When George Lucas’ “Star Wars” burst upon the scene in May 1977 there was little advance warning.
No one knew it would become a franchise; no one talked in terms of tentpoles. “Annie Hall” was No. 1 at the box office; “Rocky” had in six months racked up $26 million.
On the day the sci-fier opened, May 25, there was not a single story about the opening, let alone the promotion and marketing, in the pages of Variety. But the review did occupy the prime position, upstaging the Cannes reviews that were still pouring in from France.
Critic A.D. Murphy said it all in his opening salvo: ” ‘Star Wars’ is a magnificent film. George Lucas set out to make the biggest possible adventure-fantasy out of his memories of serials and old action epics, and he has succeeded brilliantly.”
Variety‘s own judgment was “all-age appeal and huge outlook.”
A week later moviegoers had embraced Luke Skywalker, Ben Kenobi and R2-D2. Variety’s banner was ” ‘Star Wars’ Best Start Since ‘Jaws.’ ” And the pic had only opened with 34 playdates, not going wide until July.
The main story opined that the box office response “affirms anew that there are indeed people ‘out there,’ willing to go to a theater. Every couple of years the business needs such a tonic.”
While Fox’s Alan Ladd Jr. declined to speculate on what effect the pic would have on Fox profits, Variety itself obliged with a rundown of who would get what. Apparently, the pic cost $10 million and the profits were to be split 60-40 with Fox getting the larger chunk, Lucas the smaller. (Fox also got a hefty distribution fee.)
Those terms were vastly rejigged in Lucas’ favor for subsequent episodes of the franchise — so much so that the opening of “Revenge of the Sith” has not even minimally affected News Corp. stock.
One curious note: A separate story in the June 1, 1977, issue of Variety suggested that Lucas & Co. shunned a G rating and opted for a PG from the MPAA. Producer Gary Kurtz apparently felt that the latter, kiddie-friendly rating would be considered “uncool” by the teen crowd the movie was targeting.