Forty years ago today, Star Wars made its cinematic debut. For over twenty weeks in 1977, Star Wars was the number one movie in the United States. That first domestic release grossed $307 million, the highest ever at the time.
Star Wars also earned Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Alec Guinness) Academy Award nominations. Though it failed to win in those categories, it took home a half dozen Oscars, including Best Original Score (John Williams) and Best Effects.
Star Wars was re-released to theaters in the summers of 1978 (where it was number one for several more weeks), 1979, 1981, and 1982.
From the first day of release, various changes were made to the movie, mostly minor. A significant change came in 1981, which marked the first time Star Wars carried the Episode IV: A New Hope subtitle, to synch the film with the Episode V subtitle of its 1980 sequel, The Empire Strikes Back.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Star Wars, director George Lucas created a “Special Edition” version of the film, which was released to theaters in 1997. Featuring updated effects and a couple of newly inserted scenes, Lucasfilm’s Special Edition was an unexpected hit, number one for four weeks, and the eighth top-grossing movie of 1997.
Lucasfilm made further revisions to the film when it hit DVD in 2004. Additional changes were made for the 2011 Blu-ray release.
Nearly every frame of the movie is different compared to pre-1997 versions. This is also true of its sequels, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
As for the original movie as it existed prior to 1997? The one with those Oscar winning effects? Through official channels, it remains unavailable.
With minimal effort, Lucasfilm released an “Unaltered” version on DVD in 2006, but the quality was essentially equivalent to watching a VHS tape. Even that DVD went out of print long ago.
Though I find the current state of the original Star Wars frustrating, I do plan to celebrate one of my favorite movies tonight. In VHS quality.