5 messages from the 1980s Empire Strikes Back phone hot line

If you were around during the first five months of 1980 and called a special 800 number, you could have heard five special messages from The Empire Strikes Back's Luke, Leia, Han, Darth Vader and C-3PO—though you could just as easily have brought down an entire state's 800-number system!

Back in 1979, Craig Miller, the publicist for the first two Star Wars films, had a killer idea to promote the upcoming Star Wars sequel—create a telephone line that people could call for information about the movie.

If you dialed 800-521-1980 back then (those last seven digits representing the date the film was set to open), you'd have been able to hear these newly digitized promos.

But things did not go entirely as planned, however. As Miller explains:

... 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.

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