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

May 25, 2011 | 1:49 p.m.
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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VIDEO: Ford and Hamill on ‘Today’ show, 1980

Lucas asked David Lynch to direct ‘Jedi’


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

  1. Marc of Contemplative Pathways says:

    I saw Star Wars on its opening day and I was awed by it. I went to see the film six more times. I never tired of it during all those viewings. Remarkable. I felt as if I had entered a new era of human history.

  2. Steve G says:

    After seeing the full page ad in the NY Times featuring a storm trooper, my friends and i knew we had to see this one. Caught the second show in a huge Times Square theater.

    To a veteran science fiction reader, it looked like a compendium of every sci-fi old saw ever written (which, of course it was). The cantina band was the true killer. Lots of fun. Got a "May The Force be with you" giveaway button upon exiting. I foolishly gave it to a girlfriend. I could pay a month's rent with it now.

    By the way, I think 'Attack of the Clones' is one of the best pieces of sci-fi moviemaking ever.

  3. Rob S. says:

    I was at the first showing of STAR WARS on 44th st and Broadway on 5/25/77. Man, what a HUGE screen. I had read countless articles about the film on Cinefantastique magazine and on Film Comment.. The images were so strange. I had to see for myself. When I left the theater, there was a long line around the block. I also remember the mysterious poster for Spielberg's upcoming Close Encounters of he Third Kind displayed near the box-office.

    • randy says:

      I was at that movie theater on BWY and 44th on a double date to see STAR WARS in 1977 that was the best year of my life at 21 years old wow.

  4. Clarence says:

    I was there for the opening at Mann's Chinese Theater as a sixth grader……me and a couple guys from class skipped school, it was mid-week, I think a Wednesday, and the line was soooo long. I remember it went down the block then around the corner and then seemed to keep going. We cut into line and were able to make it into the premier…..it was crazy, I was amazed at what I saw on the screen. I heard later that George Lucas himself came by the theater over lunch and saw the huge line…..I've always thought it was so cool that not only did I get to see the film on opening day, and not only did I see it in LA at Mann's, but that George Lucas himself may have strolled right by me as I was waiting to see the film. I also got into HUGE trouble later for skipping school, it was the first time I had ever done it….and I'd do it all over again every time!!

  5. Zolly says:

    and May 25 is Towel Day, as well, by the way

  6. Bill Hoffman says:

    I was 7 years old when it opened and I went to see Star Wars……Totally blown away and still love it to this day. Really love it on my blu-ray!

  7. Mike says:

    I have a small poster that they gave away at the premire. Does anyone know anything about this and if so please get back to me.

  8. dogpa says:

    So what day was the premier pre-release showing I saw at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood during the week, in the early afternoon?

  9. Randy says:

    I was 21 when i went to see Star Wars it was the most talked about movie in 1977 i had to go see it i remember going on a double date with my brother we dated two sisters we went one hot Saturday night in NYC on Broadway to the Lowes Astor Plaza theater it was i think in June we was on a long line waiting to get in then we finally got in, the price of a ticket was like 4 bucks back then, it was a great movie for its time i enjoyed it, 1977 ended up being the best year of my life had a lot of fun that year lot of things happended that year, we had the black out in NYC, Elvis died, Saturday Night fever was born, we had the Son of Sam killing and hurting people, the NY Yankees won the world Series wow what a year.

  10. Ryan says:

    I was just 7 yrs old when Star wars first arrived in the UK cinema's in 1977, i was so amazed how futuristic the adventure of this film had on me and all the main characters like Han solo and Luke sky walker, Princess Lear's chemistry in the film was so fresh and exciting, also Darth Vader's character gave me the chills, so much appreciation to George Lucus in making such a classic movie that has stayed with me for 43 years.

  11. Pat says:

    *37 years old….not 34 :)

  12. RANDY says:

    Star Wars came at the right year in 1977 when every thing was happening that year, it was the year I started hanging out at the age of 21 living in NYC I went on a double date with my brother to Times Square on Broadway to see Star Wars, 1977 was a big year let me tell you of some of the things that happened that year, ELVIS DIED, FREDDY PRINCE DIED, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER was born, ANNIE HALL, CLOSE ENCOUNTER OF THE THIRD KIND, THE YANKEES WON THE WORLD SERIES, NYC WENT THROUGH A MAJOR BLACK OUT, THE SON OF SAM was killing people in NYC, I GOT MY FIRST CAR, STAR WARS was born WOW.

  13. Randy says:

    NYC was the place to be in 1977

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