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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Read this: Remembering when Star Wars did an immunization PSA

Illustration for article titled Read this: Remembering when Star Wars did an immunization PSA
Photo: Kevin Winter (Getty Images)

In 2021, you’d have to be an idiot and/or an asshole not to recognize the importance of vaccines. But back in the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter’s administration was faced with the question of how to promote immunization to an America where too many still contracted illnesses like measles and whooping cough. The answer the government came up with was a campaign featuring the galaxy’s most trustworthy public figures: C-3PO and R2-D2.


In a new oral history, Mel Magazine looked back at a time when the Star Wars machine took a break from filming ill-advised spin-offs and licensing out characters for merchandising opportunities so they could be put to work saving our species’ lowly meat bodies from preventable diseases. The article features interviews with figures involved with the campaign, like the U.S. National Immunization Program’s former director, who explains the difficulties of educating America on the importance of measles vaccines—especially for children—following a resurgence of the disease. It also includes quotes from Peter Shillingford, would go on to direct a commercial meant to help solve that problem following his work on Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope’s making-of documentary.

Shillingford used a Star Wars set and props in London, working with C-3PO and R2-D2 actors Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker to film a PSA that was finished within a day. In the resulting commercial, nerdy old 3PO informs his squat companion that droids may be safe from polio, measles, and whooping cough, but that human children can suffer serious health complications or die from them if they aren’t vaccinated. (Daniels, who referenced the commercial in a recent tweet, wrote in his memoir that the PSA was “horrible—a sludgy, if informative script” in which R2 “appeared to pay no attention to the laws of physics.”)

The campaign also resulted in a poster of C-3PO and R2-D2 with the headline, “Parents of Earth, are your children fully immunized?” And Daniels’ experience with the PSA inspired him to write and star in a Star Wars anti-smoking PSA that provides both a good health lesson and an opportunity to see what it looks like when an astromech droid is caught sneaking a sly cigarette between space adventures.

Read the rest of the article to get more information on the PSAs. Who knows? Maybe seeing this decades-past example will inspire readers to dream up a Baby Yoda COVID immunization plan that will use the little green monster’s star power to convince even the most die-hard anti-vaxxers to change their minds.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Reid's a writer and editor who has appeared at GQ, Playboy, and Paste. He also co-created and writes for videogame sites Bullet Points Monthly and Digital Love Child.