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When the first issue of Atari’s Coin Connection newsletter was published in 1976, its contents were clearly aimed at an audience of arcade operators and distributors. But in its later years (the issue I’ve scanned here is Volume 7, Number 10 from November
1983), the publication became a tiny bit more consumer oriented—for example, offering tips on how to play games as opposed to tips on how to repair them. So maybe it wasn’t a mistake that its subscriber base had expanded to include a teenager with a healthy interest in video games, living in his parents’ house on the south side of Chicago. (I think I once sent Atari a letter with some questions about the Atari 800 computer; that might have been the reason why my name ended up on the Coin Connection mailing list.)

So what do we have here?
• Front-page news about the Pole Position II enhancement kit, complete with a glamorous studio portrait of all the little ROM chips and stickers that could transform
your Pole Position coin-op into its own sequel. “Because Atari never had a one-track mind.”
• A nice spread on designer Owen Rubin’s new vector-graphics arcade game Major Havoc, including a synopsis of the game’s storyline and a list of 12 helpful “Game Playing Strategies.” (“Oxygen pods are worth more points after you set off the reactor”...good to know!)
• A feel-good story about how Atari loaned three arcade cabinets to the San Jose police department (an upright Asteroids cabinet and two cocktail machines, Tempest and Space Duel). The machines were used in a sting operation that apparently resulted in several arrests for narcotics and stolen goods trafficking.
• A back-page article about how Atari donated a vintage Lunar Lander coin-op to the Discovery Center of Science & Technology in Syracuse, New York.

But the real treat in this issue of Coin Connection can be found in the lower right corner of page 3. It’s a picture of Star Wars creator George Lucas playing the “cockpit” version of Atari’s Star Wars arcade game. According to the photo caption, Atari presented the game to Lucas in August of 1983, and the machine had an engraved inscription that read, “A special thanks for creating THE FORCE behind so much fun.”

Now that’s a museum piece, right there. George Lucas’ very own personalized Star Wars arcade cabinet. You’d think that such a hallowed artifact would be installed in a place of honor, like the rec room in Lucas’ new beachfront property in Carpinteria, California...or in the most secure area of his estate in San Anselmo...or at the offices of Lucasfilm, Industrial Light & Magic and LucasArts in San Francisco. But after several
weeks of research, I can’t confirm that the game is still in Lucas’ possession, or even if it still exists. A Lucasfilm public-relations rep couldn’t even verify that Mr. Lucas ever owned the machine. I talked to current and former employees of both Lucasfilm and LucasArts—including Steve Sansweet, author of several books on Star Wars memorabilia—and nobody seems to know the current whereabouts of this one-of-a-kind arcade game. Sansweet speculated that the game was probably one of the earlier additions to Lucas’ “posterity collection,” a cache of Lucasfilm artifacts that once took up an extraordinary amount of warehouse space at Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch facility near Nicasio, California. But I haven’t even been able to confirm that the posterity collection itself is still intact.

Sansweet was also kind enough to send me another photo from Atari’s 1983 meet-up with Lucas; you can view it by clicking this link. This image previously appeared in a book called The Star Wars Vault that Sansweet co-authored in 2007; it shows an alternate view of Lucas seated in the cockpit next to a small crowd of onlookers. (The fellow with the dark pants is John Farrand, then-president of Atari’s coin video games
division, and the woman next to him is Maggie Young, who was Lucasfilm’s vice president of licensing at the time.) Sure enough, an engraved plaque is plainly visible (though unfortunately not legible) on the right side of the cabinet, above Darth Vader’s head and just to the right of a TIE fighter on the side artwork.

So whatever happened to George Lucas’ personalized Star Wars arcade game? Here’s the weirdest thing about my inquiries: Several of my contacts gave me the impression that if he were asked about it, Lucas probably wouldn’t even know if he still owns the machine or not. And I guess I can understand that. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the guy has entire airplane hangars filled with droids, life-sized Millennium Falcon parts and Arks of the Covenant. With all of the various coin-op games and pinball machines produced under Lucasfilm license by Atari, Sega, Data East and Williams, he could probably fill an entire arcade with just Star Wars games.

Frankly, that blows my mind. I would not go as far as to say that I feel sorry for somebody as creative, as influential and as affluent as George Lucas. But I can say with a high degree of certainty that if I owned an Atari Star Wars arcade game, I would be keenly aware of the fact that I owned an Atari Star Wars arcade game. I wonder what it’s like to have so much stuff that you have to pay people to keep track of your stuff, and some of those people still don’t know how much stuff you have. I’ll bet it would make you feel kind of sad, you know, to be disconnected from your own belongings like that.

Ahh, who am I kiddin’? It’s probably awesome!

© 2011 Chris Bieniek. Certain video game images, characters and logos on this Web site are copyrighted or trademarked by their respective publishers.