May the 40th be with you: “Star Wars” opened on this day in 1977

Lucasfilm(LOS ANGELES) — May 25, 1977, fans were introduced to a galaxy far, far away. While 20th Century Fox had little faith a movie called Star Wars would be a hit, the space opera from young filmmaker named George Lucas became a worldwide cultural phenomenon. 

Forty years, and a handful of sequels, prequels, and follow-ups later, the multi-billion-dollar franchise is a popular as ever. 

After a successful re-launch with J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015, fans also flocked to the first stand-alone “anthology” movie, 2016’s Star Wars: Rogue One. In December we’ll see the eighth chapter of the core franchise, The Last Jedi

Next year comes a film about the early days of Han Solo, scheduled for a May 25, 2018 release, followed by Episode IX on May 24, 2019.  There’s also at least one other rumored stand-alone film about the early adventures of another fan favorite character.

Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker in the franchise, thanked fans for their years of dedication at a panel at the Star Wars Celebration in Orlando last month.

“It’s almost moving when you really think about how we’ve affected so many people, inspired so many people,” he told fans.  “[I]t’s generational — that it’s handed down: the original fans are grown, with children of their own.”

He added, “It’s a gift, and something I will never take for granted.” 

Of course, any Star Wars anniversary reminds us that Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia — later General Leia — is no longer with us.  In the latest issue of Vanity Fair, — which features different Star Wars stars on four different covers — Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy says the late actress was determined to be the hero of Episode IX, coming in 2019.

“The minute she finished [shooting Episode VIII], she grabbed me and said, ‘I’d better be at the forefront of IX!’ Because Harrison [Ford] was front and center on VII, and Mark [Hamill] is front and center on VIII,” says Kennedy. “She thought IX would be her movie. And it would have been.”

As for Hamill, he tells Vanity Fair, “I can’t say that phrase…Carrie’s name and then the ‘d-word.’  Because I think of her in the present tense. Maybe it’s a form of denial, but she’s so vibrant in my mind, and so vital a part of the family, that I can’t imagine it without her.”

Hamill also reveals that he and Fisher were “really attracted to each other” back in the day, and even had “make-out sessions,” until they decided to pull back for fear of harming their relationship.  In the Star Wars universe, of course, Luke and Leia were twins, but in that original film, they didn’t know that.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens December 15 from Disney, parent company of ABC News.

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