Sure we’re all eagerly anticipating “Star Wars: Episode VII,” but 37 years ago today was the most important day in “Star Wars” history: May 1 was the first public screening for the original “Star Wars,” a moment that could have broken the series — but didn’t.
In February of 1977, George Lucas held a screening of the rough cut for FOX executives and friends. Reaction was extremely mixed, with executives first applauding — then sniping behind Lucas’ back — while famous friends like Brian DePalma actively made fun of Lucas.
In fact back at that screening, when the effects needed to be finished and the movie’s opening crawl seemed embarrassing rather than the icon it would soon become, the only guy who liked the movie was Steven Spielberg.
Soft wipe to May 1, 1977. “Star Wars” was officially scheduled to open on May 25, and executives were understandably nervous. This was a time when blockbusters didn’t exist yet, and no one really had a handle on how this weird little scifi movie would play.
The test screening, the first one to include regular audience members, was held on a Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Northpoint Theater just off Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. It was attended by Lucas, FOX executives and fans who had no idea what was about to hit them.
The response was rapturous, with sustained applause greeting the end credits roll. FOX president Alan Ladd Jr., who had put his reputation on the line to make the film, reportedly cried with happiness. Response cards were handed out, but deemed unnecessary: they already knew the film would be a hit.
With that single preview screening, the stage was set for the premiere on May 25, and the dawn of a new era of movie making.
“Star Wars: Episode VII,” the latest chapter in the saga, hits theaters on December 18, 2015.