''Star Wars'': Looking back -- A sleeper in 1997, the sci-fi fantasy surpassed expectations

Marketing research said women wouldn’t see a movie with Wars in the title. Members of Twentieth Century Fox’s board of directors napped through a disastrous preview. So when George Lucas’ Star Wars opened in just 32 U.S. theaters on May 25, 1977, nobody expected lines to begin forming at 8 a.m.

But those early birds who soaked up the crashing chords of John Williams’ score and the dizzying visual jump to hyperspace knew they had witnessed a pop-cultural ground zero. From that day on, Star Wars frenzy flew at warp speed — the typical wait to see the movie reached three hours, with ticket prices hitting a then-astronomical $4. It would go on to gross $322 million domestically, becoming the No. 2 all-time box office champ, rocketing the careers of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, cementing Lucas’ action-fantasy reputation, and spawning an entire new genre of imitators.

Meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away (London, that is), the hullabaloo was reaching Anthony Daniels, who played the robot C-3PO to fussy perfection. Now 47, Daniels recalls that he actually found the immediate clamor for sequels dismaying: ”I can’t exaggerate how bad the costume was. It was like being stuck in a stethoscope — every noise as I walked along wound up in my ears.” And after all the discomfort, Lucas nearly had another actor redub his voice with a Brooklyn accent.

But while Daniels was eventually persuaded to suit back up, Lucas was so frazzled from a solid year of 20-hour workdays that he resolved never to direct again. Ever since, his role on both hits (the Indiana Jones movies) and bombs (Howard the Duck) has usually been as producer or executive producer.

Lucas, now 49, has also built his Industrial Light & Magic special-effects company into an industry leader, with dazzling computer-animation work on films like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and this summer’s Jurassic Park. He foresees a 21st century in which digital-image technology will create unprecedented flexibility for filmmakers — and render the brand of miniature-model trickery used so thrillingly in Star Wars, his breakthrough hit, quaintly antique.

May 25, 1977
Horns and hair ruled the airwaves — Stevie Wonder’s No. 1 single ”Sir Duke” on radio, new top five show Charlie’s Angels on TV — while Dr. Wayne Dyer’s best-seller diagrammed Your Erroneous Zones.

Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope
  • Movie
  • 121 minutes