'Star Wars' fans reminisce as cultural giant turns 35

'Star Wars' fans reminisce as cultural giant turns 35

May 25th, 2012 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

"Star Wars" helped launch the careers of its three leads: Mark Hamill, then 25, Carrie Fisher, then 20, and Harrison Ford, who was 34, from left.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

A LONG TIMELINE AGO ...

1973: After his first treatment is rejected as overly complicated, George Lucas writes a 13-page concept of "Star Wars" loosely based on Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's 1958 film "The Hidden Fortress."

1974: Lucas finalizes a first draft of "Star Wars" that includes thematic elements such as the Death Star and a protagonist named Annikin Starkiller (replaced in a later draft with Luke Starkiller) and introduces concept of The Force.

1975: In preparation for filming "Star Wars," Lucas founds the visual-effects company Industrial Light & Magic.

1976: 20th Century Fox approves a preproduction script of "Star Wars" and assigns a budget of $8.25 million. Principal photography begins in the desert of Tunisia on March 22 with a scheduled Christmas release. It is delayed.

1977: The film premieres on May 25. Prints are reluctantly purchased by 43 theaters. Within 11 weeks, it is showing in more than 1,000.

1978: The film's first re-release on the weekend of July 21-23 is shown in 1,750 theaters, its widest release.

1981: "Star Wars" is re-released a third time on April 10.

1982: The film is released again on Aug. 13. Home viewers can see it for the first time on VHS and Betamax cassettes or Laservision's laserdisc format.

1997: Lucasfilm issues a new version of "Star Wars" that has new scenes using computer-generated graphics.

2004: "Star Wars" and its two sequels are released on DVD.

2011: The entire "Star Wars" saga is released on Blu-ray.

'STAR WARS' TRIVIA

• "Star Wars" was among the first films inducted into the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress.

• "May The Force be with you" is No. 7 on the American Film Institute's list of top 100 movie quotes.

• Originally, George Lucas wanted Darth Vader to be voiced by actor Orson Welles.

• "Star Wars" is No. 15 on the American Film Institute's list of America's best movies; the soundtrack by John Williams is No. 1 on the list of best film scores.

• It wasn't until the 1981 re-release of "Star Wars" that the film was subtitled "Episode IV: A New Hope."

• Actor Peter Mayhew is 7 feet, 2 inches tall. Lucas cast him as Chewbacca after he stood up.

• Collectively, the "Star Wars" films have grossed $3.9 billion at the box office.

• About half of the original film's special-effects budget was used up on four shots that Lucas later rejected.

• One working title for the film was "The Adventures of Luke Starkiller as Taken From the 'Journal of the Whills': Saga 1 -- Star Wars."

• Before the release of "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," Lucas and Steven Spielberg, who were friends, felt nervous about their films' potential and offered each other a 2.5 percent stake in their movies' profits. Spieblerg continues to receive his cut from "Star Wars."

Source: Various websites

On May 25, 1977, in a galaxy pretty much identical to this one, 20th Century Fox released a new sci-fi film by up-and-coming writer/director George Lucas.

As it turned out, it was kind of a big deal.

At first blush, the plot of "Star Wars" was a fairly by-the-books tale of good vs. evil. An unassuming farmer sets out to rescue a princess, befriends a wise (Jedi) knight and a roguish captain, discovers his hidden potential and slays the evil space station.

Long before it earned the subtitle "A New Hope," many fans said what set "Star Wars" apart -- and catapulted it to the top of the box office -- was its use of then-groundbreaking special effects. Battles "fought" with elaborately detailed, hand-built models and actors wielding glowing rotoscoped lightsabers helped turn a great movie into a magical one, fans said.

"We saw it in Las Vegas and were so taken in by the graphics that, when we heard someone talking about how great the music had been, we got back in line to go see it again," said Wanda VanderVeen of Athens, Tenn.

All that magic was produced on a budget of just $11 million, about $42 million in 2012 dollars. By comparison, this year's hot-ticket blockbuster, "The Avengers," boasted a budget almost five times as large.

'More powerful than you could possibly imagine'

Despite its eventual success, "Star Wars" initially premiered on only 43 screens. Even with such a limited opening, however, it earned $1.5 million, making it the top-grossing film its opening week, according to the box-office statistic site Box Office Mojo.

Those who saw it were awestruck. Even though it opened less than halfway through the year, Time Magazine hailed it in its May 30, 1977, issue as "The Year's Best Movie."

In 2003, the magazine also cited the premiere of "Star Wars" alongside events such as the attack on Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Apollo 11 moon landing in a 2003 special retrospective issue "80 Days That Changed the World."

Despite Time's prediction, the Academy disagreed about which film was 1977's best. "Star Wars" received a Best Picture nod, but the award went to Woody Allen's "Annie Hall."

In all, "Star Wars" earned 10 Oscar nominations that year, winning six: Best Set Direction, Costume Design, Music (Original Score), Editing, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects. The film also received a special achievement award for sound designer Benjamin Burtt Jr. for his alien, creature and robot voices.

When she first saw "Star Wars" with her mother and grandmother at the Lee Mall movie theater in Columbus, Miss., Cameille Vlietstra said it was unlike anything she had ever experienced.

"It was the first [time] I had ever seen the audiences stand up and clap at the end," Vlietstra wrote in a post on the Times Free Press Facebook account. "This didn't happen again until I saw 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.' "

Steven Whittle had a similar experience. From start to finish, he said, "Star Wars" was worth the long line he waited in to see it at the Plaza Theater in Pensacola, Fla.

"[I] remember the amazement as the opening titles began to scroll up from the bottom of the screen and disappear into the distance," Whittle wrote, in another Facebook post. "[It was] the first time I'd been to a movie where the audience cheered the action."

One with the force

"Star Wars" helped launch the careers of its three leads. Mark Hamill, then 25, and Carrie Fisher, then 20, were both almost completely untried outside of TV appearances. Harrison Ford, who was 34, had appeared in Lucas' second feature film, "American Graffiti," but was also relatively new to the big screen.

In a contributed editorial for the Time retrospective, Fisher, who portrayed Princess Leia Organa, compared their sudden riotous fame to that of The Beatles.

Fisher said reaction to "Star Wars" was a revolution for the industry, creating a "new order" of geeks willing to sleep out in front of theaters to see the film's debut.

"It wasn't a movie opening; it was like an earthquake," she wrote. "I don't know how it started; all I know is that suddenly it was everywhere."

By the end of 1977, "Star Wars" had indisputably solidified itself as a cultural phenomenon.

The film remained the top-grossing release every weekend through mid-December 1977. At its peak in mid-August, it was showing in about 1,100 theaters, about 450 more than the year's No. 2 film, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," according to Box Office Mojo.

Living legacy

Over the years, the film's cultural impact has continued to grow and diversify through five subsequent film releases and a vast expanded universe of novels, comics, toys, TV shows, fan films and video games.

The film series has been re-released on nearly every imaginable home-video format, most recently last September on Blu-ray. Lucasfilm also is converting the entire film series for theatrical release in 3D. The first remastered film, "Episode I: The Phantom Menace," premiered Feb. 10.

Ongoing "Star Wars" developments include "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," an animated TV series set to enter its fifth season this fall, and "Star Wars: The Old Republic," an online PC role-playing game with 1.3 million subscribers as of May 8.

Across its various media, the "Star Wars" franchise is now worth in excess of $30 billion, according to a Feb. 10 estimate by 24/7 Wall St., an online financial news site.

While the film has grown tremendously in value, fans said the film's true worth isn't measured in dollars.

"Star Wars" was the first movie Kate Brown Treick remembers seeing, at age 5, and the experience has stuck with her ever since.

"My sisters and I snuggled down in the back of our brown station wagon and watched the stormtroopers stream across the screen," she wrote, in a Facebook response. "It was magical."