Empire Strikes Back Once Again

Empire Strikes Back Once Again

LiveAuctionTalk.com:  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Profiles in History.

Audiences saw the movie Star Wars for the first time in San Francisco’s Northpoint Theater on May 1, 1977 and applauded passionately.  They didn’t seem to care that the sound in the last three reels of the film had yet to be mixed properly.

My God, what’s going on here?  It must be a premiere or something.  I looked at the marquee, and it was Star Wars.
— George Lucas

Later that week Star Wars screened for the board of directors at Fox Studios and received a mixed reception. 

“I remember clearly that three of them loved it; three of them thought that maybe it would work, two of them fell asleep—they had just had a big dinner—and the rest of them really hated it,” said Star Wars production executive Gareth Wigan.  The board was really worried about how they were going to get their money back. 

George Lucas, the film’s director was in a hamburger restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles shortly after the film’s release.  He looked out the window at a crowd forming outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater.  He said it was like a mob scene. 

One lane of traffic was blocked off and police were there.  Limousines were parked in front.  The lines were eight or nine people wide going both ways around the corner.

“I said, ‘My God, what’s going on here?  It must be a premiere or something,’ Lucas said.  I looked at the marquee, and it was Star Wars.”  

Thirty-two screenings generated a record-breaking $254,809 in opening day profits.  The film quickly spread across the country. 

The original 1977 movie was made on a budget of just 10 million dollars.  Star Wars brought a new generation of special effects into being and combined those effects with high-drama action pictures.  For many of us memories of this six-movie saga will remain stamped in our consciousness forever.  Just sitting in the audience and having the experience of hurling through space was amazing.    

Big budget movies with lots of special effects were here to stay after Star Wars.  The film combined a powerful story with state-of-the-art technology.  The director’s special effects were so advanced a whole new industry came into being.    

“When it was first released, people felt Star Wars moved very, very fast,” Lucas said.  “Part of that is you’re introduced to a world you’ve never seen before.” 

Before Star Wars only 20 films used Dolby noise-filtration system to beef up their soundtracks.  The film’s success made the demand for Dolby equipment from movie theaters across the country skyrocket. 

Lucas also worked with myth expert Joseph Campbell in creating a screenplay that echoed some of humanity’s oldest tales.

Beloved, simple characters like robots C-3PO and R2-D2 add flavor and humanity to machines and the film.  The look and sound of the evil Darth Vader with his face mask and black cape is impossible to forget.

And then there was Yoda.  A celebrated Jedi master, Yoda made his first on-screen appearance in Star Wards Episode V.  We watched as he trained Luke Skywalker in the ways of the Jedi.

On Dec. 15-16, Profiles in History in Beverly Hills, Calif., featured a selection of memorabilia from the Star Wars sage in its Icons of Hollywood Auction.

Star Wars

Poster; Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope; one-sheet; 27 inches by 41 inches;  $1,920.

Lea’s Puppet Poncho and Helmet; from Star Wars Episode VI; miniature; used on the puppet of Lea;  $19,200.

C-3PO Limited Edition Sculpture; from LucasFilm Archive Collection; 73 inches tall;  $24,000.

Yoda; prototype on-set rehearsal puppet; from Star Wars Episode V—The Empire Strikes Back;  32 inches long approximate;  $27,000.

Darth Vader promotional costume; for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi; $144,000. 


Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her LiveAuctionTalk.com website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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