May 25: Star Wars

A_long_time_agoOn May 25, 1977 20th Century Fox released a strange little film called Star Wars. Although we all know Star Wars as a multi-billion dollar franchise and a cultural touchstone, nobody, not even creator George Lucas, expected the film to be a hit.

Prior to its release, Fox wasn’t exactly sure what to do with Star Wars. Let’s be real, it was a really weird movie for the time: It’s a futuristic sci-fi movie that doesn’t have many aliens and Its characters are a strange blend of genre archetypes: A farmboy with a destiny, a kidnapped princess, an old knight from a dead kingdom, a western gunslinger, a villain in samurai armor, a Sasquatch and two robots (here referred to as droids) that are essentially doing a Laurel and Hardy routine. Oh, and did I mention that the first thing the film tells you is that it’s all set in the distant past?

Anyway, Fox was concerned that this odd picture would get crushed by the big summer releases of 1977 including 70s superstar Burt Reynolds’ Smokey And The Bandit. So, the studio decided to release it on the Wednesday before Memorial Day in the hope that they could give it some breathing room. As only a few theaters had booked Star Wars, Fox informed theaters that if they wanted to receive prints of the movie The Other Side of Midnight, an adaptation of a best selling novel, they’d have to order Star Wars too. In the end, Star Wars only opened on 32 screens on May 25. Eight more theaters began screening the film on the following Thursday and Friday. Lucas was convinced that the film would be a failure. He even booked a weekend trip to Hawaii for himself and his wife so that he could avoid hearing about his film’s misfortune.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Star Wars‘ obvious doom; something about the film clicked with audiences and the film became an instant hit. On opening day, producer Gary Kurtz appeared on a Los Angeles area radio call-in show and wound up speaking with someone who really liked Star Wars. “I said, ‘You know a lot about the film.’ He said, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’ve seen it four times already.’” Lucas was working at a soundstage in Hollywood on opening day and decided to go to lunch at the Hamburger Hamlet restaurant across the street from the Chinese Theatre, one of the few cinemas playing Star Wars. Much to his disbelief, there was a line of people wrapped around the block waiting to see the film. Even after Fox contacted Lucas and informed him that they had a major hit on their hands, he still didn’t believe him. It wasn’t until he saw Walter Cronkite reporting on the surprise success of Star Wars that Lucas realized he was about to become extremely rich.

As word spread about Star Wars, more and more theaters began asking for prints. By August, the film was screening in 1,096 American theaters and on August 3, 1977, it had an unprecedented second opening at the Chinese with C-3PO, R2-D2 and Darth Vader in attendance to leave their footprints. Shockingly, 60 theaters were still screening Star Wars on May 25, 1978 and Lucasfilm presented these theaters with a special “birthday cake” poster to celebrate. The film even received limited theatrical re-releases in 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982.

Oh, and one last thing…As we mentioned, Lucas didn’t have faith in his film’s chances, and in 1976 he visited his friend Stephen Spielberg on the set of Spielberg’s upcoming film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. After watching Spielberg work, Lucas became convinced that Close Encounters would greatly outperform Star Wars at the box office. Spielberg disagreed, and the two made a bet: If Close Encounters was more successful, Lucas would receive 2.5% of the film’s profits, and if Star Wars was the bigger hit, Spielberg would receive 2.5% of its profits. To this day, Stephen Spielberg still receives 2.5% of the money made by the first Star Wars film.

How about a cocktail inspired by a drink from the Star Wars universe? Early in Star Wars, Luke Skywalker sits down to dinner with his aunt and uncle, and Luke pours himself a nice frosty glass of blue milk. The unofficial Star Wars wiki Wookieepedia informs us that blue milk is produced by Banthas. Thankfully, the cocktail Blue Milk uses more earthbound ingredients like milk, cream, blue curacao, amaretto and coconut rum. This sweet drink comes to us from Jesse at the sci-fi and fantasy cooking blog Castles and Cooks.

Blue Milk

  • 3 ounces milk
  • 1 ounce cream
  • 2 ounces Blue Curacao
  • 1 ounce Coconut Rum
  • 1 ounce Amaretto

Shake with ice for about 20 seconds until chilled and strain into a chilled highball glass.

Tomorrow: We go near the moon.


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