George Lucas Recalls The Moment He Realized Star Wars Was A Hit, And It Involves An Unexpected Steven Spielberg Memory

 George Lucas on CBS Sunday Morning.
George Lucas on CBS Sunday Morning.

To say that the Star Wars movies were massively successful would be an understatement. With so many upcoming Star Wars movies and TV shows lined up, it’s a relief that A New Hope did so well in 1977 considering many people were predicting it would flop. Franchise creator George Lucas looked back at the time when he first noticed his space opera became a hit, and it involves the memory of his fellow filmmaker pal, Steven Spielberg.

While speaking at the Cannes Film Festival to receive his honorary Palme d'Or, George Lucas explained that studios had no faith that Star Wars would work as a movie since they weren’t fans of Lucas’ previous films he directed, like THX 1138 and American Graffiti. This caused the studio to release the movie in only 32 theaters. However, he told the head of 20th Century Fox to have faith in the sci-fi genre Star Wars: A New Hope fit under. As the filmmaker recalled:

When it came out, there were people around the block, it was like, crazy. And I said to Laddy – Alan Ladd Jr., who’s the head of [20th Century Fox] – I said look, ‘Look, all science fiction films do great in the first week. That’s just the way it is.’ And I said, ‘Let’s not worry about lines around the block in the first week, because they just like science fiction films.

George Lucas was right. He and his wife were having dinner at a local hamburger place when they realized the streets were filled with traffic, with people waiting in long lines on the sidewalk for Star Wars! He forgot that the first of many future movies was released at the movie theater near the burger joint and saw how quickly word-of-mouth reached audiences young and old. It proves Lucas was a movie genius in making a cinematic story that could reach kids and teenagers, whereas studios told him that a young demographic wouldn’t have any interest.

Steven Spielberg, known for contributing to the best sci-fi movies of all time, is good friends with George Lucas. In fact, he was with him when he discovered just how much of a hit Star Wars was. Lucas continued:

And then I went off to Hawai’i to be on the beach, and Steven Spielberg and I sat around and made sandcastles and things. Then some of my friends from the United States called and said, ‘Turn on Walter Cronkite tonight, turn on the news.’ I turned it on [and] they did a whole thing about what a phenomenon it was. That’s when I finally realized it was a big phenomenon.

Who would have thought the moment you saw the Star Wars phenomenon on the news would be when you were making sandcastles with Steven Spielberg? It’s nice the two filmmakers who would shake the world of cinema were together when the Star Wars phenomenon was coming into play.

Just when so many thought A New Hope would flop, it actually became the second-highest-grossing film in North America and the fourth-highest-grossing film of all time. It even managed to surpass Steven Spielberg’s Jaws!

However, George Lucas was actually hoping Star Wars wouldn’t outperform Close Encounters of the Third Kind due to a dumb bet made between him and Steven Spielberg. If Close Encounters made more at the box office, the Schindler’s List director owed the Lucasfilm head 2.5% of the film’s share. Lucas made the same deal if Star Wars outperformed Spielberg’s movie which unfortunately for Lucas caused him to lose millions to Spielberg. The E.T. director clearly had faith in Star Wars to take on that bet and is said to still receive profit shares from the sci-fi film.

It took George Lucas to see lines wrapped around the block for Star Wars to realize what a massive hit his creation was. Steven Spielberg can even say he was there when that moment came into full circle making sandcastles with his friend. It’s a good thing that Lucas didn’t back out of the franchise after Empire Strikes Back, or the franchise wouldn’t nearly have become the pop-culture sensation it is now. You can watch all of the Star Wars movies with your Disney+ subscription.