Star Wars Turns 40

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People dressed as stormtroopers–a favorite costume among Star Wars enthusiasts–take part in a Star Wars-themed parade in Malaga, Spain, in 2015. Credit: © Antonio Martin, Shutterstock

Forty years ago today, on May 25, 1977, an exhilarating sci-fi space Western called Star Wars was released for the first time in 43 locations across the United States. Star Wars, made for a modest $11 million, dazzled audiences, and the film soon gained wide release as the story that took place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” captured the country’s—and the world’s—collective imagination. The film rocketed to cinema phenomenon status, vaporizing box office records and netting a remarkable $197 million (just in the United States) by the end of 1977.

Initially retitled in foreign cinemas as La guerre des étoiles, La guerra de las galaxias, or Gwiezdne wojny, Star and Wars are now two of the best-known English-language words in the galaxy. (As sequels and prequels began piling up, this first film of the “Star Wars” franchise was renamed Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope). Star Wars characters—most notably Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and the evil Darth Vader (the voice of James Earl Jones)—are also famous throughout the solar system, and the sun never sets on the Star Wars empire of action figures, books, clothing, lunch boxes, video games, and other merchandise. The movie even has its own press service, Jedi News, and its own holiday: May 4 is Star Wars Day (“May the Fourth be with you”).

The heroes of Star Wars—Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Han Solo (Harrison Ford)—first appeared in American cinemas 40 years ago today on May 25, 1977. Credit: © Lucasfilm Ltd

Star Wars 40th anniversary celebrations are being held throughout 2017 in cities around the world. Last month, thousands of fans found the droids they were looking for at the massive Star Wars Celebration Orlando in Florida; this month, cinemas have been packed with stormtroopers of all sizes for rowdy reruns of the film; British Jedi knights can attend Star Wars Identities at London’s O2 Arena into September; and nearly every baseball park in North America will have Chewbaccas, C-3PO’s, and R2-D2’s in the stands for galactic Star Wars nights throughout the season. Rather than looking dated or “over the hill” at 40, the film is as popular as ever, and Star Wars remains as energetic as young Luke Skywalker on the desert planet Tatooine, pining for adventure and awaiting his destiny.

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