THE FIRST PREVIEW SCREENINGS OF STAR
With the long anticipated (and much hyped) release of Star Wars - Episode One:
The Phantom Menace upon us, we take a look at how Star Wars was first greeted upon its
arrival back in 1977 by the very first people who got to see it . . .
Ladd brought several members of his advertising,
marketing, and distribution staff to San Francisco to see Star
Wars in the Parkhouse screening room. It was a week night and the bus got lost on its
way to San Anselmo, arriving almost two hours late. The screening room was outfitted with
couches and easy chairs. Marketing chief Ashley Boone remembers thinking, "Someone
has got more courage than they are entitled to, because this group is just liable to sit
down and fall asleep."
No one fell asleep. The Fox executives watched in silence, but when the lights came on
there was sustained applause. Production Vice-President Gareth Wigan said to Lucas,
"That's the most moving picture I've seen in a long time." Lucas thought Wigan
was trying to make him feel good; he smiled bravely and said, "Great." It wasn't
until everyone adjourned to a nearby Italian restaurant that Lucas realised how much of an
impact Star Wars had made. Ashley Boone sat slumped in his chair, looking flabbergasted.
John Korty was at the screening and remembers Ladd questioning him closely about his
reactions. "He was concerned whether kids would like it," says Korty. "But
he was obviously caught up in it."
The Fox group boarded the plane back to Los Angeles.
Alan Livingstone, president of Fox's entertainment division with responsibility for the
soundtrack album to Star Wars, sidled up to Boone during the flight and asked him
if there was some way to persuade Lucas to release a disco version of the score. "I
don't think I even answered him," Boone says, shaking his head in disbelief.
Livingston wasn't the only executive to doubt the commercial appeal of Star Wars.
Fox's marketing research had shown that women did not want to see a film with
"wars" in the title. The robots didn't test well, nor did the science-fiction
label Fox had stuck on the movie.
Lucas also showed Star Wars to his friends: Bill Huyck and Gloria Katz, John
Milius, Matthew Robbins and Hal Barwood, Time magazine film critic Jay Cocks,
Steven Spielberg, and Brian De Palma. "They all thought it was a disaster."
A rough cut was something this audience was accustomed to, but "the opening crawl
looked like somebody had written on a driveway, with the camera on a trash barrel,"
remembers Huyck. No one said anything at the movie's completion. Lucas admitted the film
needed work, but he was unprepared for the merciless assault that followed. Brian De Palma
was especially sarcastic in a good-natured way, teasing Lucas about the "almighty
Force" and indicating that the rough cut version of the film was one of the worst
things he had ever seen. Gloria Katz remembers, "Brian has a very wicked sense of
humour and oh, he was so cruel." It was not one of Lucas's happier evenings.
Those who didn't criticise Star Wars expressed
sympathy. "They were all my real close friends and they felt sorry for me more than
anything else. There were a lot of condolences, which is even worse than saying you didn't
like the movie," Lucas recalls. Only Spielberg and Cocks reacted with enthusiasm - at
dinner, they sat on one side of the table praising Star Wars, while De Palma faced
them and made snide suggestions. "George didn't lose his appetite, that's the one
thing I remember," Spielberg says. "He kept eating his dinner, nodding his head,
taking it all in. But I don't believe he made any changes." Lucas let De Palma and
Cock rewrite the opening crawl, which he then modified. Other than that, he was resigned
to the failure of Star Wars: "I figured, well, it's just a silly movie. It
ain't going to work."
The Fox board of directors still had to see Star Wars, too. As expected, the
screening was a disaster: several members fell asleep and most of them hated the movie.
One admitted, after several drinks, that Star Wars might be all right, but he added
that he didn't know anything about movies. One board member's wife marched up to Ladd and
told him that someone should animate C-3PO's mouth, because nobody would understand how he
talked when his lips didn't move.
consists of excerpts from Skywalking - The Life and Films of
George Lucas by Dale Pollock and is not meant as an
infringement of copyright but rather as a recommendation of sorts. If you want to read a
good biography of the man, then this is the book to buy. It is
probably the book on the topic. Buy it today.