On May 25, 1977, forty-two years ago, this year, Star Wars, was first released into theatres, That event was one of the defining moments in cinema history.
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“Time of Destruction.” By John C. Meyer
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For myself and many, many moviegoers, Star Wars, with its groundbreaking special effects and breathtaking action, catapulted our imaginations to an ancient distant galaxy filled with wonder and adventure.
During the past 42 years Star Wars and its continuing franchises have become very successful, but the movie itself had humble beginnings.
American director George Lucas, who was only a few years removed from the completion of his film studies at the University of Southern California, decided to put together the first drafts of Star Wars following the unexpected success of American Graffiti (1973), his movie about adolescent American life in the early 1960s.
TRIVIA: Box Office return for American Graffiti was $One-Hundred-Forty-Million on an investment of $777,000, by Universal Studios. That’s 175 times ROI
More TRIVIA: American Graffitti won 9 Golden Globe Awards, Including:
Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical
Best Actor – Richard Dreyfus
Best director – George Lucas
Lucas had presented his ideas for Star Wars to every major film studio, and then he presented it to Alan Ladd Jr., who had recently become President of Twentieth Century Fox. Ladd was enthuiastic about the concept, and gave Lucas the go-ahead.
After Lucas wrote four drafts of the story for Star Wars—the second of which was called “gobbledygook” by fellow director and mentor Francis Ford Coppola—he settled on the shooting script in early 1976.
Some 18 months later the film was released.
Star Wars debuted on Wednesday, May 25, 1977, in fewer than 32 theaters, and eight more on Thursday and Friday, Star Wars Producer Gary Kurtz said in 2002, “That would be laughable today.” It immediately broke box office records, effectively becoming one of the first blockbuster films, and Fox accelerated plans to broaden its release. Lucas himself was not able to predict how successful Star Wars would be.
After visiting the set of the Steven Spielberg–directed Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Lucas was sure Close Encounters would outperform the yet-to-be-released Star Wars at the box office. Spielberg disagreed, and felt Lucas’s Star Wars would be the bigger hit. Lucas proposed they trade 2.5% of the profit on each other’s films; Spielberg took the trade, and still receives 2.5% of the profits from Star Wars.
No one had any idea Star Wars would be such a gigiantic hit. Star Wars Producer Gary Kurtz, first realized that Star Wars was a cultural phenomenon, when, on the day it opened, a caller on a radio talk show told him that he had already seen the film four times.
Fox initially had doubts if Star Wars would emerge successful. The Other Side of Midnight was supposed to be the studio’s big summer hit, while Lucas’ movie was considered the “B track” for theater owners nationwide.
Fearing that the film would fail, Lucas had made plans to be in Hawaii with his wife Marcia.
Having forgotten that the film would open that day, May 25, he spent most of Wednesday in a sound studio in Los Angeles. When Lucas went out for lunch with Marcia, they encountered a long line of people along the sidewalks leading to Mann’s Chinese Theatre, waiting to see Star Wars.
He was still skeptical of the film’s success despite enthusiastic reports from the President of Fox Studios, Alan Ladd Jr.
While in Hawaii, it was not until he watched Walter Cronkite discuss the gigantic crowds for Star Wars on the CBS Evening News that Lucas realized he had become very wealthy.
Francis Ford Coppola, who needed money to finish Apocalypse Now, sent a telegram to Lucas’s hotel asking for funding.
TRIVIA: Star Wars won 6 Oscars at the Academy Awards;
Best Art Direction — Set Decoration
Best Costume Design
Best Film Editing by Marcia Lucas, George’s wife
Best Visual Effects
Best Origional Score by John Williams
Even technical crew members, such as model makers, were asked for autographs, and cast members became instant household names; when Harrison Ford visited a record store to buy an album, enthusiastic fans tore half his shirt off.
By now millions of people have seen Star Wars (later retitled Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope), a film about Luke Skywalker, a young man who finds himself embroiled in an interplanetary war between the authoritarian Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance.
During the first weekend of its original release, Star Wars was showing in only 43 movie theaters.
By the end of September, however, after glowing reviews bolstered by word of mouth drove people into the theaters, the demand was great enough to support widening the release to more than 1,000 screens.
CLICK “Link” Below for a video of news coverage of 1977 Star Wars Movie Premier
During that first release, the film took in more than $500 million worldwide, a great return for a project whose budget had been less than $10 million.
Since that day in May 1977, the Star Wars franchise has grown immensely. The original Star Wars was joined by a constellation of sequels (The Empire Strikes Back , The Return of the Jedi , The Force Awakens , The Last Jedi [2017), The Return of Skywalker (2019), three prequels (The Phantom Menace , Attack of the Clones , and Revenge of the Sith ), and two stand-alone films, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), and Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Star Wars film, Episode VII: The Force Awakens, reached One Billion Dollars in ticket sales in a record six days, beating Jurassic World, which took seven days to reach One Billion dollars in ticket sales.
Ticket sales from the films—along with profits from the sale of toys, books, videocassettes and DVDs, and other merchandise and licensing—have earned the Star Wars franchise more than $30 billion.
After all of the filming and editing for Star wars was done, Lucas brought in Stephen Speilberg and Bryan DePalma to critique the film.
They both sad that it was disjointed and made no sense.
Lucas and his editing team, which included his wife Marcia, rethought the film, and recut and rearranged the film, to create the cinematic classic it became.
Click below for the story of “How Star was saved in the editing.”
Trivia from “HOW STAR WARS CONQUIRED THE UNIVERSE”
By Chris Taylor
By day six at the end of the Memorial Day weekend in 1977 Star Wars had brought in $2.5 million in ticket sales.
That did not technically make it the highest grossing movie in America. Smokey and the Bandit beat it with a take of $2.7 million.
But Smokey was showing on 386 screens and Star Wars was only showing on 43.
Lots of important people, such as Ted Kennedy and his wife stood in the long lines outside theatres. Elvis Presley tried to get a print to screen it at Graceland, the day before he died.
Walter Cronkite did unprecedented coverage of Star Wars on his newscast.
Lucas and his wife Marcia had flown to Hawaii two days before the movie opened. They both believed the movie was going to be a disaster. Cronkite’s newscast was the first that they heard that the movie was a huge success
Fox was an ailing company before Star Wars. The Stock shares were $13 a share before the release of Star Wars. A month later it was $26 a share. 76% growth in a month.
Alan Ladd Jr’s salary At Fox went from $180,000 to $500,000, with the release of Star Wars.
Annual profit for Fox for 1977, $77 million was double the previous year’s annual profit.
In 1978 Kinner, the toy company, sold more than 42 million Star Wars items 22 million were action figures.
In 1977, the Fox fanfare had not been used for several years, but George Lucas insisted that it precede the beginning of the movie.
By 1985 they were more Star Wars figures on the planet than US citizens.
Before Star Wars, there had never been a movie merchandising campaign that made money. Star Wars was the very first.
The same holds true for spin off movies. George Lucas’ negotiation for spinoffs and for merchandising was ignored by fox. They gave him what he wanted in merchandising and spin-offs believing it would make no difference.
George Lucas was able to get an unprecedented deal for the merchandising and for the ownership of all spinoffs made from Star Wars.
In order to get ownership of all spinoffs made for Star Wars, George’s contract stipulated that he had to start the first spin off within two years of the release of Star Wars. In other words by 1979, and he did.
Alan Lad junior and Fox had to negotiate with George Lucas to be able to make the sequels for Star Wars at Twentieth-Century Fox, since Lucas retained the rights to be able to make any sequels of Star Wars.
Lucas’ contract with Fox stated that he would get 25% of the first 20 million profit, 75% of the next 40 million in profit, and 90% of everything after that.
After the success of the first Star Wars movie, George Lucas began promoting the myth that He had actually written nine episodes and that he took the first of the middle three stories to film The first Star Wars movie.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It was a laborious, constantly changing process to even get the first one written and off the ground and there were many, many, many changes in material. Nothing else had been written before the first movie was made, but that myth promoted the movies.
More than $20 billion of merchandise sales of star wars merchandise have been made in the last 42 years Even more than Barbie, even though Barbie had a 20 year head start on Star Wars.
Rancho Obi-Wan, a Museum run by one man, has over 300,000 Star Wars items.
There are more than 2000 models of Star Wars figures in the Hasbro toy line compared to little more than 300 in the Kenner toy line that existed when Hasbro bought Kenner.
George Lucas gave away 25% of his stake in Star Wars to actors and crew in the form of points. Mark Hammel was getting $600,000 a year for a very long time from his points in Star Wars.
Shortly after filming began for the second Star Wars, filming fell behind schedule and the budget increased from $18,000,000 to $22,000,000.
George Lucas was financing this movie and didn’t know where the other money would come from. During the Christmas season Kinner sold $200 million of the Star Wars merchandise allowing George Lucas to use some of the money from that to finish the movie. If the merchandising hadn’t come to Lucas’s rescue the movie would’ve been shut down.
When the budget then ballooned to $31 million, the banks refused to loan Lucas money unless Lucas had Fox guarantee the loan.
Fox did not have to put up any money, Fox just agreed that if it were necessary they would pay it, and they got a bigger cut of the profits than previously agreed in their contract with Lucas.
That was the last thing that Lucas wanted, but he was stuck.
One of the reasons that George Lucas was making the second film, “The Empire Strikes Back,” is because he wanted to use the profits from the film to finance the building of Skywalker Ranch, a place where independent film makers could work on their movies.
As the costs of making “The Empire Strikes Back’ grew larger, Lucas began to fear that his “Skywalker Ranch” dream was not going to happen.
The only two characters who appear in all nine movies, other than the “StandAlone” films are C3PO and R2D2.
Around 1980, a fan named Alvin Johnson built a storm trooper uniform, and encouraged others to do the same.
He put together an organization of the Stormtroopers, and called it the five-hundred-first Stormtrooper Division. The idea caught on fast, and spread far and wide until there were thousands of fans with realistic storm trooper costumes who marched in parades and were hired for events.
A fan named Chris Bartlet, A member of the five-hundred-first Storm Troopers, decided in 2001, he was going to build a Screen-Realistic C3PO costume. He put a lot of effort into building the costume and watched the movies a lot so it would be accurate. He spent a lot of time shaping and putting together the costume, and then he sent a picture of it to Lucas films telling them if they ever needed another C3PO costume, his would be available.
He never dreamed they would take him up on his offer. He listened many, many times to Anthony Daniels speaking his dialogue so that he could get it exactly right.
LucasFilm called him and asked him to come out to Los Angeles and paid for his ticket. When he got there Lucas film chromed the outfit and gave him a ticket to Australia where he promoted the next film, and got paid for it.
Lucasfilm even had Anthony Daniels coach him in the correct movements and speaking for C3PO.
Bartlet became the official Star Wars spokesman and gave many, many talks for events in the C3PO costume, including at the White House, in 2009, to take part in a Trick or Treat event.
After putting on their costumes in the basement of the west wing, he and the man dressed as Chewy took the elevator up to the second floor, stopping at the first, where Obama was waiting.
Obama asked if he could get on, then rode up with them where CHRIS introduced himself by saying, “I am C3PO, human cyborg, relations.”
Michelle Obama had specifically requested C3PO. Several members of Obama’s staff were in other Star Wars consumes, showing that an obsession with Star Wars had found its way to the most powerful office in the world.
Bartlet has been Lucas Film’s special events C3PO SINCE 2001. He is a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild. He has appeared in Toyota and McDonalds commercials. He has presented Samual L. Jackson with an award on the AMC cable channel.
Another group of fan fanatics started building R2D2s and other R2 units, despite not knowing the dimensions. Many of them took ten years to build and cost as much as $12,000.
George Lucas visited one of the rooms at a convention where some of the R2D2 fanatics and their Astromecks were exhibited. He asked what it cost to make them, and was told, “about $8,000.” George said that Lucasfilm had a company that had made them for Star Wars movies, and had charged him $80,000 for each R2D2. He said that if he ever needed another one, he would contact them. One of their R2D2’s was used in The Force Awakens.
Shortly after the prequel trilogy was completed, George Lucas began planning a series for television called “The Underworld”, about the dark side of the Star Wars universe.
The Underworld was eventually scrapped when it was estimated that the production cost for each episode, the way that George wanted it to be, would cost $11 million per episode.
Nov. 3, 2007 is the first time the Star Wars theme was broadcast to a space shuttle crew as a wake-up call. Mission specialist Scott Curzensky, had named his son Luke, and later that day Scott talked to his son and said, in a Darth Vader voice, “Luke, I am your father, use the force, Luke.”
That same shuttle flight was carrying the light saber that Mark Hamel used in “Return of the Jedi,” Star Wars movie. George Lucas was on site for the launch of that shuttle.
In 2011, the first planet orbiting 2 suns was discovered. It received a technical name, but NASA named it Tatooine.