Charles Lippincott, Who Hyped ‘Star Wars,’ Is Dead at 80


Without Charles Lippincott’s groundbreaking approach to publicity, there is a good chance that far fewer people would have flocked to a film set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

That film, of course, was “Star Wars,” George Lucas’s 1977 space opera starring Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford, which not only became a box-office smash but also grew into one of the most successful franchises of all time. But before it was released, no one knew if there would be much of an audience for it.

Mr. Lippincott set out to build one. He began promoting “Star Wars” more than a year before its release date, arranging for tie-ins with Marvel Comics and building enthusiasm by courting aficionados of science fiction and comic books at conventions. Sometimes he brought along Mr. Hamill, the little-known actor who starred as Luke Skywalker. His approach, unheard-of at the time, has since become de rigueur.

Mr. Lippincott — whom Mr. Lucas called “one of the founding pillars of the ‘Star Wars’ films and phenomenon” in a tribute on the official “Star Wars” website — died on May 19 in Vermont. He was 80.

His wife, Geraldine Lippincott, said he died after a heart attack.

In addition to generating publicity, Mr. Lippincott helped negotiate the first “Star Wars” toy deals with Kenner Products.

“Charley was the one who said early on that ‘we can make this work’ and was the first person to both develop ‘Star Wars’ licensing and engage with the fans,” Mr. Lucas said. “He had insights into marketing and public relations that were truly unparalleled.”

Mr. Hamill also praised Mr. Lippincott’s contribution. “He became a legend of marketing for a reason,” he said in the online tribute. “He was brilliant at what he did. We traveled the world together promoting ‘Star Wars’ before anyone knew what it was.”

The “Star Wars” franchise became a worldwide phenomenon, but Mr. Lippincott parted ways with Mr. Lucas after the first film, retroactively renamed “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope.” He went on to publicize other science fiction films, including Ridley Scott’sAlien” (1979) and Mike Hodges’s reboot of “Flash Gordon” (1980). He also produced the high school zombie film “Night Life” (1989) and an adaptation of the comic book “Judge Dredd” (1995) starring Sylvester Stallone.

Charles Myers Lippincott Jr. was born on Oct. 28, 1939, in Adams, Mass., to Ruth and Charles Lippincott. His mother was a nurse, his father a businessman.

The family moved to Illinois so that his father could work for a train manufacturer, and Charles Jr. graduated from Northwestern University in Evanston and attended law school before deciding on a new career path and entering film school at the University of Southern California, where he met Mr. Lucas.

In addition to his wife, who goes by the nickname Bumpy, he is survived by a sister, Janet.

In recent years Mr. Lippincott wrote a blog devoted to his recollections of working on “Star Wars” and other films. In a post from 2015, he wrote that he “did not expect the staggering, overwhelming response” to the film.

“No one did,” he added. “In our wildest dreams, we could not have predicted how massive a hit we had on our hands.”

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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