Return of the Jedi gave Star Wars an end (and a new beginning)

Although George Lucas self-financed the film, he maintained a distribution relationship with Fox, as it had been fruitful for both parties up to this point. One major difference this time around is that Return of the Jedi will be the first of the trilogy to release widely in its opening weekend, and debut in over 1,000 theaters. For comparison’s sake, “A New Hope” opened in barely over 40 theaters before it spread like wildfire, with “Empire” opening on just 126 screens.

“Return of the Jedi” hit theaters on Wednesday, May 25, 1983, six years to the day that “A New Hope” changed movies forever. On its opening day, the film grossed a record $6.2 million, on its way to setting a record at the time. $23 million three-day weekend and a total of $41 million over the Memorial Day weekend. It was a smash hit, as expected. The film stayed at the top of the charts for six of its first seven weeks of release, only briefly handing the crown to “Superman III” in its fourth weekend.

Finally, the finale of the trilogy came 375 million dollars in its original run. But over the years, thanks to various re-releases, that total has grown to more than $482 million, including a trip back into the top five at the box office earlier this year. While that wasn’t quite as much as A New Hope ($503 million premiere / $775 million so far) or Empire Strikes Back ($400 million debut / $549 million so far), the film still grossed 12 times as much. What was reported as a budget of $33 million even before the re-release in a theatrical spectacle was drastically altered by the success of the original Star Wars. It was a massive, relentless win that cemented Lucas as a visionary mind. Perhaps most importantly, however, it left forever fans wanting more.

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