A long time ago, in a theatre far, far away….a kid’s movie opened that would change Hollywood forever.
It’s hard to remember a day when Star Wars wasn’t a towering cultural and marketing event, but on May 25, 1977, it was a smallish movie opening on a Wednesday in just 32 theaters.
There was no premiere.
Theater goers wait in lines in front of the Avco Center Theater in Los Angeles to see “Star Wars” in June 7, 1977.
“Theaters didn’t want the movie. We were lucky to get thirty theaters to open it,” Charles Lippincott, former Lucasfilm promotions chief later said of the troubled and much-delayed production.
In New York, you could go see Star Wars at two theaters in Manhattan – the Loews Orpheum on East 86th St. and the Astor Plaza in Times Square – and on Long Island at the Mann Twin South in Hicksville. All three movie palaces have since been demolished.
Tickets were $4. Some viewers remember the box office handing out lapel buttons saying “May the Force be with You.”
Fans sit covered for warmth after waiting in line all night to purchase tickets for the re-release of the movie “Star Wars,” Friday morning, Jan. 31, 1997, in San Francisco.
There were rave reviews in many newspapers and Time magazine’s May 30 cover proclaimed it “The Year’s Best Movie,” but the movie began playing in mostly-empty theaters.
However, from the first blast of the film’s magnificient symphonic score and its knockout opening shot – a spaceship zooming directly overhead suddenly dwarfed by the massive spaceship chasing it – the film was an instant sensation.
Whole audiences burst into cheers. The lines began forming that night.
A young George Lucas talks with Anthony Daniels, who plays the robot C-3PO, on the set for the film “Star Wars: A New Hope,” in this undated photo.
College freshman Neal Cammy was at the very first showing at the Astor Plaza in Times Square. He came into Manhattan from Canarsie with a buddy and they had a r ow up front to themselves.
“We got there a little late, just as the 20th Century Fox theme was playing. There may have been a handful of people in the theater,” he said.
More than anything, he remembers the soaring music – Star Wars was the first feature film screened in Dolby Stereo – and the “wow” of the Millennium Falcon’s thrilling jump into hyperspace.
Director George Lucas arrives at the benefit premiere of “Star Wars: Episode III-Revenge of the Sith” on Thursday, May 12, 2005, in San Francisco.
“After being stunned by the whole movie, we decided to stay and see it again,” Cammy said. “As we left the theater finally, at 6 or so, we stopped at a record store to buy the soundtrack album. I ended up going to see Star Wars about once a month at the Astor Plaza for the next year.”
Producer Gary Kurtz remembers being on a radio show later that day when an enthusiastic caller said he’d already seen it four times.
“That was opening day. I knew something was happening,” Kurtz told the Los Angeles Times in 2010.
By the weekend, the 32 theaters, upped to 43 by Saturday, had lines around the block.
Star Wars’ official opening weekend take was $1.5 million, about the same as “Smokey And The Bandit,” which opened the same weekend in 300 theaters.
By August, Star Wars was playing at over 1,000 theaters and was on its way to becoming the all-time box office champ.