From the March 1979 issue of The Atlantic, a profile of George Lucas, who at the time was only two years removed from creating a cultural movement.
Star Wars was manufactured. When a competent corporation prepares a new product, it does market research. George Lucas did precisely that. When he says that the film was written for toys (“I love them, I’m really into that”), he also means he had merchandising in mind, all the sideshow goods that go with a really successful film. He thought of T-shirts and transfers, records, models, kits, and dolls. His enthusiasm for the comic strips was real and unforced; he had a gallery selling comic-book art in New York.
From the start, Lucas was determined to control the selling of the film, and of its by-products. “Normally you just sign a standard contract with a studio,” he says, “but we wanted merchandising, sequels, all those things. I didn’t ask for another $1 million — just the merchandising rights. And Fox thought that was a fair trade.” Lucasfilm Ltd., the production company George Lucas set up in July 1971, “already had a merchandising department as big as Twentieth Century-Fox has. And it was better. When I was doing the film deal, I had already hired the guy to handle that stuff.”
This article is like a time capsule of how the movie business used to work. Empire Strikes Back was a year away from release and there was no specific mention of it in the article. Star Wars opened in only 25 theaters and made only $9 million in the first two months. Those numbers don’t quite match those from Box Office Mojo but they are close enough, especially when you note that the film’s biggest grossing weekend was 43 weeks after the initial release.
Lucas, if you hadn’t heard, is donating the majority of the $4 billion he got from Disney for Lucasfilm to various charitable foundations.