On this day in pop culture history: ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Return of the Jedi’ premiered
39 years ago today, audiences were first taken to the galaxy far, far away that would deeply embed itself in popular culture and ignite the imaginations of sci-fi fans for generations to come.
Star Wars opened in theaters on May 25, 1977, the Wednesday before Memorial Day that year. (Yep, next year we’ll be celebrating the 40th anniversary of Star Wars.) The film that would launch one of the biggest cultural phenomenons of all time started small, opening in fewer than 40 theaters. But when the movie started to break records in its small release, 20th Century Fox accelerated its release plans. Soon audiences across the world were captivated by the Millennium Falcon and binary sunsets and lightsaber duels.
Six years to the day after the release of the first film, Return of the Jedi opened in theaters. The Empire Strikes Back had hit theaters in May 1980, when Star Wars was a summer and not a Christmas event.
Sometime after that May 1977 opening weekend, an 11-year-old boy saw Star Wars at a theater called Avco in Westwood, CA. Avco would become the code name for the production of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, directed by that boy, J.J. Abrams.
Other notable May 25 happenings in pop culture history:
• 1968: Simon & Garfunkel album Bookends hit No. 1 on Billboard’s album chart. The duo had a place on top of on the chart for 16 consecutive weeks that year with Bookends and The Graduate soundtrack.
• 1977: The final Brady Bunch Hour (eight variety show installments starring the cast of The Brady Bunch) aired on ABC.
• 1979: Alien began its run in U.S. theaters.
• 1990: You Can’t Do That on Television — the show that had introduced Nickelodeon’s iconic green slime — aired its final episode.
• 1990: Back to the Future Part III opened in theaters.
• 1992: Jay Leno debuted as host of The Tonight Show following the departure of Johnny Carson from the NBC late night show.
• 2001: Michael Bay film Pearl Harbor opened in theaters.
• 2010: The season 10 finale of Dancing with the Stars aired. The Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger won the competition.
• 2010: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the third novel in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, was released in the U.S. and Canada, after having been released in Sweden in 2007. It was the top-selling book of 2010, according to Publishers Weekly.
• 2011: The Oprah Winfrey Show aired its final episode, after 25 years dominating daytime TV.