amazed. I couldn’t wait to see this movie! A month or so later, I was transported to a galaxy far, far away. I spent a good part of that summer at my local movie theater, skipping the popcorn and hiding in the bathroom between showings to save money so I could sneak back in and watch it again. And there weren’t any collectibles or toys available at first, so I collected magazines that had stories about the movie instead. Practically every magazine and newspaper on the newsstand at the time made money by printing stories about Star Wars. It was a phenomenon everywhere you went. A German pen-pal of mine even sent me some soap from Krieg der Sterne in the shape of Erzwo-Dezwo – R2-D2!”

Now for the goods. the Official Star Wars Fan Club had a contest to name their newsletter, and Preston WON! I have always wondered where the name Bantha Tracks came from, and now I have my answer!

“One year after the movie came out, I saw the contest in issue #2 of the newsletter. Each member was encouraged to send in three ideas for the new name, and I gave it some thought, whipped up three names, and sent them off. Two of them were The Comlink and Inside Star Wars – which ended up as the second- and third-place winners as entered by other members. Funny that it was repeated by others in the club.

My third suggestion … was not Bantha Tracks. It’s true! I don’t remember what it was, but it was something dumb. I thought The Comlink had a decent chance since it was the only form of communication named in the movie. But a few days after I sent in those ideas, a snippet of dialogue popped into my head. It’s the scene where Luke and Ben are checking out the wreckage of the Jawa sandcrawler, and Luke says, “It looks like Sand People did this, all right. Look, there are gaffi sticks, bantha tracks …” And it hit me like a thunderbolt. BANTHA TRACKS!

In my head it sounded a little like “chicken tracks,” which is what you might call someone’s bad handwriting. And I knew no one else would have made that connection and that it was a winner. So I immediately wrote a letter asking to take back one of my entries and replace it with Bantha Tracks. And a couple months later, I got a letter on official Star Wars letterhead that said I had won and that George Lucas and Gary Kurtz had been involved in the voting!”

Was Preston’s 2nd suggestion, Inside Star Wars, the inspiration for the current official Star Wars magazine, Star Wars Insider? Hmmm….

I’ve got to admit, I’m a little ashamed I never noticed when Luke says “bantha tracks” in Star Wars. That’s the beauty of the saga, after 41 years there’s always something new to notice.

Then came the big moment when Issue #5 was delivered to Preston’s mailbox in the summer of 1979. Headlining the Official Star Wars newsletter was the name, Bantha Tracks.

“There was a big delay – nearly a year – between the announcement of the contest and the first Bantha Tracks banner in the newsletter. As I recall, the fan club had had some problems with getting things sent out in a timely manner, and I think my membership had expired. Fortunately they extended everyone’s memberships as a goodwill gesture, and I finally got that issue. It was amazing!

I wanted to show everyone I knew, but my friends weren’t on the same level of fandom as me, and they kind of smiled politely and went back to their strategic Lord of the Rings wargaming. This was long before the Internet, so I was just a kid in northeastern Ohio who named some nerdy newsletter. I have actually had more interest in my Bantha Tracks connection in 2017-18 (I’m now 54) than I ever had back when I won the contest.”

Since Star Wars took executives by surprise, merchandise was very few and far between compared to today. There were of course the Kenner toys, Topps trading cards and a few other items. But Preston won himself some of the first non-toy high-end collectibles ever produced.

“First prize was three mugs from California Originals (Chewie, Obi-wan, and Darth Vader) and an R2-D2 cookie jar from Roman Ceramics. They arrived months later, and I like to think of them as being pretty rare: not just nice ceramics from the earliest days of fandom, but the official prizes from the Name the Newsletter contest. Star Wars stoked my interest in films of all kinds, and today I’m a (modest) collector of film props. But those mugs and the cookie jar are still on display.”

I was lucky enough to have gotten the ceramic R2-D2 cookie jar as a kid. However, the pricey and very nicely sculpted character mugs eluded me, even to this day! I’m so glad to hear he displays his contest prizes, but does he still have all his copies of Bantha Tracks?

“I do, although they’re in a box out in the garage somewhere. The letter announcing my win is out there, too. As Return of the Jedi came and went, it looked like there wouldn’t be any more Star Wars, and my membership in the fan club lapsed. Those were the dark times, as Obi-wan would say.”

Dark Times indeed and the fan club closed down in the winter of 1987 and the Official Star Wars newsletter/Bantha Tracks had reached 35 issues. But to keep the memory alive Preston must’ve gotten the fan club merchandise that spotlighted the Bantha Tracks logo, like the shirt and patch.

“I never really followed that stuff, despite the fact that it had the name on it I had come up with. I did buy up a bunch of patches with the new Bantha Tracks logo on them when I found them on sale, and I hand them out to select friends and acquaintances who end up finding out that I was “that guy.” Hopefully someone will be listening to this and think, “Gee, he ought to have this shirt” and send one out. Find me on FaceBook for my address!”

If I didn’t know any better, I think Preston’s hinting at something. Just can’t put my finger on it. As we all know wearing a Bantha Tracks shirt at a convention or fan event today is a secret way of saying, “I was there since the beginning.”

“There isn’t a lot of fandom up here in my neck of the woods, and the only official Star Wars event I’ve attended was the first Celebration in Denver, where we stood in endless lines out in the cold rain. I guess I’ve never really seen anyone wearing a Bantha Tracks shirt

Ironically, I designed a pin for McDonald’s back in 1983 or so that ended up being worn on fast-food uniforms across the country, and I mentioned that I was the designer of that a few times. The reaction I always got was, “Wow. So would you like fries with that?” and I learned to keep my mouth shut.”

Here’s a fun fact: The ABC TV series, Lost, might not have even happened if Damon Lindelof hadn’t been wearing his good luck charm which was his lucky Bantha Tracks shirt that he had since he was a kid. He wore it when meeting with JJ Abrams. JJ pointed and said,”Bantha Tracks!” and an instant connection was made and Lost was born.

“Wow! I have never heard this story before! It kind of makes me want to meet JJ Abrams so I can ask him for a very small percentage of residuals since the show could not have existed without my unwitting intervention. Of course, he’d probably say, “Wow. So would you like fries with that?”

I think Preston is setting himself up for the hashtag #WouldYouLikeFriesWithThat? Back in the classic days of the 70’s and 80’s we didn’t have hashtags or his would’ve been #I’mTheGuy! Not only did we not have hashtags, we had no Internet. To get our exclusive Star Wars news we had to wait for each quarterly issue of the Bantha Tracks newsletters.

These days there is no lack of Star Wars news sites. There is even a site that is inspired by Bantha Tracks called Fantha Tracks. 40 years later, that name still means something to fans.

“It gives me a charge every time I see it! I don’t buy Star Wars Insider much these days, but I’ve seen the new fan section, and I’m delighted that Bantha Tracks still exists in some form. (The segment showcases the creativity of fans through artwork, stories and photos.)

My wife bought me a book about the history of Star Wars for Christmas a few years back – the name escapes me – but it covered the release of the original trilogy and the marketing that went along with it. The fan club was mentioned, as well as how it got its name. And there I was in a description of the contest! I remember walking up to my wife and saying, “You’re not going to believe this … but I’m in the book you got me!” It was pretty exciting. Maybe one of these days I’ll send a message to Steve Sansweet and try to wangle a visit to Rancho Obi-Wan via my cred as the “Bantha Tracks kid.”

First stop, Rancho Obi-Wan, then off to the next Celebration convention to sign copies of Bantha Tracks. Just please don’t ask him for fries with every autograph. I’m trusting you!

“I’m still a fan! My Sideshow Collectibles C-3PO bust presides over my basement gaming room. 3PO has always been my favorite character – ever since I saw him in that Time magazine spread so many years ago. I’ve enjoyed the new films, and I watch the cartoons though the goofy lead-ins to the commercial breaks test my patience {MINE TOO! – RW}.

The Internet definitely offers ways to connect with like-minded fans that we never had before. Unfortunately, there’s so much negativity in fandom nowadays. ‘George Lucas ruined Star Wars!‘, ‘green screens ruined Star Wars!’, ‘Disney ruined Star Wars!’, ‘the over-saturation, the “new” Luke Skywalker!’

I like to think back to when we had to wait three years for a new film, and it nearly killed us, and when Empire finally arrived and we discovered that [spoiler alert] Darth Vader was Luke’s father (!) … well, we were too stunned and amazed to complain about anything in those golden years.”

I long for those days of the classic era when we only fought about which was best, Star Wars or Star Trek. Or who would win in a fight, Darth Vader or Dr. Spock?

Let’s now jump into hyperspace and blast into the present day. What has Preston been up to since winning the Official Star Wars Fan Club contest? And, who else knows about his major victory…

“Today I’m a high school English teacher not far from Cleveland. There’s a bantha on a shelf in my classroom, but most of my students don’t know its story … You can reach me on FaceBook at https://www.facebook.com/preston.postle , where you will find that I generally try to amuse folks and, for some reason, create awkward captions for old Winnie the Pooh illustrations.”

I would like to thank Preston Postle for sharing his stories. I am so happy that he was inspired by Luke’s throw-away line and we got such a great title that lives on in fandom!

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