Fans Celebrate The Day ‘Star Wars’ Opened In 1977
May the Fourth Be With You is fun but May 25 was the day ‘Star Wars’ made history
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
As an avid "Star Wars" fan I omit no opportunity to celebrate the film that started it all. So earlier this month I enjoyed May the Fourth Be With You and Revenge of the Fifth and even Revenge of the Sixth for good measure. But this year I noticed that people who consider themselves fans were making social media posts on May 4 saying that "on this day in 1977 George Lucas' 'Star Wars' came out."
So, just to be clear. May the Fourth Be With You is just a clever pun. It has nothing to do with when "Star Wars" came out or with any significant historical fact about the film. For the record, "Star Wars" opened in the U.S. on May 25, 1977 and it was the film that solidified the idea of the summer blockbuster. "Jaws," two years earlier, being the film to pave the way.
So to commemorate the day I view as the real "Star Wars" day, I spoke with some fans who saw the film back in 1977. Some saw it on opening day (or preview night) here in San Diego as well as fans who saw it in other states and other countries. I hope you will enjoy these memories about a film that changed many people's lives.
I'll start with my own memories. I saw "Star Wars" soon after it opened in San Diego. My favorite memory of going to the cinema, though, was after the film was expanded to more theaters I went with a friend to see it at the Center 3 Cinemas where we entered at noon and emerged at 10 p.m. We watched the film four times and hid in the bathroom between shows. I'm sure the manager knew what we were doing but he chose not to confront us or eject us.
I also managed to score a pair of tickets to the Academy Awards for the following year thanks to my Uncle Dick Denove being in the Directors Guild of America. My friend and I sat in the last seats of the last row of the last balcony and were giddy with excitement. I got to see C3PO and R2D2 give out an Oscar and then see R2 carted away on a wagon because he got jammed and couldn't roll away. I also bumped into George Lucas in the lobby and snapped a bad Kodak Instamatic photo of him and likely blinded him with the flash. When "Annie Hall" won best picture over "Star Wars" I stormed out.
But that was the beginning of my obsessive fandom with "Star Wars."
"I was 13 years old when I saw 'Star Wars' for the first time at the Valley Circle Theater on opening day May 25, 1977. I was stunned when my dad dropped my friend and I off. We'd never seen a line from a movie, let alone one that wrapped all the way around the building. It was just mind blowing. And then the movie was even more mind blowing. 'Star Wars' was exclusively at the Valley Circle Theater for over a year. I saw it, I think, only 10 times that summer. I know people who saw it far more than that. I would take the bus down, had to transfer. People knew how to react instinctively, it kind of just touched on this, I guess, underlying cultural thing that we all had and we all knew but didn't realize until it came out, until we saw these things on the screen and reacted like the hissing at Vader. I don't think I've been in a movie where people cheered like that for things. It was just an absolutely different experience and it changed everything."
Colleen Kelly Burks
"I was 21 years old when I saw 'Star Wars' at the Valley Circle on the day before it premiered on the 25th. So I saw it on the 24th and I was totally blown away. I mean that opening introduction was just amazing. And then when the first ship comes on screen and the theater’s like doing its rumble, rumble and you're like, 'whoa!' But then the Imperial Cruiser comes afterwards. You're just like thinking like it's coming right over your head onto the screen. I was like mouth dropped open. Just I found the movie just so amazing and the characters are so fun. You know, you there are a lot of audio recordings of that movie, and I think a few people even managed to smuggle in actual cameras and record them. The theater was huge and every seat was filled. And there's all fans and a huge screen so that you could be in the back row and you can still see everything. You were engulfed in it, but you were also with 1,500 other fans with you. It was an amazing experience. And I lament the fact that people today don't get to experience that.
"I think I think the basic thing it created is a sense of community for us because we knew everybody at that line, at that theater at any time, night or day, weekend or week, they were fans like us. And we we wouldn't be subject to ridicule or or disparaging remarks because we're all there for the same thing, this amazing movie that brought us together and made us a fandom to be reckoned with, basically.
"To this day, I mean, how many years later, and I can still be all enthusiastic about it because I still remember how cool that was."
"I was 7 years old on opening day and I saw 'Star Wars' at the Valley Circle Theater in Mission Valley. My father was very animated and very excited for this film. He knew about it. We showed up, we were the first ones at the theater in San Diego on opening day. We're the first ones in line. And then I remember seeing the manager opening up the the doors, letting the employees in. My mom said, 'See, look, we're going to go in soon.' And I saw a second line that was at the box office and that line was pretty long as well. And the next time we went to see 'Star Wars,' we showed up two to three hours early. I actually wanted to show up early to stand in line. I remember the first time they showed the Millennium Falcon going into hyperspace and the crowd was hooting and hollering. So around the second or third time we went to see 'Star Wars,' where we're standing in the long line. So I was curious, where were the movie was that was showing inside. So I went to the to the exit doors and I put my ear to the door and I could hear Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi having the saber duel. And I would give my parents an update saying, 'oh, Darth Vader and Obi Wan are fighting right now.' And so that would mean we had another hour to wait for the next showing.
"I grew up in the United Kingdom. I was 9 years old when what we now know is 'Episode IV: A New Hope' dropped. What was interesting about the U.K. is at that time we got all of our big movies at least six months later than the U.S. And so we had an additional six months-plus of hype and marketing. And so by the time the movie actually came out and I got to see it, I was on the verge of exploding. But it did change my life.
"The cinema was in a small rural city, St. Albans, immediately north of London, but nobody had turned up because the hype was such that everybody thought, well, we won't get in on opening night. And I remember my father rushing home from work and he actually stopped at the theater on the way and they said, we've got seats. So he bought tickets and he he basically said, 'get in the car now, we're going.' And my sister and I, we just couldn't believe we were going to see this amazing movie on its first night in the United Kingdom. And when we got there, the house wasn't full. I mean, it was busy, but it wasn't full. And that was the only showing that wasn't full. When we came out, the line was around the block. It was very hard to get merchandise. And the first bit of merchandise I got was these rubdown LetraSet transfers where you'd get a full reproduction of a key scene. In this case, it was the Death Star Hangar, I remember. And you'd get these little figures, you’d put the transfer sheet on it and you would rub it down. And I remember that was the very first bit of 'Star Wars' merchandise I owned.
"It was commonplace for British audiences to sit quietly, which is kind of a national stereotype. But it was true. But I do remember when the Death Star blew up and everybody cheered because I think everybody had been so invested in this classic fable.
"What was funny was you'd have what we now think of as nerds, of which I was one, and so it was normal that we would get together and talk about the film. But it had such a far reaching impact on people and it sort of crossed into jocks. And a high degree of young girls loved it because, of course, Leia was somewhat mold breaking as well. And it was funny because you would walk around and you'd hear people talking about it and you would think to yourself, I never thought they would be into it. So, yeah, I do. I remember what a universal impact it had."
"I was about 9 years old when I first watched 'Star Wars.' It was at the Sterling Cinema in Mumbai, India, and I remember just being in awe of it. There are two things which have really stuck in my mind, one of which was the opening shot of the movie. And I remember, you know, my 9-year-old self watching the underbelly of the spaceship, and it went on and on and on. And my jaw just progressively kept dropping and dropping. I was like, oh, my God, is this thing ever going to end? It's so big. And of course, now that I'm grown up in an adult, I've gone and looked on and it's all of 9 or 10 seconds. But at that time, my 9-year-old self could not have been more amazed.
"Of all the places that I’ve watched the movie, the audience participation has never exceeded that in India. People talk to the screen, people, cheer on, they scream. It's it's a whole other level of engagement. Everybody everybody's fully engaged. So it makes all the difference.
"And I think even though I was 9 years old, there were parts of it which were pretty scary to me. I remember there's that one scene where Luke, Han, Leia and I think Chewy, all of them are in the trash compactor. And I was I was terrified. I remember thinking, oh, my God, the walls are literally closing in on them. And I remember being physically scared of it. I think it's done some damage to my head, because even now, I think if I'm in a very, very close space, like especially things which are coming on you, it kind of scares me to this day.
"I did not see it repeatedly, not from lack of trying. But I think we had gone to watch the movie with my family. And I think when I was that age, at least in India, you never went and watched with your friends or your neighbors. You always watched with your family. And I also remember 'Star Wars' pencil boxes and 'Star Wars' backpack's and 'Star Wars' water bottles. And it had just integrated completely within my school culture. So you had to have the 'Star Wars' pencil box. And I remember going to this, there's a store called Emersons, which specializes in foreign-branded stuff. And I remember begging my parents to get me that pencil box."
"I was all of 18 years old when I first saw 'Star Wars,' I saw it on opening day at the Valley Circle Theater in San Diego. And I was in kind of an interesting position because I actually had been following the production of the film for about a year before it opened. And fortunately, it more than lived up to everything I was hoping for. It was pretty high energy, I remember standing in line in the theater was packed. People were excited going in and of course, the response of the audience throughout was just phenomenal. I mean, there had never been anything like that in regards to a science fiction film. And that John Williams score, of course, if you were into effects and model making, in particular, that first shot was just mind blowing. I mean, there had never been a shot like that that we had seen before in a movie. It was incredible.
"I not only signed up for the fan club, I actually interviewed to run it. I knew Charles Lippincott, who was the marketing genius behind 'Star Wars,' I had met him hanging out at science fiction conventions as a kid. And he actually invited me to interview for that position, which was ridiculous because I was 18 and had no experience in promotion but I think it was an incredibly kind gesture on his part, and I've never forgotten that. I also remember I think the newsletter was called Bantha Tracks.
"'Star Wars' had a table at the 1976 Comic-Con. And what was great was the Charlie would talk to anyone who came up to the table and it was not crowded there. You could easily go up and hang out with him for an hour or something, which I think I did. And he would tell you all kinds of amazing stories about the making of the film and what it was about. And I truly believe that his marketing genius is part of what made that whole franchise so incredibly successful."
"I saw 'Star Wars' for the first time the weekend that it opened at the Valley Circle Theater in San Diego. I'm a huge movie and film fan. I think one of the most memorable aspects of it was the energy of the audience. Watching people walk out, everybody from the screening prior had smiles on their face, were very animatedly talking to each other. I remember the Fox fanfare, which, as a movie fan, you love that, and when you're sitting in a single screen house with anywhere from 800 to 1,000 people with this massive wall to wall screen, it's pretty heady stuff.
"One memorable thing about the opening was when Darth Vader appeared out of the steam and smoke from the blast to open that door. Everybody in the audience booed. You had this character that was all in black wearing a helmet that was reminiscent of a World War II German helmet, you figured he was bad and everybody was booing and hissing. I had never been in the theater with that happen before.
"I like to say that George Lucas was viral marketing before viral marketing was a term. He knew about conventions. I think he went to the World Science Fiction Convention, but he also came to Comic-Con (Glanzer is also Comic-Con’s spokesperson). And at the time, he had a publicist named Charles Lippincott and they had a booth at Comic-Con in 1976 a full year before the movie came out. They did a slide presentation that was very well attended from my understanding, and they sold a poster, a small poster that was created by comics artist Howard Chaykin. And it is I think they sold for a $1.50. And it is a very, very prized collectible at this time. The response to the Comic-Con presentation was great. And Lucasfilm every release after 'Star Wars' made it a point to attend Comic-Con and have a presentation."
"I was 22 years old when 'Star Wars' came out and I saw it for the first time at the Valley Circle Theater in San Diego. And I actually saw it the night before opening, thanks to a very generous friend who happened to have tickets. Yes, I actually I saw it three times in its first week. I remember there were always lines, we were always waiting in line to the point where we had our own line equipment, we would bring lawn chairs, we would bring decks of cards, we would bring other things to occupy ourselves with. And then a few minutes before the line was due to go in, we would put those things back in the trunks of our cars and then go in and see the movie. So, I mean, we spent a lot of time in line.
"It was just amazing, I had had very little exposure to any of the publicity, any of the trailers or whatever, I had friends who were dumpster diving at ILM (Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic company) and Los Angeles, and they had like still photos that were like mugshots of all the cantina creatures in their costumes and all that.
"There were no DVDs or VHS so you would never be able to see it again, unless we all just went over and over and over to see it in the theater and especially for those of us trying to make costumes. It was very hard to get good photos of various costumes from various angles. So we would actually go and watch it with a sketch pad in hand with and track a particular costume through the whole movie and take sketches of it to make sure we had captured all of the elements necessary to make it absolutely the perfect copy. We would buy magazines and even if it had like little tiny pictures that were one by one, we would buy the magazine because that was a picture from 'Star Wars.'
"But it's pre-internet, it's pre-organized fandom, geek culture was not as mainstream as it is nowadays. You were still made fun of for being freaks and geeks. I think 'Star Wars' helped to alleviate a lot of that because it was just so hugely popular with regular people as well as science fiction fans.
"A number of fans ended up working for the industry. Bill George started out building little X-wings and whatever out of Prell shampoo bottles and ended up working for ILM and is now a manager. So dreams can come true."
"I was 11 years old in 1977 when I first saw 'Star Wars.' I had to wait a couple of weeks before it came out. I was living up in Washington state at the time and my mom took us to see it in Seattle, which was about an hour-and-a-half away from where we lived. We saw it in 70 millimeter with the curved screen and everything, it was it was a beautiful theater. And then we had to go sit down. And it was so packed already that I had to sit by myself on the right hand side of the aisles because we couldn't find seats together. But once the movie started, I was just mesmerized.
"I remember in the weeks before we went, while I was still in school, there was one person who had actually seen the movie shortly after it came out and we were pumping him for information. It was because of that movie that I started collecting like Famous Monsters of Filmland (magazine) because I saw it had a picture of Han Solo and Chewbacca and I was like, I got to have that magazine and Starlog and Fantastic Films because they had all these articles in there about the weapons and the costumes.
"The shots on the Millennium Falcon when they're escaping from the Death Star, just the interior of the Millennium Falcon, seeing that and that whole thing about climbing in and shooting the guns from the turrets. And I remember me and my mom's boyfriend were having debates about where were those guns? How did they get to them and try to imagine in our eyes where it was because the way the shots were, it was kind of hard to tell it the first couple of times you see it. And of course, now the whole floor plan is totally ingrained in everybody's mind."
"I was 12 years old when 'Star Wars' came out in 1977, and I think that was the the perfect age to see 'Star Wars,' a couple of years younger and I probably wouldn't have been have gotten into it as much, a couple years older I probably would have discovered girls and would not have been the thing for me. So I think 12 is really that sweet spot. So I remember I saw it on the day that it opened in Nebraska.
"Everybody says the same thing but I think this is what was true about 'Star Wars,' is what blew you away right from the beginning was the Star Destroyer. Because sci-fi at that time hadn't really done a great job of showing scale in space. So all of a sudden you see that Star Destroyer and it's coming and coming and coming and oh you get to the to the open area with the tractor beam, so okay that's got to be the end but that's not the end. It's still going and the music is pounding and you've got that huge vista of of the surface of of Tatooine. I think that was on Lucas's part, that was a masterpiece of filmmaking because it really set the stage, you weren't watching a Buck Rogers serial. You're not watching a 'Star Trek' episode. You were seeing something completely new and completely different. And it was shot in a way that really just kind of kicked it in the teeth and said, sit back, this is 'Star Wars.'
"One of the things that 'Star Wars' did and anything I say here is just treading old ground, but the fact that they made the decision that they didn't want this to be science fiction where everybody's wearing shiny silver turtlenecks and everything is super clean and sterile. It made a world that seemed more realistic. Even though we're dealing with light sabers and blasters and aliens and other worlds, it looked real and it made you think it was real because it's like a ship is filthy. Look at the look at the look at the X-wings. I mean, would you really want to fly in that? The Millennium Falcon, they even joke about how terrible it was and what bad shape it was in. And then and then we're going to say this doesn't happen in the future. This happened in the past, a long, long time ago. And it just it it it really turned what you thought about science fiction into a whole new thing."
"I was 6 years old when 'Star Wars' came out and my grandparents took me to the Valley Circle Theater in Mission Valley. My 4-year-old brother was with us and I remember being just completely flabbergasted throughout the entire movie. I don't think I probably said a word the entire time. When we left the theater, my grandparents immediately asked, which are our favorite characters, I was, of course, a big fan of Leia. My brother, however, said Darth Vader was his favorite character. My grandmother said but he's a bad guy to which my brother responded, ‘That's OK. He'll turn out to be a good guy in the end.' He was prescient I guess.
"So that was my first 'Star Wars' experience and I was hooked from day one. I had never seen anything like it. I don't think anyone had ever seen anything like it. And it really transported you, I think, in a way that no cinema had ever transported me."
"I saw 'Star Wars' in June of 1977. I was 9 years old. I grew up in a very small town in Oregon and really the only option to see movies was the local drive-in. And the moment that things started and that opening scene and I just was sucked in, I just remember sitting there pretty much I think my mouth hung open the whole time, just leaning forward and looking through that windshield of that car, listening to that little tiny, crappy speaker, but just completely enthralled with what I was seeing on the screen and completely enamored with 'Star Wars.' And then after the movie, you know, after it was over, I'm like, that's incredible. And so then I had 'Star Wars' current 'Star Wars' bedding. I started collecting the 'Star Wars' figures and I had the 'Star Wars' album. It was just my life became 'Star Wars.' It was I still have a huge collection."
"I first saw 'Star Wars' when I was 12 years old. We tried to see it at the movie theater, but we were unable to because it was sold out. So my father, in his wisdom, packed us all up into his Grand Prix and took us to the Mission Bay Drive-In with my three other brothers. I imagine it's kind of torturous for my parents because we kids, we were just so excited and especially me, because I've been a lifelong science fiction fan. We were just jumping up and down. And every time a typewriter flew past, or Obi Wan chops the guy's arm off. It was cheering and jumping up and down. It was so wonderful.
"'Star Wars' was a phenomenon like Beatlemania. It was so huge. It was everywhere. You couldn't get away from it. If you had not seen it, you were kind of on the outs. In the past when you were a nerd you were out but if you had not seen 'Star Wars' you were out of the clique."
"'Star Wars' was released just a few days before I turned 19 years old. I was an art student at Cal State, San Bernardino. And I went not on the day it opened, but I went shortly after because my favorite art professor had highly recommended it. And he said, in some ways it was like the old Westerns of his childhood, where the son of the slain gunslinger takes up the gun and goes out to right some wrongs and all that.
"But the thing that fascinated me was he mentioned that there was this careful creation of different worlds, of different cultures, kind of a almost anthropological background. They're of different worlds and that things look used. And I saw what he meant when I saw the film. You know, people that weren't terribly wealthy, that were farmers on a rather rather rough climate would not have everything looking sparkling and new. And people today might not realize how innovative that was, that really was was fascinating to me. And also it was just a good fun story."
"I actually saw 'Star Wars' when I was 22 years old with my husband, who just got out of the Navy literally a few few days before. And we went to see it on May 25 at the theater. It was a big, long line around the theater. And so to watch that space ship crawl across the screen, it was totally different than the movies I've seen before that so. It was it was really nice that people started getting excited, and especially at the end, they all clapped at the end of the at the end of the movie and it kind of added more to the experience. And it was like going back to being a kid again and watching those serials on TV from those old movies that are on TV and stuff like that. And you just felt really good about it."
"I remember going to the Valley Circle Theater in Mission Valley when I was 12 years old to see 'Star Wars' several times actually during its first run there. The line wrapped around a building and the parking lot was jammed full. I remember seeing a TV ad for a new movie coming out with all the scenes flashing laser beams, spaceships and what appeared to be two knights in white armor planning to do battle but actually it was Luke and Han in stormtrooper disguises planning a rescue and escape.
"The most recent sci-fi blockbuster back then was '2001: A Space Odyssey' and movies like 'Forbidden Planet' and TV series like 'Star Trek' for what people thought of when they heard the word science fiction. When 'Star Wars' came out, though suddenly every other movie had space dogfights, a Dark Lord, laser sword wielding wizards and huge space fortress exploding.
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