This is the first time I've ever heard anything about an Empire Strikes Back telephone hotline, but it actually existed! And there's a pretty interesting story behind it. This original idea came from a guy named Craig Miller who was a publicist on the first two Star Wars movies. He thought it would be cool to set up a hotline for fans to call so they could get more information about the movie and the characters. The recordings on this hotline were recently rediscovered, and put online, so we can listen to them! But before you do here's a very interesting explanation of what happened with the this whole hotline thing because it didn't go according to plan. Here's what Miller said went down.
In late 1979, as the opening of The Empire Strikes Back was quickly racing toward us, I came up with the idea of doing a telephone line people could call for information about the movie. For the first five months of 1980, people could call a special 800 number (800/521-1980, the date the film was set to open) and hear a message from one of the characters of the movie: Luke, Leia, Han, Darth Vader, or C-3PO.
I wrote the scripts for the five messages and, during each actor's looping session for the movie, we recorded their message. (After all, they were already going to be in a recording studio.) Harrison had already done his looping session by the time the scripts were ready so he and I met for lunch one day then went back to his house where a sound guy I hired for the occasion (some of you will remember Jim Tanenbaum) met us and recorded his message.
This was before the telephone system was completely computerized. Back then, there was a lot of mechanical switching equipment and specific prefixes were limited to specific geographic areas. 521 was in Illinois so we had to set up our phone lines to answer the calls in that state. We only promoted the phone line at science fiction conventions, through clubs, and specialty publications like "Starlog" carried the story. But the first week the system went live, so many people called the number, AT&T couldn't handle it. They were so overloaded, the system couldn't even handle generating busy signals to all of the calls. The 800 system for Illinois crashed and shut down for several hours. AT&T insisted that we add additional phone lines and issue a press release taking the blame for it. Weep wail. Poor us. We contritely agreed to issue a press release to all media saying we were sorry that Star Wars fans were so eager to get information on the sequel that wouldn't be out for five months, their calls overwhelmed the phone company. And you could call yourself, now that we'd increased the number of phone lines, and listen to the messages at 800/521-1980. The story, of course, got covered everywhere. Best publicity we could have had.
Click on the image below to listen to the the five recordings. Once you get to the site just click on each one to listen to your favorite characters talking about the movie. These are pretty fun. Enjoy!