The Force Is With Us: “Star Wars” First Shown in Olympia in 1977

star wars history
Located at 710 4th Avenue in Olympia, this Star Wars mural is signed “Menes 1995.” Photo courtesy Jennifer Crooks.


By Jennifer Crooks

Capitol City Honda sponsorMost everyone these days has heard of “Star Wars,” the science fiction cinema phenomenon. The Star Wars epic has influenced popular culture and society from its inception in 1977. However, the premiere of the first “Star Wars” movie (later retitled “Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope”) in Olympia is not very well known even though it had by far the longest run of any movie locally up to that time. Telling the story of Luke Skywalker as he begins his battle against the evil galactic Empire, the movie was a big hit across the nation as well as in Olympia, spinning off a franchise that still is going strong today.

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The State Theater, built in 1949, showed “Star Wars” in 1977. This building is now home to Harlequin Productions. Photo courtesy Karen Crooks.

“Star Wars” opened nationally on May 25, 1977. However, the movie would take a long time getting to Olympia. While the Olympia area had several movie theaters at the time, they typically showed a single movie title for a couple of weeks because they only had a limited number of screens. It could be months or even years between the national premiere of a movie and when it would be shown in Olympia. “Star Wars,” despite its popularity, was one of these movies.

Although a glowing review of “Star Wars” by Bernard Drew of Garrett News Service (“‘Star Wars’ Best Since ‘2001’?”) was published on June 10 in The Daily Olympian newspaper, the movie would still take a month to arrive in Olympia. People who did not want to wait could go to Tacoma or Seattle theaters. Perhaps some Olympians even went to see the main cast of the movie when Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill visited Seattle in mid-June during a promotional tour for the movie.

“Star Wars” finally premiered in Olympia on July 8, 1977 at the State Theater (704 E. Fourth Avenue.) The movie proved incredibly popular. Lines of eager people snaked around the block, some waiting over an hour to find out that the tickets were all sold out for the day.

Although the lines would shrink over time, the enthusiasm and high attendance would not. While weekdays tended to be slack, weekends could be bustling. On October 1 and 2 over 1,700 people attended the showing of “Star Wars” at Olympia’s State Theater. Several special matinees were held for children on other dates. By October 18 and after 320 trips through the projector, the film was starting to wear out so a replacement was requested. According to the manger of the theater, the overworked projectionist finally took a vacation around this time.

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“Darth Vader” greets children at Seattle’s Bon Marche department store on April 1, 1981. The author’s parents, both Olympians, attended. Photo courtesy Drew and Karen Crooks.

Those hoping for “Star Wars” souvenirs would have to be patient. The theater was supposed to be selling merchandise such as T-shirts and souvenir booklets but the shipment never arrived. These items, now prized by collectors, later became available at variety and discount stores in the area. But everyone could enjoy, for free, a display at the Ken Meixner Lincoln-Mercury-International car dealership (2516 E. 4th Avenue). The business displayed, as advertised in the paper for October 21, “a decorated van to gladden the hearts of R2D2, C3PO and Luke Skywalker!!”

“Star Wars” in Olympia attracted all types of moviegoers: young, middle age and elderly. When interviewed on October 18, Vicki Fine, manager of the State Theater, commented that “almost everybody that sees Star Wars likes it” and was impressed at the audience’s emotional reaction. “They stomp their feet, shout and scream. It’s unreal what the movie does to some people.” She recalled that some people saw the movie every day for the first two or three weeks.

The movie remained quite popular and was shown for many weeks with daily matinees, evening showings and weekend matinees. By the end of its 14th week over 59,300 people had attended the movie in Olympia.

Attendance slacked off a little after initial enthusiasm, but picked up again after the September 16 showing of the ABC special “The Making of Star Wars” on TV. “Star Wars” was almost pulled by October 20, however it defied expectations and lasted all the way to December 20, 1977. It then closed and the State Theater started playing “Oh, God!” (1977) the next day.

“Star Wars” was thus shown for 24 shockingly successful weeks in Olympia, the longest run of any movie in the city up to that time.

star wars history
Located at 710 4th Avenue in Olympia, this Star Wars mural is signed “Menes 1995.” Photo courtesy Jennifer Crooks.

That was certainly not the end of “Star Wars.” The original movie would reappear in Olympia theaters with various re-releases. Its sequels, “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) and “Return of the Jedi” (1983), would also be incredibly popular. The franchise would return to the silver screen with several prequels: “The Phantom Menace” (1999), “Attack of the Clones” (2002) and “Revenge of the Sith” (2005). “Star Wars” entered a new era with two recent animated television series: “The Clone Wars” (2008-2014) and “Rebels” (2014-present).

The “Star Wars” phenomenon still remains a powerful force in our culture, beloved by fans and recognized by all. At the same time, the entertainment heritage of the State Theater lives on in Olympia as it is now the home of Harlequin Productions. This professional not-for-profit theater company is a major cultural institution in the Capital City, producing a wonderful array of plays for public enjoyment.


Oakland, Mark. “Star Wars Sets Long Run Mark.” The Daily Olympian (Olympia, WA). Tuesday October 18, 1977, A7.

Windham, Ryder, Daniel Wallace and Pablo Hidalgo. “Star Wars Year By Year: A Visual Chronicle.” New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2012.

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