Opening Fanfare: A Brief History On ‘Star Wars’ Premieres

Tonight is the big one folks. With the world premiere of The Force Awakens drawing massive crowds in Hollywood yesterday, and the official release mere hours away in Australia and New Zealand, anticipation is at fever pitch for the biggest film release since…well…that other Star Wars movie we don’t speak of.

You could very well be slipping into your Sy Snootles costume as we speak; preparing yourself for a night full of cosplay and queues. So what better time to look back at the releases of Star Wars films past: a time when the internet hype machine was fed by word of mouth rather than faceless bloggers, and the only way to reserve a seat was to park your butt in line for days or months at a time.



May 25, 1977. A day that will live in infamy. Even the most jaded movie reviewer would’ve been affected after seeing Star Wars for the first time. I didn’t see the film until the mid 90s, so you can only imagine how it felt for audiences on opening night in 1977, when that giant spaceship passed over their heads for the first time. If you could pinpoint a single moment in history when cinema went through a seismic shift, it would be this.





Its safe to say the follow up to the biggest film of all time was a big deal on May 21, 1980. But just put yourself in the shoes of those who saw Empire on opening day, and then somehow had to not talk about the climactic moments of the film to their friends and family. I mean, we’re talking about one of the most well kept secrets in film history, that even the cast and crew were kept in the dark about up until the scene was shot. I can safely say I couldn’t have withstood that kind of pressure, I would of caved, and in the process ruined the greatest movie twist of all time.

MAY 22 1980 - People wait to get into a screening of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. (Photo by John Sunderland/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

21st May 1980: Actor Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the 'Star Wars' series of films, attending the royal premiere of 'The Empire Stikes Back' with his wife Mary Lou, in London. (Photo by Michael Fresco/Evening Standard/Getty Images)

Interestingly, not every critic was a fan of Empire when it first came out, as these two opposing reviews show: One from well known critic Gene Siskel, the other from some guy called Frederick…who we can only assume lost his job immediately after writing a negative review of what is widely considered the best sequel of all time.

The Empire Strikes Back joins The Godfather, Part II as one of the rarest of films—a sequel that lives up to and expands upon its original.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

The Empire Strikes Back is a lifeless copy of Star Wars propelled chiefly on the momentum of that earlier film. Without the likes of a Peter Cushing or Alec Guiness to add some dignity and solid support, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford flounder in roles that are certain to doom their careers regardless of the series’ success. Critics who labeled this film ‘better than Star Wars’ must have been watching the audience instead of the performance.” — Frederick S. Clarke, Cinefantastique

Here’s Gene’s  review:




If you think the long lead up to The Force Awakens has been tough, imagine how excruciating it must of been for fans waiting three whole years for another Star Wars film after the cliffhanger ending of the Empire. And unlike now, there would have been next to no set reports or leaked on set photos to satisfy their curiosity in the intervening years.

Gene Siskel appeared again along side Roger Ebert in defence of Jedi against John Simon, who was intent on tearing the movie a new one on it’s 1983 realease.  The video even features a glimpse into the future with comments such as – “These are sort of movies Disney should be making”.

Here are some classic shots from two different Return of the Jedi premieres, which opened in American cinemas on May 25, 1983. Spare a thought for Aussie audiences, who had to wait another five months to find out what happened to Han!

"Star Wars" fan Danny Fitzgerald of Staten Island, in Darth Vader costume, poses in front of Loews Astor Plaza movie theater in Times Square in New York, May 25, 1983, where fans are lined up for the premiere of "The Return of the Jedi," the third in a series of the "Star Wars" saga. (AP Photo/Dave Pickoff)

Movie fans line up on Philadelphia's Chestnut Street for the premiere of the Movie "Return of the Jedi" Wednesday May 23, 1983. Fans began lining up Tuesday night to see the Star Wars trilogy. (AP Photo/ George Widman)

It’s always great to look back at these old images, because its photographic evidence that nothing has changed, despite the passage of time. The kids lining up around the block in 2015 are no different from the parents who did exactly the same thing back in ’77.