When Star Wars creator George Lucas first developed his now-iconic space opera franchise in the 1970s, it confused everyone from studio executives to cast members — Harrison Ford is said to have been completely befuddled by Wookiees.
Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz even had trouble securing a studio that was willing to make the first Star Wars film. After being turned down by powerhouses Walt Disney Studios — who now ironically owns both Lucasfilm, Ltd. and Fox — and Universal Studios, 20th Century Fox finally agreed to take a gamble on Lucas and Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), and Han Solo (Harrison Ford).
Even though Fox had enough faith in Lucas’s vision to make Star Wars: A New Hope, movie theaters around the United States were significantly less confident in a galaxy far, far away.
As a matter of fact, 20th Century Fox executives made an illegal deal to make sure Star Wars hit movie screens in May 1977. Mental Floss details exactly what happened:
Less than 40 theaters agreed to book showings of Star Wars after its release date was moved up to before Memorial Day (the studio thought it would bomb in a crowded summer movie slate).
Around the same time, 20th Century Fox was going to release an eagerly anticipated adaptation of a bestselling book called The Other Side of Midnight, which theaters were eager to show. Fox then stipulated that any theater showing The Other Side of Midnight must also show Star Wars, which inflated the number of screens for the movie.
Their article also explains how it is actually illegal for a studio to force movie theaters to show one film in order to get another, more popular offering. Fox was ultimately fined $25,000 for forcing cinemas around the United States to show Star Wars — as you’ll discover next, though, money quickly became a non-issue when it came to the Star Wars franchise.
If you don’t remember The Other Side of Midnight, don’t worry, you’re not alone. The much-anticipated film — starring a young Susan Sarandon — brought in $24,652,021 and today ranks #3,220 in the all-time domestic box office.
To compare, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope launched a global phenomenon that has gave rise to the nine-film Skywalker Saga, multiple animated series like Star Wars: The Clone Wars, live-action shows like smash hit The Mandalorian, and countless novelizations and graphic novels.
As for the numbers, the original Star Wars brought in $460,998,007 and currently ranks #19 in the all-time domestic box office.
You can catch up on the entire Skywalker Saga — Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999), Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2003), Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005), Episode IV – A New Hope (1977), Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983), Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015), Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017), and Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019) on Disney+ anytime.
As for the Star Wars movie that started it all, Disney’s official description reads:
Luke Skywalker begins a journey that will change the galaxy in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. Nineteen years after the formation of the Empire, Luke is thrust into the struggle of the Rebel Alliance when he meets Obi-Wan Kenobi, who has lived for years in seclusion on the desert planet of Tatooine. Obi-Wan begins Luke’s Jedi training as Luke joins him on a daring mission to rescue the beautiful Rebel leader Princess Leia from the clutches of Darth Vader and the evil Empire.
Did you know Star Wars was originally shown illegally in most theaters?