It really was a long time ago.
This Friday, it’ll be exactly 30 years since Star Wars blasted away all expectations after opening in just 32 movie theaters on May 25, 1977. The anniversary will be marked by commemorative items, parties and events.
The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story behind the Original Film
(Del Ray Books)
It’s remarkable to note how, in the days before universe-filling marketing campaigns and studio tracking reports, no one, not even writer-director George Lucas, was prepared for the lines that snaked around theaters showing Star Wars. Audiences cheered from the opening blasts of John Williams’ score to the closing credits, pausing only to boo Darth Vader. Facing high demand for tie-in toys that had yet to be manufactured, department stores were forced to issue IOUs.
In the late 1970s in America, the movie “appealed to people at a time (when) things maybe weren’t going great,” says Anthony Daniels, who played C-3PO in six movies and several TV specials. “People wanted something to make them feel good.
“And boy, did it take them out of their environment!”
Or as Rick McCallum, producer of the recent prequel trilogy, says, “It was a single moment in time that’s not likely to be repeated.”
The movie that 20th Century Fox nearly abandoned in midproduction ended up earning $460 million at the box office in the U.S. alone, boosted by the release of a special edition in 1997. The film is the second-highest-grossing movie of all time, behind Titanic.
There is no competition, however, in the world of toys and other tie-ins. The Star Wars franchise has raked in $13.5 billion in merchandising alone since 1977, according to Lucasfilm.
“There’s no question that was the film that made the entire movie industry rethink its attitude toward summer movies, toward juvenile movies for big kids, science fiction, special effects and, of course, merchandising,” says film historian Leonard Maltin.
“In that era, before the birth of home video, the only way to see a movie again was to go back and pay your admission at the theater,” says Maltin. “And people did, over and over again.”
This weekend, people who want to praise the Force can celebrate several ways:
Now in bookstores is J.W. Rinzler’s The Making of Star Wars ($75, Del Rey Books), a mammoth tome so packed with photos and facts, a wookiee could get a hernia trying to lift it.
The book, surprisingly, is a first for Star Wars. But the author recently told the New Daily News that he stumbled across four boxes of transcripts in the Lucasfilm library archives from interviews that took place between 1975 and 1978, conducted by the film’s original head of marketing. The background they provided formed the basis of the book, which is chock-full of anecdotes, behind-the-scenes photos and early storyboard sketches (Darth Vader, it seems, once looked more like a vacuum cleaner).
Thousands of fans are expected to attend a five-day “Celebration IV” party at the Los Angeles Convention Center, May 24-28. Fanboys still nursing childhood crushes on Princess Leia will be excited to see Carrie Fisher in a rare convention appearance, and the apex of the event will be a marathon screening of all six movies in the saga, starting with Episode I: The Phantom Menace and ending with Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
Daniels, who lives in France, will also be in attendance. “Every time I go to L.A., I check that my footprints are still in the sidewalk outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre,” he says. “I have to pick cigarette butts out of them, but they’re still there.”
Thought the creature cantina at Mos Eisley spaceport was filled with a motley bunch? Watch Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed, a new two-hour documentary airing May 28 on the Discovery Channel, and see Newt Gingrich, Dan Rather and House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi comment alongside Lord of the Rings filmmaker Peter Jackson. Far out.
To coincide with the anniversary, the U.S. Postal Service is issuing 15 “Star Wars” stamps. (Mailboxes that look like R2-D2 have on the streets for the past few months to promote the release.)
But Lucasfilm isn’t stuck in the past: There are two TV series in the works, animated and live-action, with the latter reportedly filling in the blanks of what some characters were doing for the 20 years between Episodes III and IV. McCallum says the plan is to get them on the air in 2009.
“Star Wars was revolutionary, otherwise it wouldn’t have lasted this long,” says Peter Mayhew, the 7-foot-3 English actor who played Chewbacca. “So I’ll talk to you again in another 30 years.”
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