CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

What Star Wars, Apple and Buffy all have in common

When Star Wars first hit our galaxy, gas went for 65 cents a gallon and the Atari 2600 topped every kid's wish list. Let's time-warp back to 1977.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Expertise Breaking news, entertainment, lifestyle, travel, food, shopping and deals, product reviews, money and finance, video games, pets, history, books, technology history, generational studies. Credentials
  • Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year"​ award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Gael Cooper
6 min read
Enlarge Image

Everyone in the galaxy seemed to be at Mann's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California, when "Star Wars" premiered in May of 1977. The film played at just 32 theaters on opening day.

TCL Chinese Theatres

Want to blow your mind? 1977, the year the first "Star Wars" movie came out, is now closer to the end of World War II than it is to 2017. In 1977, World War II had ended 32 years ago, while "Star Wars" is now 40 years in our X-Wing's rear-view mirror.

Let's take a hyperdrive trip back 40 years, to 1977, a world that in some ways seems as alien as Mos Eisley. It truly was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

Enlarge Image

Hey, not so greedy with the blue Bantha milk, Luke! It's a whopping $1.44 a gallon (or at least regular Earth milk was in 1977). It's twice that now -- three times if you want organic.


Prices: Milking it

(All prices via inthe70s.com.)

If you mailed Chewbacca a fan letter (remember letters?) on your way home from "Star Wars," your US postage stamp cost 13 cents. Today? 49 cents.

If Aunt Beru's kitchen inspired you to buy a gallon of milk to turn into blue Bantha milk, that 1977 gallon cost $1.44 (£1.12, AU$1.96). Today, you'd better sell a lot of droids -- the price has about doubled, and organic milk can be triple the cost.

If you needed to gas up your equivalent of Luke's T-16 in 1977, it'd cost you just 65 cents for a gallon of gas(50 pence, 88 Australian cents). You younglings may not remember, but some of us actually wondered how gas could even sell for a dollar -- how would they even show a three-digit price on the pumps? But hey, those womp rats aren't gonna bulls-eye themselves.

Looking for your own Millennium Falcon to take a date to a late-night showing of the film? A new car in 1977 averaged $4,317 (£3,351, AU$5,851). If you wanted not just a new car, but a new model, 1977 was the year Chrysler reintroduced its LeBaron, which started out as a luxury car back in the 1930s. Also new on the market: The short-lived Lincoln Versailles (succeeded by the Continental in 1982), Pontiac Phoenix (replaced by the Grand Am in 1985), and the BMW 7 Series (still going!) also debuted that year.

In 1975, this dance called The Bump came out, and, well...even that doesn't explain this weird album cover.
Enlarge Image
In 1975, this dance called The Bump came out, and, well...even that doesn't explain this weird album cover.

In 1975, this dance called The Bump came out, and, well...even that doesn't explain this weird album cover.


Music: 'Sir Duke' meets Sir Luke

Musically, "Star Wars" was no "Guardians of the Galaxy." Luke and crew weren't zooming through space to the tunes of an Earth pop hit like Star-Lord and his Awesome Mix. (But ironically, the "Guardians" franchise leans heavily on the rockin' tunes of the 1970s and 1980s, when the original "Star Wars" trilogy was released.)


Click for full coverage.

The year 1977 started off with the raspy vocals of Rod Stewart -- the top hit on Jan. 1 was his"Tonight's The Night (Gonna Be Alright)," and it became the overall best-selling single of 1977 in the US. (Naturally, none of today's futuristic streaming or CD options existed -- we played it on vinyl, 7-inch singles, cassette tapes or even 8-tracks.) Stewart's "um, how old is she again?" lyrics landed the song a spot on at least one "Top 10 ickiest love songs" list.

But by the time "Star Wars" hit theaters, on May 25, musical tastes had moved on, and Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke,"a tribute to Duke Ellington and other musical pioneers, topped the US charts. It's also racked up some classic misheard lyrics, especially whoever thought "you can feel it all over, people" was "naked people all over Cleveland."

Not long after that, the blockbuster hit movie melded with the music industry in a very real way. Musician Meco (Domenico Monardo) watched the movie on opening day and was motivated to release a disco album inspired by the film. The "Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band" medley reached No. 1 on the US charts on Oct. 1. May the funk be with you.

Births and deaths: The King is dead

"Star Wars" wasn't the only hit to arrive in 1977. An eclectic group of babies were born that year -- they weren't old enough to see the film of course, but given time, they'd carve their own paths in the galaxy.

Shakira, Jason Mraz and Ludacris delivered their first musical yowls that year.

It was a good year for athletes too, with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., Olympic figure skater Oksana Baiul and Olympic gymnast Kerri Strug all arriving (even an Olympian has to crawl before he or she walks).

Actors Sarah Michelle Gellar of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fame, Zachary Quinto (new-era Spock) and comedian/host John Oliver also made their debuts. And so did Donald Trump Jr., the oldest son of Ivana and Donald Trump Sr. The junior Donald was born on New Year's Eve. You might have heard of him. His dad used to have a TV show.

Probably no death reverberated more in 1977 than that of Elvis Presley. The King of Rock and Roll was found dead on his bathroom floor (fittingly, not far from his, uh, throne) on Aug. 16 at age 42. It wasn't long before fans were claiming he wasn't dead, and Elvis sightings became a brief phenomenon along the lines of alleged Bigfoot appearances.

Other major deaths in 1977 included actress Joan Crawford on May 10 (possibly age 73, but her birth year has been disputed). Comedian Groucho Marx, U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers, actor Sebastian Cabot, activist Steven Biko, crooner Bing Crosby and opera star Maria Callas also died in 1977. And on Christmas Day that year, the world lost The Tramp, comedian Charlie Chaplin.

Back to the future

1977 seems in many ways like an easier time, in part because of the lack of the very things we love so much about 2017. But when "Star Wars" came out, here's how long you'd still have to wait for some of the inventions we take for granted today.

Amazon.com: 17 years
Harry Potter: 20 years
"The Sims": 23 years
Facebook: 27 years
iPhone: 30 years

Space flotsam: Other events of 1977

If you were looking to pick a year that saw the beginning of the Rise of the Geeks, you could do a lot worse than 1977. George Lucas' blockbuster movie was just one of the year's nerdy happenings.

On Jan. 1, the Commodore PET, considered the world's first all-in-one home computer, was demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago. (It was first sold on Sept. 3.) ... On Jan. 3, a little business called Apple Computer was incorporated (though it had been founded in 1976). ... On March 10, the rings of Uranus were discovered (stop laughing!) ... On May 17, Chuck E. Cheese opened. ... On May 27, just two days after "Star Wars" premiered, Space Mountain opened at Disneyland. ... On June 16, the Oracle Corporation was incorporated. ... On Aug. 12, the Space Shuttle Enterprise, named for Star Trek's beloved starship, flew on its own for the first time. ... On Aug. 20, Voyager 2 was launched. ... On Sept. 8, Interpol issued its famed copyright warning that appears on videocassettes and later DVDs. (You've seen it about a billion times if you've ever watched a home movie.) ... On Sept. 11, Atari released the beloved and long-running Atari 2600.

Star Wars in photos: 40 years of the Force

See all photos

Forty years later, 1977 may seem as if it existed in a different galaxy, but much of what it brought to the world lives on, from lightsabers and Stormtroopers to tech companies and talented entertainers. You can even still buy a flashback version of the Atari 2600, and there's a new Star Wars movie due in just over six months. Who says time travel isn't possible?

First published, May 13.
Update: May 24, 8:38 a.m. PT: Adds more details about 1977.

CNET Magazine: Check out a sampling of the stories you'll find in CNET's newsstand edition.

Life, Disrupted: In Europe, millions of refugees are still searching for a safe place to settle. Tech should be part of the solution. But is it? CNET investigates.

Watch this: Watch the Original 1977 'Star Wars' Trailer