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May 25, 2011

‘Star Wars’: A look back on opening day in May 1977

Posted in: Movies

starwars Star Wars: A look back on opening day in May 1977

Alec Guinness and George Lucas on the set of “Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope” in 1977. (20th Century Fox)

Many of you celebrated Star Wars Day on May 4 (as in, “May the fourth be with you”), but Wednesday, May 25, might be a more apt time to stage an Ewok feast in honor of the greatest space opera of them all.

It was 34 years ago, on May 25, 1977, that “Star Wars” (later known as “Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope” ) thundered onto the big screen and changed the course of Hollywood history. It was clear on that day that George Lucas and his epic were a new force in American pop culture.

“On opening day I was on the East Coast and I did the morning-show circuit — ‘Good Morning America’ and ‘Today,’” Gary Kurtz, the producer of “Star Wars,” told Hero Complex last year. “In the afternoon I did a radio call-in show in Washington and this guy, this caller, was really enthusiastic and talking about the movie in really deep detail. I said, ‘You know a lot abut the film.’ He said, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’ve seen it four times already.’ And that was opening day. I knew something was happening.”

 Star Wars: A look back on opening day in May 1977

Chewbacca and Han Solo. (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Robert Muratore, producer of the documentary film “The People vs. George Lucas,” said that the premiere of the 1977 space adventure brought with it “a new era for science fiction and fantasy.”

“It sort of opened up the floodgates to that world,” Muratore said. “Science fiction at that point became more accessible to the general public, and it was a landmark in film history.”

On the same day six years later, “Return of the Jedi” opened to packed theaters and, with a much-maligned teddy-bear luau, closed out Lucas’ original trilogy. Still, there’s no debating the fact that the “Star Wars” films forever changed the way movies were made. “There’s no question that Lucas advanced cinema technology across the board,” Muratore said. “He set an amazing standard for sound in cinema that’s held up to this day.”

 Star Wars: A look back on opening day in May 1977

“Return of the Jedi” (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

The “Return of the Jedi” premiere also debuted THX, the Lucasfilm-created sound reproduction system, and “Deep Note,” its trademark crescendo, is also celebrating its 28th anniversary Wednesday. (Check out the iconic trailers here.)

Add to that Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Ranch, and “Star Wars” has secured its pioneer status in production and visual effects. Richard D. Zanuck, the Oscar-winning producer of “Jaws” and “Alice in Wonderland,” called Lucas “the Thomas Edison of our time.”

“[Lucas put his own money] into ILM and Skywalker Ranch and THX sound. He put it into the greatest equipment, all of it up-to-date,” Zanuck told Hero Complex last year. “He’s the only one who ever gave back to the industry in terms of the technology investment. … He’s really been an innovator like nobody else.”

Seven Oscars, two sequels, three prequels and some $4 billion later, “Star Wars” remains an enduring story and a popular favorite, partly because it folds in multiple genres: science fiction, action, western, romance, drama.

long time ago Star Wars: A look back on opening day in May 1977

Harrison Ford, David Prowse, Peter Mayhew, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill in Jedi days (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

“There’s such a rich universe that’s been created around ‘Star Wars,’ and it holds so many universal themes, that pretty much anyone can find something in there that’s memorable or valuable,” Muratore said.

It also remains a lucrative franchise, appearing in an endless stream of toys and video games, fan tributes and parodies, as on “Family Guy” and “Robot Chicken.”

“I don’t think people realize how significant ‘Star Wars’ is as a cultural touchstone,” Seth Green, “Robot Chicken” producer, told Hero Complex in December. “You’re talking about something that’s maintained relevance and financial success for over 30 years. And if you look at the next 15 years, where Lucas will release all the movies in 3-D while supported by one, potentially two on-air series, it’s cross-generational from infants to 60-year-olds. There’s nothing in the world that rivals ‘Star Wars’ as a relevant brand in today’s marketplace.”

robot chicken sw special 2 Star Wars: A look back on opening day in May 1977

“Robot Chicken” (Cartoon Network)

The franchise’s most recent incarnation is the animated series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” on Cartoon Network. “Clone Wars” writer Christian Taylor called the new series “a brilliant marketing tool.”

“The great thing about doing this show is the fact that now there’s a whole new generation of ‘Star Wars’ fans,” Taylor told Hero Complex in March. “There would be established fans, like you and me; the religious, hard-core fans; and then this whole new bunch of kids who have never even seen the films.”

They’ll have their chance in September, when the complete saga is released on Blu-ray, the beloved story repackaged for a new generation of Padawans.

— Noelene Clark


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