Visual effects icon Dennis Muren remembers the first time he saw Star Wars

Star Wars was finished just in time for the opening date, but Dennis Muren had already moved on to a new project without seeing the finished film. “As soon as it was over, I got to work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” he recalled. “In the middle of Close Encounters, I got walking pneumonia, so I couldn’t move around. That’s when, naturally, they had a cast and crew preview. [for ‘Star Wars’].”

Despite his condition, Muren dragged himself to the screening and watched the film to the end for the first time. “The theater was full,” he said. “Half the people who have been to the theater have never seen a single part of it. I was delirious watching this. like it used to be. I’ve never been to a major premiere that was successful.”

Muren compared this initial screening of Star Wars to the first screening of Stanley Kubrick’s other iconic sci-fi film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, which elicited a very different audience response. “Everyone’s like, ‘What the hell am I looking at?'” he said. “But [‘Star Wars’], they understood. That’s when I started thinking, “God, this could be something really big.”

But even at this point, Muren said that the prospects success of Star Wars were modest compared to the juggernaut of pop culture that it is today. “What does ‘really big’ mean?” he said about expectations then. “That means it will be in theaters for maybe six months or eight months. This is what it was in those days, but not at all what it became.”

Light & Magic is currently streaming on Disney+.

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