The development of George Lucas' original 1977 Star Wars was turbulent to say the least. The movie used top-of-the-line VFX and suffered from a bloated story that was saved in the edit. Nevertheless, the final polished version of the movie instantly became a cult classic.
Even before the release of Star Wars, there wasn't much faith in the space opera. In fact, the movie wasn’t expected to earn much money. Due to this, George Lucas' deal with 20th Century Fox gave him the sequel IP rights and all merchandising rights.
Star Wars memo shows Fox realising the movie will succeed
Despite Fox not believing in the project early on, they realised the movie would be a hit before release. Producer and filmmaker Charles de Lauzirika discovered original telegram messages from Fox showing an executive blindsided at the film's quality. The memo shows the company stating the movie should be treated bigger than “Jaws” and “The Godfather”.
The first page of the memo shows the executive blindsided by the success of the film:
“Over the past few months, we have been getting reports on Star Wars from various people who have worked on the film,” the memo says. “The reports have been so gratuitous that tended to take them with a grain of salt.”
“At the same time, I found our leading and most knowledgeable exhibitors terribly interested in the film almost to the extent that it it's their #1 choice of the summer pictures. Alan Ladd Jr. saw a rough assemblage without music, special effects or dubbing and as conservative a person as he is he just flipped claiming it is the best picture he has ever seen.
In the last few days George Lucas has shown the same rough material to some of the creative people who suggest our ad look and prepare our trailer material and without any prompting they are having the same reaction.”
Viewers were stunned at the movie’s immersion
Fox's memo shows an executive’s reaction to the reactions of others. In the memo, it claims the movie’s VFX are so realistic that they could come from “the year 2000 plus". Of course, as we know now, Star Wars would return by then to improve VFX once again.
The memo goes on to state:
“They claim the picture has a look never seen on the screen before... The best report for me is that it's so realistic and that you really do become involved with and care about all of the characters. It is quite possible Star Wars will emerge as the all-time box office champion.
I am saying the picture should get better treatment than Godfather, King Kong, Jaws, Poseidon or Towering Inferno.”
Obviously, Star Wars would eventually become one of the biggest franchises of all time. It was an important bookend to 70s cinema. After all, the franchise still a gigantic multi-billion IP to this day. Nevertheless, documents like this are an intriguing look at a time when Star Wars wasn't yet a cultural tent-pole.