For those of us born after the first Star Wars movie broke box office records, and went onto become a beloved franchise with a decades-long history, it feels like Star Wars was always a part of pop culture. As if it had no beginning, it just simply was. But, of course, that’s not actually true. In fact, no one expected Star Wars to be a hit let alone stand the test of time like it has.
Gary Kurtz, the producer of the first film and its sequel The Empire Strikes Back, told IGN back in 2002 that no one at 20th Century Fox wanted to even consider Star Wars when he and George Lucas proposed the movie to the studio.
He said it was because the film was science fiction and “[t]here hadn’t been any real space opera type of science fiction since Forbidden Planet from the mid-’50s, so it certainly wasn’t considered popular then.”
When did Star Wars premiere?
But they pushed on and Star Wars premiered May 25, 1977, in 37 theaters, a number Kurtz calls laughable by today’s standards. Nearly 20 years after the interview he gave that still remains true but as the film gained popularity it grew to play in 700 theaters. It stayed for six months, In some cinemas, the movie took up residence in the theater for a year.
The first Star Wars movie became a cultural phenomenon, and it spawned a re-release in theaters the following summer. Fans were reported to have seen the film countless times falling in love with the beginning of Luke Skywalker’s journey to the point of obsession. The kind seen in sports fans who have followed a team all their lives except this was a space opera its studio initially saw no future for because it was unlike anything they’d previously developed.
The first Star Wars movie was a ’70s blockbuster hit
Kurtz believes the timing of it all was luck. The summer of ’77 wasn’t loaded with films moviegoers were anxious to see. Star Wars had no direct competition. The movie had the breathing space to pick up momentum and when that ball got rolling it didn’t stop.
The 1980 premiere of The Empire Strikes Back further changed the game when audiences were let in on the narrative piece that Luke’s story was the middle of an overarching saga that spanned years. Star Wars became Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, signaling there were more films to come in the universe beyond the initial trilogy.
When people went to see the first Star Wars movie they couldn’t have possibly envisioned the franchise transforming into a media empire. From books to television shows, the Star Wars universe keeps growing and there seems to be no end in sight.
Each new generation finds meaning in the story and they add to it, expanding what came before, reaching new depths, and striving for greater heights. It’s what has continued to keep a story that began in the ’70s not only in pop culture but also in the hearts of fans, new and old.