When “Star Wars” first debuted, it was an instant hit.
In its limited release May 25, 1977, “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” made $US1.5 million in theatres, a number that was unheard of at the time.
The film went on to make more than $US775 million worldwide.
Perhaps no one was more stunned by the film’s success than creator George Lucas himself.
During a Tribeca Film Festival panel Friday hosted by Stephen Colbert, Lucas recalled how no one thought the movie was going to be a hit — not himself, not 20th Century Fox, and not even his closest friends.
“I didn’t think the film was going to be successful,” Lucas said.
Colbert didn’t accept that.
“You must have thought at a certain point,” Colbert insisted. “At what point did you say to yourself, ‘I really got something here’?”
Lucas immediately responded, “No.”
“I showed it to all of my friends early on, but it was mostly [filled with] stock footage of old war movies, and all kinds of stuff,” he said. “They saw it and [said] ‘Poor George.’ ‘What were you thinking?'”
According to Lucas, the only one who said “Star Wars” was going to be a hit was his close friend Steven Spielberg.
“Steven had jumped up, and said, ‘This is going to be the biggest movie of all time,'” recalled Lucas. “Everybody in the room looked up at Steven and [said], ‘Poor Steven.'”
Lucas said his filmmaker friends helped him fix up “Star Wars” even though “they didn’t have any faith in it.”
They weren’t the only ones.
“The studio, the board [at Fox] didn’t have any faith in it,” he continued. “Even when we showed it at [an] ‘American Graffiti’ screening and everybody loved it.”
When “Star Wars” was preparing to debut May 1977, Lucas was prepping to head to Hawaii.
Lucas explained that’s just what he does when his films are coming out at theatres.
“I don’t read the reviews,” he said. “I just go, lay on a beach. Steven [Spielberg] was there.”
Before he was able to leave, Lucas said he received a call from Alan Ladd Jr., the then president of 20th Century Fox who was one of the few believers in the film. Ladd, who Lucas refers to as Laddie, was telling him, “It’s a fantastic hit! Every single paper! There are lines around the block. You can’t believe this!”
“Laddie, calm down,” said Lucas. “It’s a science fiction film. Science fiction films get a good old group of sci-fi fans. They will go to anything the first week. Wait for a couple weeks, and you’ll see what it’s really gonna do.”
For Lucas, it sounded a bit frustrating.
“[Originally] Nobody liked it [at the studio]. It hadn’t been shown to the real audience,” he explained to Colbert. “And then they called and said, ‘Oh, it’s a big hit.’ I said, ‘Well, look, let’s not get too excited here.'”
What finally convinced Lucas “Star Wars” was a phenomenon? A phone call while he was off vacationing in Hawaii.
“I got a call from Laddie after the first weekend. It was really like in the middle of the week,” recalled Lucas. “He called and said, ‘George, turn on the news.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Turn on CBS. Turn on the news. Walter Cronkite.’ You gotta see it.'”
“So I said, ‘What is it now?’ I turned on the news, and they had this huge story on the sensation of ‘Star Wars,’ and lines around the block. Everybody was going berserk about it,” said Lucas. “That was the first time I understood that it was a big hit.”
The six films in the “Star Wars” franchise have gone on to make over $US4.3 billion combined worldwide, according to figures from BoxOfficeMojo.
The entire franchise is estimated to be worth more than $US30 billion.
The seventh film in the saga, “The Force Awakens,” which Lucas won’t have a hand in, will be released in theatres December 18, 2015.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.