When the original Star Wars trilogy took off in 1977, here’s why it broke records all across the galaxy

Vintage Star Wars movie poster from 1977

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The first movie in the Star Wars original trilogy premiered in 1977 and a pop culture obsession was born

When the first film in the Star Wars original trilogy launched in 1977 (now known as Star Wars: A New Hope), no one could have predicted the, uh, force it would become, not only breaking box office records, but spawning an entire industry — including 11 more films to follow.

Check out the takes some of the first reviewers had of the first movie of what would become a multi-billion dollar brand.

The Star Wars original trilogy takes off

by Jerry Buck – Abilene Reporter-News (Texas) June 26, 1977

The first installment of the Star Wars original trilogy is a dazzling galactic swashbuckler, a smashing movie and a smash hit.

Far and away the best of the year, despite its futuristic theme, it’s an old-fashioned head-’em-off-at-the-pass movie that is fun to see. It is a comic strip come to life, with eye-popping special effects of flashing light swords, ray guns, strange creatures, spaceships and eerie planets.

In its first six days, the movie grossed $2.5 million in only 41 theaters. It’s the biggest hit ever in 50 years at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood, and it’s breaking records all over. “It’s madness,” said a spokesman for 20th Century Fox. “The lines at the theaters are unbelievable.”

No one is willing to speculate yet on whether it will surpass Jaws, the biggest moneymaker of all times.

The original Star Wars movie borrows heavily from the past in a nostalgic salute to Western, gangster, pirate and war movies, but writer-director George Lucas has made it wholly his own. It is also touching in the innocence of the farm boy hero, Luke Skywalker, and the way two bumbling Laurel and Hardy robots, Threepio [C-3PO] and Artoo-Detoo [R2-D2], strive to be like humans.

Original Star Wars publicity still - 1977
Original Star Wars publicity still – 1977

The delineation between good and evil is so sharp that the hero wears white and the villain wears black.

Mark Hamill stars as Skywalker, an adventurous farm boy who suddenly finds he is virtually the only one standing between the villainous Darth Vader and destruction of freedom in the galaxy. He soon learns he is really the son of a Jedi Knight — a long-kept secret — and receives his father’s “light saber” sword.

“I got to play space man all day and yet got paid for it,” said Hamill, who just five years ago was a copy boy in this AP bureau. “I used to play like that as a kid. I was just able to step into that reality George had created for us.”

“I thought the light saber looked corny, but then I had my stand-in hold it and I looked through the lens. It glowed and glimmered and looked fantastic.”

YouTube video

Luke yearns to leave the farm run by his aunt and uncle on the desert planet Tatooine when Threepio and Artoo-Detoo bring word that Rebel Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) has been kidnapped by Darth Vader.

They are dropped off at the farm by desert scrap collectors. Luke enlists the aid of Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness), an old wizard and the last of the Jedi Knights, and Han Solo (Harrison Ford), a soldier of fortune and captain of the Millennium Falcon, a Corellian pirate starship.

Solo’s first mate is Chewbacca, a seven-foot monkey-faced anthropoid.

The original Star Wars - Darth Vader
The original Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope – Darth Vader – 1977

Solo is recruited in a bar like every Western saloon or waterfront dive — except for its strange patrons. Ben Kenobi is found after a battle with the sand people.

Racing to the rescue, the Millennium Falcon is sucked into Death Star, Vader’s planet-sized spaceship.

“We hide under the floor and after Darth Vader’s men leave, my line is ‘Gee, it’s lucky you had these compartments’,” Hamill said. “I told George, ‘I can’t say that line. It’s so obvious, so corny.’ But George said just go ahead, and it worked. It’s like a comic book come to life.”

Hamill said during production in England he found himself unable to talk to the reclusive Lucas, who previously made American Graffiti. So he talked to his wife, film editor Marcia Lucas.

“I told Marcia I’d made a couple of acting choices I’d have never made on my own in a million years. But I trusted George completely. I felt safe in his hands.

“In the scene where I find my aunt and uncle dead the script called for me to drop to my knees and shout, ‘No!’ George told me to forget that and just walk up to my mark and stand there. He said if I shook my fist in the air it would be too much like ‘Curse you, Red Baron.’ He said you already know they’re dead.

“I said I’d do it his way and show him he was wrong. It worked out beautifully. People read their own emotions into it. The whole movie is so melodramatic it needs some quiet moments.”

The movie has many corny lines, but instead of groaning, the audience loves them, whistling and cheering. It’s like reliving your childhood fantasies, yet more imaginative, more intriguing, more spectacular than you ever dreamed.

Star Wars: A New Hope
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03/11/2024 04:25 pm GMT
1977 Original Star Wars Mylar Advance Poster
The original Star Wars movie poster from 1977

George Lucas on the gamble and success of Star Wars (1977)

George Lucas talks about how he made ‘Star Wars,’ what he hoped to accomplish, the ‘death of the western’ and how he heard of Wookies

By Paul Scanlon – Oakland Tribune (California) August 21, 1977

George Lucas on the gamble and success of Star Wars (1977)

George Lucas possesses peculiar vision and exceptional imagination.

His first feature film, ‘THX 1138,’ was technically brilliant, but no crowd-pleaser. Then came ‘American Graffiti,’ George’s paean to the class of ’62, cruising and rock and roll. Made for $750,000 with a small crew and a 28-day shooting schedule, it has become the 11th largest grosser.

And in case you’ve been asleep for the past couple of months, or on Mars, George Lucas’ third feature, ‘Star Wars,’ will certainly hit the Top Ten and may well become the biggest grosser ever. Within eight weeks, it had taken in $54 million at the box office.

THX 1138 playing in LA in 1977
Before the Star Wars original trilogy premiered in 1977, George Lucas made THX 1138

What sets ‘Star Wars’ apart from its predecessors are the special effects (some 365 separate shots) and the extraordinary richness of Lucas’ imagination.

So here sits George Lucas, 33, in a hotel suite overlooking New York’s Central Park. Somewhere out there, folks are queuing up for the next showing of his movie, and George Lucas is smiling.

So how does it feel; did you really expect that ‘Star Wars’ was going to take off like this?

No way. I expected ‘American Graffiti’ to be a semi-successful film… and then I went through the roof when it became this big, huge blockbuster.

And they said, well, gee, how are you going to top that? And I said it was a one-shot and I was really lucky. I really had to get a movie off the ground. So what happened was I finally got a deal for very little money to develop ‘Star Wars.’

Original Star Wars A New Hope movie poster from 1977
Original Star Wars A New Hope movie poster from 1977

How many studios had turned it down?


And then Fox took it?

Fox took it, and it was close because there wasn’t any other place I wanted to take it. I don’t know what I would have done, maybe take a job. But the last desperate thing is to “take a job.” So I was going to try to write a very interesting project.

Right after ‘Graffiti’, I was getting this fan mail from kids that said the film changed their life, and something inside me said, do a children’s film. And everybody said, “Do a children’s film? What are you talking about? You’re crazy.”

I thought: we all know what a terrible mess we have made of the world, we all know how wrong we were in Vietnam. We also know, as every movie made in the last ten years points out, how terrible we are, how we have ruined the world.

I saw that kids today don’t have any fantasy life the way we had — they don’t have westerns, they don’t have pirate movies, they don’t have that stupid serial fantasy life that we used to believe in.

Original Star Wars trilogy movie - George Lucas film
Original Star Wars trilogy movie still

It wasn’t that we really believed in it…

But we loved it.

Look, what would happen if there had never been John Wayne movies and Errol Flynn movies and all that stuff that we got to see at the time.

I mean, you could go into a theater, not just watch it on television on Saturday morning, actually go into a theater, sit down and watch an incredible adventure. Not a stupid adventure, not a dumb adventure for children and stuff but a real Errol Flynn, John Wayne — gosh — kind of adventure.

Indiana Jones & Raiders of the Lost Ark movie is a stunning summer hit (1981)

Or ‘The Crimson Pirate’ with Burt Lancaster or ‘The Magnificent Seven.’

Yeah, but there aren’t any. There’s nothing but cop movies and a few films like ‘Planet of the Apes,’ but there isn’t anything you can really dig your teeth into.

I realized a more destructive element in the culture would be a whole generation of kids growing up without that thing, because I had also done a study on the fairy tale or the myth.

It is a children’s story in history and you go back to the ‘Odyssey’ or the stories that are told for the kid in all of us. I can see the little kids sitting there and just being enthralled with ‘Ulysses.’ Plus the myths which existed in high adventure, and an exotic far-off land which was always that place over the hill, ‘Camelot,’ ‘Robin Hood,’ ‘Treasure Island.’

That sort of stuff that is always big adventure out there somewhere. It came all the way down through the western.

Star Wars - Luke Skywalker light saber
Original Star Wars: Luke Skywalker wields a light saber

The western?

Yeah, one of the significant things that occurred to me is I saw the western die.

We hardly knew what happened, one day we turned around and there weren’t westerns anymore.

So you do a ‘Star Wars.’

I was a real fan of ‘Flash Gordon’ and that kind of stuff, a very strong advocate of the exploration of outer space and I said, this is something, this is a natural.

One, it will give kids a fantasy life and two, maybe it will make someone a young Einstein and people will say, “Why?” What we really need to do is colonize the next galaxy, get away from the hard facts of ‘2001’ and get on the romantic side of it.

Nobody is going to colonize Mars because of the technology, they are going to go because they think maybe they will be able… well, it is romantic.

Star Wars publicity still - Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker
Original Star Wars publicity still – Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker

You firmly establish that at the beginning of ‘Star Wars’ with the words “A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

Well, I had a real problem because I was afraid that science-fiction buffs and everybody would say things like, “You know there’s no sound in outer space.” I just wanted to forget science. That would take care of itself.

Stanley Kubrick made the ultimate science-fiction movie and it is going to be very hard for somebody to come along and make a better movie, as far as I’m concerned.

I didn’t want to make a ‘2001,’ I wanted to make a space fantasy that was more in the genre of Edgar Rice Burroughs, that whole other end of space fantasy that was there before science took it over in the Fifties.

And yet you encountered a lot of resistance on this project?

Yes. I started out saying I thought it would make roughly $16 million. The thing is, okay, if I spend $4.5 million, then on the advertising and the prints and everything, another $4.5 million, there is a little bit of profit in there, if it makes $16 million.

And then I finally talked Fox into doing it, partially because they sort of understood — they had done the ‘Planet of the Apes’ movies — partially just because ‘Laddie,’ Alan Ladd Jr, understood. He was a project officer then and I guess he saw ‘Graffiti’ before he made his decision and he said, this is a great movie and I was asking for $10000 just to start this little project.

C3PO and R2D2 in the original Star Wars
C3PO and R2D2 in the original Star Wars

How do you explain a Wookie to a board of directors?

You can’t, and how do you explain a Wookie to an audience, and how do you get the tone of the film right, so it’s not a silly child’s film, so it’s not playing down to people, but it is still an entertaining movie and doesn’t have a lot of violence and sex and hip new stuff? So it still has a vision to it, a sort of wholesome, honest vision about the way you want the world to be.

The first budget actually came out to $16 million, so I threw out a lot of designing new equipment and said, okay, we’ll cut corners and do a lot of fast filmmaking, which is where I really come from.

So we started applying some of our budget techniques and we got it down by $8.5 million, which was really about as cheap as that script could possibly ever be made by any human being.

What was your actual salary for directing?

I think in the end my actual salary was $100,000, which again was still like half of what everybody else was making.

Do you have percentage points in the film?

Everybody has points, but the key is to make them pay off. I figured I was never going to see any money on my points, so what the heck. But I never expected ‘Star Wars’ to… I expected to break even on it, I still can’t understand it.

Original Star Wars trilogy movie still - Han Solo and Chewy
Star Wars original trilogy movie still – Han Solo and Chewy

Principal photography for the original Star Wars movie (now titled “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope“) began on March 22, 1976, and the movie hit theaters May 25, 1977 — a mere 14 months later — and quickly made motion picture history.

As of 2013, “Star Wars” is the second-highest-grossing film in the US/Canada (after adjusting for inflation), and #3 worldwide. Produced on a budget of $11 million, the movie was a gamble, and two major studios had already rejected the script.

Several of the actors were relative unknowns, including a guy named Harrison Ford, a carpenter who George Lucas had hired to build some cabinets in his home.

Brooks soars again in 'Spaceballs' spoof (1987)

See a little bit of the funny side of shooting life — including amusing takes starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford. This video is excerpted from the book “The Making of Star Wars (Enhanced Edition)” by Lucasfilm editor and author JW Rinzler, and contains clips discovered deep in the Lucasfilm archives.


The original Star Wars blooper/gag reel (with outtakes)

Note: There is no sound on the first few clips (original sound was not present).

YouTube video

Credit: J W Rinzler & Lucasfilm

UP NEXT: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – Trailer, reviews, cast interviews & where to watch it again

The 12 Star Wars movies and which order to watch them in

Looking to binge all 12 installments in Star Wars series? Here are a couple ways to watch these movies — some people prefer chronological order (starting with the later-release prequels) and some prefer to watch them in order of release date, starting with the original Star Wars movie: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Star Wars movies: Chronological order

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

Star Wars movies: Release date order

(starting with the Star Wars original trilogy)

Original Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. I was a teenager when the original “Star Wars” (Episode IV) came out. I went to see it because my father wanted to see it; initially I was kind of indifferent to it. However, a lot of my friends were really into “Star Wars,” and their enthusiasm was contagious. I saw it a couple more times (in the late ’70s they would re-release it every few months) and bought the novelization, which went into a lot more detail about some of the bit characters as well as Darth Vader and Obi-Wan’s backstories that would be fleshed out later in the prequels. For me, “Star Wars” ended up being the gateway drug to a whole world of science fiction; I watched every movie and TV show and read every book I could get my hands on, from the classics (Bradbury, Asimov, Clarke) to the schlocky stuff.

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