May 25, 1977. Star Wars: A New Hope is released to the public. People hope it'll do well. It does really really well. What happens next is a rollercoaster of 39 years where it gains genuinely cult popularity and seven films. You get the picture, you know all about it. It's a big deal. A huge deal.
But what did critics actually think about George Lucas' original film, way back in 1977? Before any notion of trilogies, prequels and sequels warped expectations? How did this sci-fi saga begin, free of the modern media hype?
Assembled below are some of the most interesting words of critical response written back in May 1977 for Lucas' Star Wars. Let's just say the response was mixed...
(Images: Allstar PL)
New York Magazine
O dull new world! We are treated to a galactic civil war, assorted heroes and villains, a princely maiden in distress, a splendid old man surviving from an extinct order of knights who possessed a mysterious power called "the Force," and it is all as exciting as last year's weather reports...
The one exception is the instantaneous voyage through hyperspace, the bugbear of science fiction writers who know perfectly well, because of the laws of physics, that galactic empires will never be more than a fantasy if spacemen cannot leap through hyperspace wherever and whenever they choose.
The New Yorker
It’s an epic without a dream. But it’s probably the absence of wonder that accounts for the film’s special, huge success. The excitement of those who call it the film of the year goes way past nostalgia to the feeling that now is the time to return to childhood.
The New York Times
It's difficult to judge the performances in a film like this. I suspect that much of the time the actors had to perform with special effects that were later added in the laboratory. Yet everyone treats his material with the proper combination of solemnity and good humour that avoids condescension... Star Wars is good enough to convince the most sceptical eight-year-old sci-fi buff, who is the toughest critic.
The New Republic
This picture was made for those (particularly males) who carry a portable shrine within them of their adolescence, a chalice of a Self that was Better Then, before the world's affairs or — in any complex way — sex intruded.
The Hollywood Reporter
Much of the comedy relief is provided by a nagging, pessimistic robot (Anthony Daniels) and a self-propelled computer (Kenny Baker), who are two of the most adorable characters ever to enliven a film. David Prowse is commanding as Lord Darth Vader, a Jedi Knight who has sold out to evil, and Peter Mayhew is amusing as Chewbacca, a simian (right out of Planet of the Apes) who is Solo's first mate.
Like a breath or fresh air, Star Wars sweeps away the cynicism that has in recent years obscured the concepts of valor, dedication and honor. Make no mistake – this is by no means a “children’s film,” with all the derogatory overtones that go with that description. This is instead a superior example of what only the screen can achieve, and closer to home, it is another affirmation of what only Hollywood can put on a screen.
It isn't the best film of the year, it isn't the best science fiction ever to be translated to the screen, it isn't a number of other things either that sweating critics have tried to turn it into when faced with finding some plausible explanation for its huge and slightly sinister success considering a contracting market.
Star Wars is monumentally empty, based on not a single idea but a wealth of conceits. Most of these are recognition effects… The discrepancy between the naivety the film pretends to and the know-how (and knowingness) that went into its making results in strange lacunae and a resounding emptiness overall.
The Washington Post
Stockholders in 20th Century-Fox may be coming into another sort of reward. Star Wars is virtually certain of overwhelming popular and critical success. It has a real shot at approaching the phenomenal popularity of "Jaws," and I wouldn’t be surprised to discover "Star Wars" in the runner-up position among modern hits before the year is out.