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July 18: Star Wars

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The Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex near Nekoma, North Dakota, in March 2015.
Jack Dura
The Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex near Nekoma, North Dakota, in March 2015.

The Star Wars franchise has been a pop culture phenomenon since it debuted in 1977. On this date that year, the Dakota Twin Theatres in Bismarck offered showings of “Star Wars” at 7 and 9:20pm. Ads in the Bismarck Tribune noted that the “cosmic adventure” was in its “6th big week!”

The film ran for 11 weeks that summer, and left Bismarck “star warped,” according to the Tribune. The theater manager said 25,609 people attended the showings – the largest attendance he had ever recorded. The Tribune reported “instances of some people attending the movie 10 or 12 times.”

Bismarck saw a merchandising frenzy over the film in 1978. The Red Owl grocery store offered free Star Wars posters with sales of dishwasher detergent. Osco Drug sold figures of the film’s characters, with a supply of 350, limited to six per buyer at $2.19 each. May’s Camera & Model Shop gave away a free “Star Wars” film copy with every purchase of a $475 movie projector. Marv’s Hardware in Mandan offered a special of $1.89 on Star Wars Thermos brand lunchboxes that were “light years ahead!”

A Bismarck man wrote to the Tribune, saying: “Seeing ‘Star Wars’ took me back to my younger days of reading superhero comic books in the corner of Dan’s Super-Valu. I loved it!” But he also wondered about the movie’s symbolism of war and good versus evil. He asked “Will ‘Star Wars’ affect our attitude toward building and using new weapons systems like the neutron bomb or the Cruise Missile?”

Coincidentally, North Dakota was home to military installations that might seem eerily similar to bases portrayed in Star Wars. Next time you’re in Nekoma in the winter, you could drive by the old Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex and imagine you’re at the Rebel base on the ice planet Hoth in “Episode Five: The Empire Strikes Back.”

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

The Bismarck Tribune. 1977, August 29. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1977, September 2. Page 4
The Bismarck Tribune. 1978, June 7. Pages 8, 14
The Bismarck Tribune. 1978, June 13. Page 14
The Bismarck Tribune. 1978, August 1. Page 17
The Bismarck Tribune. 1977, July 18. Page 15

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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