On this day in 1977, cinema changes forever as Star Wars is released to rave reviews and packed theaters; initially opening in only 42 theatres, the film earned almost $3 million in its first week and had grossed $100 million by the end of the summer. Star Wars won six Academy Awards along with a special-achievement award for accomplishments in sound, and it revolutionized the motion picture industry with its advancements in special effects; the sheer strength of the initial concept has propelled a revived franchise in recent years to rather mixed effect.
A space opera set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” the film centers on Luke Skywalker, played by relative unknown Mark Hamill, a young man who ambles into an interplanetary and spiritual war between an authoritarian empire and rebel forces. Skywalker and the opportunistic smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) are tasked with saving Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) from captivity on a massive space station commanded by the menacing Darth Vader. How different would society look if Han Solo had been portrayed any of the several other men who read for the role, including Sly Stallone, Christopher Walken, Bobby De Niro, Nick Nolte, Kurt Russell, John Travolta, or Flip Wilson, rather than perpetually tormented every-man Ford?
Directed by George Lucas, who made his bones as writer and director of American Graffiti (1973), 20th Century Fox was convinced to put up $9.5 million for the project. In production for four years, it was shot on location in Tunisia and Death Valley, California, and on sound stages in England. Lucas’s effects company, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), designed a slew of imaginative alien creatures and mechanical “droids” that populated a variety of exotic locales. Perhaps most impressive, however, were the elaborate space battles accomplished with scaled miniatures; add in a sweeping orchestral score by legit composer John Williams, and voila.
Star Wars holds a Guinness World Records title for the “Most successful film merchandising franchise.” As of this writing, the total value of the Star Wars franchise was estimated at over $70 billion USD, and it is currently the fifth-highest-grossing media franchise of all-time.
The Force, indeed.