Star Wars "A New Hope" Released in Theaters
Updated: Jan 4, 2022
"Star Wars" (retroactively titled Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope) is a 1977 American epic space-opera film written and directed by George Lucas, produced by Lucasfilm and distributed by 20th Century Fox. It stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker and Peter Mayhew. It is the first film in the Star Wars film series and fourth chronological chapter of the "Skywalker Saga".
Lucas had the idea for a science-fiction film in the vein of Flash Gordon around the time he completed his first film, "THX 1138" (1971) and began working on a treatment after the release of "American Graffiti" (1973). Star Wars takes place "a long time ago", in a fictional universe inhabited by both humans and various alien species; most of the known galaxy is ruled by the tyrannical Galactic Empire, which is only opposed by the Rebel Alliance, a group of freedom fighters. The narrative of the film focuses on the hero journey of Luke Skywalker (Hamill), an everyman who becomes caught in the galactic conflict between the Empire and the Rebellion after coming into possession of two droids, R2-D2 (Baker) and C-3PO (Daniels), who are carrying the schematics of the Empire's ultimate weapon, the Death Star. While attempting to deliver the droids to the Rebellion, Luke is joined by wizened Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Guinness), who teaches him about the metaphysical power known as "the Force", cynical smuggler Han Solo (Ford), his Wookiee companion Chewbacca (Mayhew), and Rebellion leader Princess Leia (Fisher). Meanwhile, Imperial officers Darth Vader (Prowse, voiced by Jones), a Sith Lord, and Grand Moff Tarkin (Cushing), the commander of the Death Star, seek to retrieve the stolen schematics and locate the Rebellion's secret base. Here is the Star Wars original theatrical trailer:
After a turbulent production, "Star Wars" was released in a limited number of theaters in the United States on May 25, 1977, and quickly became a blockbuster hit, leading to it being expanded to a much wider release. The film opened to critical acclaim, most notably for its groundbreaking visual effects. It grossed a total of $775 million (over $550 million during its initial run), surpassing "Jaws" (1975) to become the highest-grossing film at the time until the release of "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" (1982).
When adjusted for inflation, Star Wars is the second-highest-grossing film in North America (behind "Gone with the Wind") and the fourth-highest-grossing film in the world. It received ten Oscar nominations (including Best Picture), winning seven. In 1989, it became one of the first 25 films that was selected by the U.S. Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" At the time, it was the most recent film in the registry and the only one chosen from the 1970s. In 2004, its soundtrack was added to the U.S. National Recording Registry, and was additionally listed by the American Film Institute as the best movie score of all time a year later. Today, it is widely regarded by many in the motion picture industry as one of the greatest and most important films in cinema history.
Here are some fans reactions and merchandise craze after the release of Star Wars in theaters:
Lucas's early plan was to buy the rights to the "Flash Gordon" film serials and comics of the 1930s and 1940s. Lucas went to United Artists and showed them the script for "American Graffiti", but they passed on the film, which was then picked up by Universal Pictures. United Artists also passed on Lucas' space-opera concept, which he shelved for the time being. After spending the next two years completing "American Graffiti", Lucas turned his attention to his space opera. He drew inspiration from politics of the era, later saying, “It was really about the Vietnam War, and that was the period where Nixon was trying to run for a second term."
Lucas began writing in January 1973, "eight hours a day, five days a week", by taking small notes, inventing odd names and assigning them possible characterizations. Lucas would discard many of these by the time the final script was written, but he included several names and places in the final script or its sequels. He used these initial names and ideas to compile a two-page synopsis titled "Journal of the Whills", which told the tale of the training of apprentice CJ Thorpe as a "Jedi-Bendu" space commando by the legendary Mace Windy. Frustrated that his story was too difficult to understand, Lucas then began writing a 13-page treatment called The Star Wars on April 17, 1973, which had narrative parallels with Kurosawa's 1958 film "The Hidden Fortress".
While impressed with the "innocence of the story, plus the sophistication of the world" of the film, United Artists declined to budget the film. Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz presented the film treatment to Universal Pictures, the studio that financed "American Graffiti"; while they agreed it could be "a very commercial venture", they had doubts about Mr. Lucas' ability to pull it all off, and said that Lucas should follow "American Graffiti" with more consequential themes. Coppola brought the project to a division of Paramount Pictures he ran with fellow directors Peter Bogdanovich and William Friedkin, but Friedkin questioned Lucas' ability to direct the film and he, along with Bogdanovich, declined to back it. Walt Disney Productions also turned down the film.
Lucas explained in 1977 that the film is not "about the future" and that it "is a fantasy much closer to the Brothers Grimm than it is to "2001." He added: "My main reason for making it was to give young people an honest, wholesome fantasy life, the kind my generation had. We had Westerns, pirate movies, all kinds of great things. Now they have "The Six Million Dollar Man" and "Kojak". Where are the romance, the adventure, and the fun that used to be in practically every movie made?" Lucas would later recontextualize the discussion around the film, saying it was born out of research into "psychological underpinings of mythology", a claim that had been dismissed by Kurtz as self-aggrandizing: "The whole idea of Star Wars as a mythological thing, I think came about because of [later Lucas] interviews that tied it to The Hero with a Thousand Faces" and by Steven Hart and Michael Kaminski: "It is here that the true origin of Star Wars comes from -- not from myth and legend, but from the 'schlock' sold on newspapers stands and played in matinees."
There were also concerns regarding the project's potentially high budget. Lucas and Kurtz, in pitching the film, said that it would be "low-budget, Roger Corman style, and the budget was never going to be more than - well, originally we had proposed about 8 million, it ended up being about 10. Both of those figures are very low budget by Hollywood standards at the time." After Disney rejected the project, Lucas and Kurtz persisted in securing a studio to support the film because "other people had read it and said, 'Yeah, it could be a good idea.'" Lucas pursued Alan Ladd Jr., the head of 20th Century-Fox, and in June 1973 completed a deal to write and direct the film. Although Ladd did not grasp the technical side of the project, he believed that Lucas was talented. Lucas later stated that Ladd "invested in me, he did not invest in the movie." The deal gave Lucas $150,000 to write and direct the film. "American Graffiti's" positive reception afforded Lucas the leverage necessary to renegotiate his deal with Ladd and request the sequel rights to the film. For Lucas, this deal protected "Star Wars's" potential sequels and most of the merchandising profits.
Since commencing his writing process in January 1973, Lucas had done "various rewrites in the evenings after the day's work." He would write four different screenplays for "Star Wars", "searching for just the right ingredients, characters and storyline. It's always been what you might call a good idea in search of a story." By May 1974, he had expanded the treatment for "The Star Wars" into a rough draft screenplay, adding elements such as the Sith, the Death Star, and a general by the name of Annikin Starkiller. He changed Starkiller to an adolescent boy, and he shifted the general into a supporting role as a member of a family of dwarfs. Lucas envisioned the Corellian smuggler, Han Solo, as a large, green-skinned monster with gills. He based Chewbacca on his Alaskan Malamute dog, Indiana (whom he would later use as eponym for his character Indiana Jones), who often acted as the director's "co-pilot" by sitting in the passenger seat of his car.
Lucas completed a second draft in January 1975 as "Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode One: The Star Wars", making heavy simplifications and introducing the young hero on a farm as Luke Starkiller. Annikin became Luke's father, a wise Jedi knight. "The Force" was also introduced as a mystical energy field. This draft still had some differences from the final version in the characters and relationships. For example, Luke had several brothers, as well as his father, who appears in a minor role at the end of the film. The script became more of a fairy tale quest as opposed to the action/adventure of the previous versions. This version ended with another text crawl, previewing the next story in the series. This draft was also the first to introduce the concept of a Jedi turning to the dark side: the draft included a historical Jedi who was the first to ever fall to the dark side, and then trained the Sith to use it. The script would introduce the concept of a Jedi Master and his son, who trains to be a Jedi under his father's friend; this would ultimately form the basis for the film and, later, the trilogy. However, in this draft, the father is a hero who is still alive at the start of the film. Han Solo and Chewbacca's identities closely resembled those seen in the finished film. According to Lucas, the second draft was over 200 pages long, and led him to split up the story into multiple films spanning over multiple trilogies.
According to Lucas, he wrote a rough draft of about 250–300 pages long, which contained the outline for the entire original "Star Wars" trilogy. He realized that it was too long for a single film, and decided to subdivide it into a trilogy. Lucas stated that the story evolved over time and that "There was never a script completed that had the entire story as it exists now [in 1983] ... As the stories unfolded, I would take certain ideas and save them ... I kept taking out all the good parts, and I just kept telling myself I would make other movies someday." He later described that, having split the script into three episodes, "the first part didn't really work", so he had to take the ending off of Episode VI and put it in the original "Star Wars", which resulted in a Death Star being included in both films. In 1975 Lucas suggested he could make a trilogy, which "ends with the destruction of the Empire" and a possible prequel "about the backstory of Kenobi as a young man." After the film's smash success, Lucasfilm announced that Lucas had already written "twelve stories in the "Adventures of Luke Skywalker" which, according to Kurtz, were set to be "separate adventures rather than direct sequels."
During the writing of the third draft, Lucas hired conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie to create paintings of certain scenes, several of which Lucas included with his screenplay when he delivered it to 20th Century-Fox. On February 27, the studio granted a budget of $5 million; this was later increased to $8.25 million. Lucas finished writing his script in March 1976, when the crew started filming. He said, "What finally emerged through the many drafts of the script has obviously been influenced by science-fiction and action-adventure I've read and seen. And I've seen a lot of it. I'm trying to make a classic sort of genre picture, a classic space fantasy in which all the influences are working together. There are certain traditional aspects of the genre I wanted to keep and help perpetuate in "Star Wars". During production, he changed Luke's name from Starkiller to Skywalker and altered the title to The Star Wars and later Star Wars.He would also continue to tweak the script during filming, including adding the death of Obi-Wan after realizing he served no purpose in the ending of the film.
For the film's opening crawl, Lucas originally wrote a composition consisting of six paragraphs with four sentences each. He said, "The crawl is such a hard thing because you have to be careful that you're not using too many words that people don't understand. It's like a poem." Lucas showed his draft to his friends. Director Brian De Palma, who was there, described it: "The crawl at the beginning looks like it was written on a driveway. It goes on forever. It's gibberish." Lucas recounted what De Palma said the first time he saw it: "George, you're out of your mind! Let me sit down and write this for you." De Palma and Jay Cocks helped edit the text into the form used in the film.
In 1975, Lucas formed his own visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) after discovering that 20th Century-Fox's visual effects department had been disbanded. ILM began its work on "Star Wars" in a warehouse in Van Nuys. Most of the visual effects used pioneering digital motion control photography developed by John Dykstra and his team, which created the illusion of size by employing small models and slowly moving cameras.
Lucas tried "to get a cohesive reality" for his feature. Since the film is a fairy tale, as he had described, "I still wanted it to have an ethereal quality, yet be well composed and, also, have an alien look." He designed the film to have an "extremely bizarre, Gregg Toland-like surreal look with strange over-exposed colors, a lot of shadows, a lot of hot areas." Lucas wanted Star Wars to embrace the combination of "strange graphics of fantasy" and "the feel of a documentary" to impress a distinct look.
After two-and-a-half weeks of filming in Tunisia, production moved to Elstree Studios, near London, to film interior scenes. While shooting, Lucas rarely spoke to the actors, who believed that he expected too much of them while providing little direction. His directions to the actors usually consisted of the words "faster" and "more intense". Kurtz stated that "it happened a lot where he would just say, 'Let's try it again a little bit faster.' That was about the only instruction he'd give anybody. A lot of actors don't mind - they don't care, they just get on with it. But some actors really need a lot of pampering and a lot of feedback, and if they don't get it, they get paranoid that they might not be doing a good job." Kurtz has said that Lucas "wasn't gregarious, he's very much a loner and very shy, so he didn't like large groups of people, he didn't like working with a large crew, he didn't like working with a lot of actors."
Ladd offered Lucas some of the only support from the studio; he dealt with scrutiny from board members over the rising budget and complex screenplay drafts. Initially, Fox approved $8 million for the project; Gary Kurtz said: "we proceeded to pick a production plan and do a more final budget with a British art department and look for locations in North Africa, and kind of pulled together some things. Then, it was obvious that 8 million wasn't going to do it - they had approved 8 million." After requests from the team that "it had to be more," the executives "got a bit scared." For two weeks, Lucas and his crew "didn't really do anything except kind of pull together new budget figures." At the same time, after production fell behind schedule, Ladd told Lucas he had to finish production within a week or he would be forced to shut down production. Kurtz said that "it came out to be like 9.8 or .9 or something like that, and in the end they just said, 'Yes, that's okay, we'll go ahead.'" The crew split into three units, with those units led by Lucas, Kurtz, and production supervisor Robert Watts. Under the new system, the project met the studio's deadline.
Steven Spielberg said he was the only person in the audience to have enjoyed the film in its early cut screening. On the recommendation of Spielberg, Lucas hired John Williams, who had worked with Spielberg on the film "Jaws", for which he won an Academy Award. Lucas originally hired Williams to consult on music editing choices and to compose the source music for the music, telling Williams that he intends to use extant music. Lucas believed that the film would portray visually foreign worlds, but that the musical score would give the audience an emotional familiarity; he wanted a grand musical sound for "Star Wars". The American Film Institute's list of best film scores ranks the Star Wars soundtrack at number one.
Lucas himself was not able to predict how successful Star Wars would be. After visiting the set of the Steven Spielberg film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" Lucas was sure Close Encounters would outperform the yet-to-be-released "Star Wars" at the box office. Spielberg disagreed, and believed Star Wars would be the bigger hit. Lucas proposed they trade 2.5% of the profit on each other's films; Spielberg took the trade, and still receives 2.5% of the profits from "Star Wars".
Amidst Fox pessimism, Lucas elected to forgo his option to an extra $500,000 fee for directing "Star Wars", in exchange for obtaining the merchandising and sequel rights for the movie from Fox. While in Hawaii, it was not until he watched Walter Cronkite discuss the gigantic crowds for Star Wars on the CBS Evening News that Lucas realized he had become very wealthy. Francis Ford Coppola, who needed money to finish "Apocalypse Now", sent a telegram to Lucas's hotel asking for funding. Even technical crew members, such as model makers, were asked for autographs, and cast members became instant household names; when Ford visited a record store to buy an album, enthusiastic fans tore half his shirt off.
"Star Wars" remains one of the most financially successful films of all time. The film opened on a Wednesday in 32 theaters expanding to 43 screens on the Friday and earning $2,556,418 in its first six days to the end of the Memorial Day weekend ($10.9 million in todays dollars). Per Variety's weekly box office charts, the film was number one at the US box office for its first three weeks. Star Wars entered international release towards the end of the year, and in 1978 added the worldwide record to its domestic one, earning $410 million in total. Its biggest international market was Japan, where it grossed $58.4 million.
The film went on to earn $775 million at the box office. Adjusted for inflation, it had earned over $2.5 billion worldwide, which saw it ranked as the third-highest-grossing film at the time, according to Guinness World Records. At the North American box office, it ranks second behind Gone with the Wind on the inflation-adjusted list.
In its May 30, 1977 issue, the film's year of release, Time magazine named "Star Wars" the "Movie of the Year." The publication said it was a "big early supporter" of the vision which would become "Star Wars". In an article intended for the cover of the issue, Time's Gerald Clarke wrote that "Star Wars is a grand and glorious film that may well be the smash hit of 1977, and certainly is the best movie of the year so far. The result is a remarkable confection: a subliminal history of the movies, wrapped in a riveting tale of suspense and adventure, ornamented with some of the most ingenious special effects ever contrived for film." Each of the subsequent films of the "Star Wars" saga has appeared on the magazine's cover.
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