Today is May 4th, or has it come to be known in recent years, Star Wars Day. Or, as you may have heard it said, “May the 4th Be With You.”
You can actually celebrate the first Star Wars movie twice this month, on the 4th, and especially on May 25th, with 2017 marking the 40th Anniversary of the original release of Star Wars in 1977. This got me to thinking what theaters in the Knoxville area showed the film upon its initial release.
Before I go into that, I should point out a little background on the release of the film across the entire country. According to in70mm.com Star Wars opened in 32 theaters on May 25th (which was on a Wednesday,) and by the first weekend, expanded to 43 theaters. If you’re curious for more details, read this article from 2003 about the release of the movie. There’s lots of great in depth info there.
The nearest theater to have the film upon release was the Showcase Cinemas in Louisville, KY. As the film grew to more and more theaters, certainly word of mouth must have spread around. As 20th Century-Fox made more prints of the film, it grew to more theaters. A comprehensive list of when and where the film opened as it grew wider is in this very extensive and well researched 2015 article at The Digital Bits. The first place in Tennessee to get the film was the Hermitage 4 theatre near Nashville on June 17th. As a matter of fact, it was the grand opening of that theater. What an time to open an new theater! Check out this article from The Tennessean for more.
The film finally made it to Knoxville on July 15th at the Cedar Bluff Twin theatre. If you’ll note on that list at the Bits, it got to the Tri-Cities before it got to Knoxville. That certainly is interesting, but oh well. Here is a gallery of some period advertisements from the Knoxville News-Sentinel:
Star Wars also started running in Oak Ridge at the Ridge Theater. It started there on July 29th and played there for 13 weeks. It also played at the Lakemont Drive-In in Maryville starting on August 10th. (As a side note, in research for this article, not long after Star Wars stopped playing at Lakemont, some rather seedy titles started to appear on its ads… go figure.)
Star Wars spend a mind boggling 21 weeks at the Cedar Bluff Twin. It was then replaced with (as shown in the gallery above) another big winner of 1977, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Fans of the sprawling epic needn’t have waited long to see it again, because it moved down Kingston Pike a bit and grew in epic scope and size, to the famed Capri-70 Theater, to be shown in the grand 70mm format! (Note: I am taking liberty here in assuming that the film was shown in 70mm. Since it’s a theater known for showing 70mm films, I think I can safely assume that it probably was 70mm… if anyone reading this happens to know, please do comment below and let me know!)
If I were there, I probably would go watch it at least twice a week, just for the experience. From my personal experience, seeing a 70mm film is just something to behold. Star Wars played here for another 13 weeks, finally ending its run on March 16th, 1978. It played for longer in bigger cities, but 34 consecutive weeks between two theaters is an impressive run. Movies would certainly never be the same again. Star Wars did appear again in Knoxville later in 1978, particularly at the then Cinema 6, which is known today as the Regal Downtown West 8 (and is one of my favorite theaters in the whole area!)
So, as we celebrate the 40th Anniversary of this great film, just think back to the first time you saw it. Whether it was in 1977 or some time after, try and remember the magic of that film unreeling before your eyes for the very first time. I guarantee you that neither you or I will ever have an experience quite like that ever again.
May the force be with you!