History, Legacy & Showmanship

A Force to Be Reckoned With: Remembering “Star Wars” on its 40th Anniversary

May 25, 2017 - 12:01 am   |   by
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Star Wars is a landmark film, a work of such soaring imagination that it will set standards for years to come.” — Bob Thomas, Associated Press

[This is a revised and updated version of a previously published article.]

The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective article commemorating the 40th anniversary of the release of Star Wars, George Lucas’ legendary space opera that introduced the world to The Force and a host of memorable planets, spaceships and characters. [Read on here...]

Like our previous Star Wars retrospectives (The Empire Strikes Back 35th and Return of the Jedi 30th), this new article features passages from vintage film reviews, a compilation of box-office data that places the movie’s performance in context, a chronological listing of the first-run theatrical presentations, and, finally, an interview segment with a group of historians and filmmakers who discuss the attributes of Star Wars and analyze why, after four decades and multiple generations of fans, Star Wars is as popular as ever.

The article offers a nostalgic and historical look back at a time before Star Wars was a franchise or a brand and was simply… Star Wars. And the engagements feature, in particular, presents a striking contrast to differences in 1970s era moviegoing with those of contemporary moviegoing (and may very well challenge readers’ memories of when and where they saw the movie).

 

STAR WARS NUMBER$

  • 1 = Rank among all-time top-grossing films (adjusted for inflation; excluding re-issues)*
  • 1 = Rank on list of top-grossing films of 20th Century Fox’s 1977 slate
  • 1 = Rank on list of top-grossing films of 1977*
  • 1 = Rank on list of top-grossing films of summer 1977 moviegoing season
  • 1 = Rank on list of top box-office rentals of 1977*
  • 1 = Rank on all-time list of top film rentals at close of run (domestic)*
  • 1 = Rank on all-time list of top film rentals at close of run (worldwide)*
  • 1 = Rank on all-time list of top-grossing films at close of run (domestic)*
  • 1 = Rank on all-time list of top-grossing films at close of run (worldwide)*
  • 2 = Rank among top-grossing movies during its opening weekend
  • 2 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing films (adjusted for inflation; legacy)
  • 6 = Number of years holding #1 spot on list of all-time top-grossing films (1977-83 & 1997-98)
  • 7 = Number of Academy Awards (six competitive plus one special achievement)
  • 10 = Number of Academy Award nominations
  • 11 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing films
  • 21 = Number of years 20th Century Fox’s top-earning film
  • 24 = Number of theaters that grossed over $1 million during their engagement
  • 32 = Number of theaters showing the movie on opening day
  • 43 = Number of theaters showing the movie during its opening weekend
  • 60 = Number of months between theatrical release and home-video release
  • 64 = Number of weeks of longest-running engagement (in a single-screen theater)
  • 76 = Number of weeks of longest-running engagement (in a multiplex)
  • 81 = Number of days to surpass $100 million
  • 221 = Number of days to surpass $200 million*
  • 1,756 = Number of opening-week bookings for 1978 general release/re-release*
  • 6,308 = Number of first-run bookings
  • $36,151 = Opening-weekend per screen average
  • $254,809 = Opening-day box-office gross
  • $1.6 million = Opening-weekend box-office gross (3-day)
  • $2.1 million = Opening-week box-office gross (4-day holiday)
  • $2.6 million = Opening-week box-office gross (6-day)
  • $2.9 million = Opening-week box-office gross (7-day)
  • $3.3 million = Gross of top-earning engagement (Astor Plaza; 61 weeks)*
  • $10.2 million = Gross for first weekend of general/re-release (1,756 theaters, July 21-23, 1978)*
  • $11.0 million = Production cost
  • $17.2 million = Box-office gross (1981 re-release)
  • $18.0 million = Box-office gross (1982 re-release)
  • $22.5 million = Box-office gross (1979 re-release)
  • $43.8 million = Box-office gross (1978 general release/re-release)
  • $44.4 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
  • $100.0 million = Approximate revenue during 1977-78 from tie-in merchandise*
  • $127.0 million = Box-office rental (original release through 12-31-77)*
  • $133.7 million = Box-office gross (1977 summer, Memorial Day weekend - Labor Day weekend)
  • $138.3 million = Box-office gross (1997 re-release)
  • $141.5 million = Box-office rental (international, original release)*
  • $164.8 million = Box-office rental (original + 1978 general release/re-release)*
  • $175.8 million = Box-office rental (all releases through 12-31-79)*
  • $185.1 million = Box-office rental (all releases through 12-31-81)*
  • $193.5 million = Box-office rental (all releases through 12-31-82)*
  • $221.3 million = Box-office gross (1977 original release, 5-25-77 through 7-20-78)*
  • $265.1 million = Box-office gross (original + 1978 general release/re-release)*
  • $287.6 million = Box-office gross (all releases through 1979)*
  • $304.8 million = Box-office gross (all releases through 1981)*
  • $322.8 million = Box-office gross (all releases through 1982)
  • $461.1 million = Box-office gross (original + re-releases)*
  • $1.6 billion = Box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)

*established new industry record

George Lucas on set

 

A SAMPLING OF MOVIE REVIEWER QUOTES

“The finest pure entertainment to reach the screen in ages! A concoction of adolescent fun graced by special effects that are in themselves, a celebration of the magic fusions of which only the movies are capable!” — Desmond Ryan, Philadelphia Inquirer

Star Wars is a landmark film, a work of such soaring imagination that it will set standards for years to come.” — Bob Thomas, Associated Press

“A hell of a lot of fun…brims with adventure, charm and marvels. I loved it.” — Jack Kroll, Newsweek

Star Wars will do very nicely for those lucky enough to be children or unlucky enough never to have grown up.” — John Simon, New York Magazine

“[T]he magic of Star Wars is only dramatized by the special effects; the movie’s heart is in its endearingly human (and non-human) people.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

“For two hours, viewers will be caught up in pure, sweet, spellbinding escapism as a fanciful story unfolds with a whirl of dazzling special effects. Not since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey have the talents of special effects technicians been so generously and ingeniously employed.” — Doug Smith, Omaha World-Herald

“[W]riter-director George Lucas makes a spectacular return to the screen. If anybody wondered where Lucas has been since the release nearly four years ago of American Graffiti, the answer is at hand. Star Wars is the most exciting picture to be released this year—exciting as theater and exciting as cinema. It is the most visually awesome such work to appear since 2001: A Space Odyssey, yet is intriguingly human in its scope and boundaries…. In addition to being a superbly crafted film, Star Wars is that rarest of creatures: The work of art with universal (excuse the pun) appeal. There is in all of us the child who dreams of magical beings and fantastical adventures. On a street level, Rocky fulfilled that need last year. Star Wars takes us beyond the heavens.” — John L. Wasserman, San Francisco Chronicle

“Save for Alec Guinness, the cast is unmemorable. Lucas apparently blew his entire $9.5 million budget on visuals.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

Star Wars may be the greatest comic book movie ever made. The movie is distinguished by great imagination, astonishing technical wizardry and an almost child-like sense of real fun.” — George Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Star Wars is one of the most enjoyable movies ever made—a funny, exciting and magnificently spectacular two-hour space fantasy that leaves the audience panting for a sequel.” — Clyde Gilmour, Toronto Star

“This film should clearly establish George Lucas as a major force in Hollywood and hopefully will lead to more movies of this kind.” — Fresno Bee

“The year’s best movie. Star Wars has brought fun back to the movies and glowingly demonstrated they can still make ‘em like they used to. A grand and glorious film.” — Time

Star Wars radiates pure intergalactic corn…. Star Wars is long on air battles and computer consoles but short on people or any kind of characterization beyond the old comic book figures.” — Frances Taylor, The (Newark) Star-Ledger

Star Wars attains the spirit of pure, golden adventure which eluded the King Kong remake largely because Lucas never spoofs the genre he celebrates. Despite the familiarity of plot and dialogue, the film is played with dead-center earnestness, and the cast speaks archaic lines without even suggesting a snicker…. John Williams’ majestic, thrilling musical score deserves the best possible sound system; but the entire film is a monument of behind-the-scenes wizardry.” — Philip Wuntch, The Dallas Morning News

“The animation and special effects in Star Wars may not be as fine as Kubrick’s in 2001, nor as perfect or as utterly convincing, but they are much more fun…. Avoiding the traps of pretension, camp, sentimentality or the ‘cutes,’ Star Wars is one of the greatest adventure stories ever filmed.” — David Rosenbaum, The Boston Herald American

“Lucas’ script and his film are a warm mixture of remarkable professionalism and an ingratiating innocence that is almost childlike…. It is, all in all, hard to think of a place or an age group that would not respond to the enthusiastic inventiveness with which Lucas has enshrined his early loves. Star Wars proves again that there is no corporate substitute for the creative passion of the individual film-maker.” — Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times

“[D]irector Lucas demonstrated a sensitivity to the human comedy in American Graffiti, and it’s a shame that he didn’t let this sensitivity come through again in Star Wars, a $9 million comic strip.” — Richard Dodds, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune

Star Wars is like 2001. If you like it at all, one viewing just won’t be enough.” — Ted Mahar, The (Portland) Oregonian

“All the young actors bring breathless excitement to their adventures, lively performances that are counterbalanced by the thoughtful and very good characterization of Alec Guiness…. Lucas has directed this film so tightly that there is not a wasted second on screen and the editing by Paul Hirsch, Marcia Lucas (the director’s wife) and Richard Chew surely will be a contender for next spring’s Oscar…. The appeal of Star Wars is that every member of the audience can become a kid riding through space with the heroes, zapping the bad guys. It’s great fun.” — Michael Janusonis, The Providence Journal

“Is Star Wars worth all the fuss? Most emphatically, yes. Some people will smoke marijuana before seeing it. Some Star Trek fans may be placated for a while. Kids will squeal with delight. And adults who grew up sharing their dreams and joys of George Lucas will find that there is still hope for the world — and films.” — Rick B. Oppenheim, Tallahassee Democrat

Star Wars is a magnificent film. George Lucas set out to make the biggest possible adventure-fantasy out of his memories of serials and older action epics, and he has succeeded brilliantly…. Lucas’ first feature, THX-1138, was also futuristic in tone, but there the story emphasis was on machines controlling man. But in Star Wars the people remain the masters of the hardware, thereby striking a more resonant note of empathy and hope. This is the kind of film in which the audience, first entertained, can later walk out feeling good all over.” — A.D. Murphy, Variety

Variety full-page ad

“A sci-fi Oz to challenge 2001…. George Lucas began his career as a major-studio director eight years ago with a brief clip from Flash Gordon, shown just before the credits rolled on his somber, science-fiction parable, THX-1138. After taking time out from the genre to make a little movie called American Graffiti, Lucas has now come full circle, deliberately imitating the kind of space opera he loved as a child, but transforming its B-movie tackiness by adding layers of technique, humor and mythical reverberations that surely never crossed the minds of the creators of Flash Gordon. Star Wars borrows from any number of fantasy films and stories, but it never fails to make the old stuff look exhilaratingly new.” — John Hartl, The Seattle Times

“Daring to be different and swimming against the tide is especially dangerous in an expensive medium such as motion pictures but the rewards can be great, if successful. George Lucas has risked his American Graffiti reputation on Star Wars and gotten away with it.... Star Wars is, indeed, a movie that dares to be different, not only in setting, but in theme at a time when imagination has surrendered to realism in motion pictures. If you don’t enjoy Star Wars, you are not as young at heart as you think you are.” — James Meade, The San Diego Union

“[Star Wars is] a disarmingly merry and technically unforgettable picture, light years in advance of any English-language movie that has opened in Washington during my tenure as a movie rater. The thing works superlatively well as comedy, suspense story and parodic commentary on the nostalgic aspects of film history. As a stunning spectacle of sound, color and technical imagination, Star Wars is a non-pareil, a movie that would merit universal attendance even if it had nothing else going for it.” — Tom Dowling, The Washington Star

Star Wars is the most elaborate, most expensive, most beautiful movie serial ever made…. One of Mr. Lucas’s particular achievements is the manner in which he is able to recall the tackiness of the old comic strips and serials he loves without making a movie that is, itself, tacky.” — Vincent Canby, The New York Times

“Writer-director George Lucas has combined a science fiction setting of ‘long ago and far, far away,’ with almost every cliché from past adventure films. To this Lucas has added a refreshing innocence and simplistic view of good and evil and succeeded in creating a film which transcends any descriptive category. It’s a film that anyone but the most incorrigible cynic will enjoy.” — Owen Long, The (Iowa City) Daily Iowan

Star Wars will completely dazzle you. A spellbinding experience.” — Kathleen Carroll, New York Daily News

Star Wars will undoubtedly emerge as one of the true classics in the genre of science fiction/fantasy films. In any event, it will be thrilling audiences of all ages for a long time to come.… The film is magnificent in scope, but the script and the engaging performances also add an effective human element to the totally believable technological aspects…. The technical credits are all extraordinary…. The Dolby Sound is also a major asset in that it is sparkling clear and, in the battle sequences, achieves an enveloping, thunderous pitch without any hint of distortion.” — Ron Pennington, The Hollywood Reporter

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