"Star Wars," indeed, was a phenomenon -- one that caught most of Hollywood by surprise. Thirty years after its premiere on May 25, 1977 (in just 32 theaters), it remains the model for the summer blockbuster -- and a touchstone for two generations of moviegoers.
With the film's 30th anniversary Friday, celebrations are kicking into high gear. Besides the History Channel special, set to air 9 p.m. ET Monday, there are:
· Several books (notably "The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film" [Del Rey]);
·"Star Wars" weekends at the Disney-MGM Studios theme park near Orlando, Florida;
·"Star Wars" Celebration IV, beginning Thursday in Los Angeles, California;
·30th-anniversary action figures, released by Hasbro;
·A screening of all six films on Cinemax on Friday;
·And even "Star Wars" postage stamps, to go along with all those R2-D2 mailboxes that the United States Postal Service has installed around the country.
Not bad for a film rather unsensationally described in its own press kit as "an expression of [George Lucas'] boyhood fantasy life -- his love for 'Flash Gordon' and all the great mysteries and adventures in books and movies."
'It was touch-and-go for a time'
Given that press kits are usually chock-full of hyperbole, that somewhat timid portrayal may have indicated what studio execs, and even Lucas' friends, thought of the film.
After viewing a screening in March 1977, with the special effects still unfinished, Lucas' wife Marcia was aghast, according to Peter Biskind's 1970s movie history, "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls."
"It's the 'At Long Last Love' of science fiction," she said, referring to a well-known bomb of the time.
And the necessary special effects cost a fortune in 1977. Lucas' studio, 20th Century Fox, was nervous. "It was touch-and-go for a time," Lucas later recalled. (He wouldn't trust a studio again, creating his own company, Lucasfilm, to go along with his special-effects house, Industrial Light & Magic, for future endeavors.)
But moviegoers never doubted. The film was a hit from its first day, attracting such crowds of people that its opening was featured on Walter Cronkite's "CBS Evening News." Harrison Ford was practically ripped apart while shopping at a record store. The film's theme music, redone in disco form by a musician named Meco, became a No. 1 single.
The success of "Star Wars" paved the way for Lucas' entire empire, including massively successful merchandising tie-ins and five other films, broadening the "Star Wars" mythology.
Lot's of stuff is going on in honor of the Star Wars 30th Anniversary!
Don't forget to pick up some Official USPS Star Wars Stamps.