It’s difficult to imagine a world in which Star Wars isn’t among the biggest entertainment franchises on the planet. But thanks to Tom Hanks, we’ve been reminded that, back in 1977, our first trip to the galaxy far, far away didn’t even get the widest possible cinema release.
In 2005, Hanks honored Star Wars creator George Lucas with the AFI Life Achievement Award. He remembered that, when Star Wars became one of the biggest new movies ever, there was no way for him to see it in Cleveland, Ohio, where he was working. In fact, the film only opened in around 30 theaters in May 1977. For context, new Star Wars movies today tend to open in more than 4,000 US theaters.
“Clevelanders could read about Star Wars in TIME Magazine. A pretty good review, as I recall. But as far as actually paying money and seeing the movie at a local Cleveland cinema, didn’t happen,” recalled Hanks to an audience featuring Lucas and the key players from the Star Wars cast.
“We had to wait almost halfway through the month of June before we could glimpse that rebel blockade runner fleeing the Imperial cruiser somewhere above the planet Tatooine,” he added. “In Cleveland, Ohio, 14 godforsaken days went by before we could go to a movie theater and see the first Star Wars movie – the one that is actually the fourth Star Wars movie.”
As a team of writers who meticulously keep a guide of the Star Wars movies in order up to date, we particularly enjoyed that final Hanks gag.
It seems absurd to our modern eyes that the original Star Wars – undeniably one of the best movies ever made – only opened in a handful of cinemas. Back then, George Lucas and his merry band of Star Wars characters were an unknown commodity. Nobody knew how big this would become.
Of course, Star Wars broke box office records almost immediately and, by the August of 1977, it was on more than 1,000 screens in the USA alone. If you adjust the figures for inflation, it’s still fourth on the all-time list of highest-grossing movies.
This just goes to show how much cinema distribution had changed and, to be honest, we have Star Wars to thank for that. Jaws introduced the idea of a summer blockbuster to water-fearing audiences in 1975, but Star Wars raised the bar yet again and showed that the best science fiction movies were box office dynamite.
Every highest-grossing movie since then, with the exception of Titanic, has been a sci-fi story, from E.T. to Avengers: Endgame. There’s every chance that trend continues when we finally get to see Avatar 3. After all, as we wrote in our Avatar 2 review, we know never to bet against James Cameron. Lesson learned.
Of course, there’s plenty more on the way from Lucas’s universe, with numerous Star Wars series set to join the catalog of what’s new on Disney Plus. There’s the Andor season 2 release date on the way for starters.