In 1977 Lucas was working tirelessly on the first Star Wars film A New Hope (which was simply titled Star Wars at the time). Although he had put a lot of heart, soul, and money into the project, he began to get a little nervous about its performance at the box office. His nerves got worse when he visited the set of Steven Spielberg‘s latest movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Spielberg recalled years later: “George came back from Star Wars a nervous wreck. He didn’t feel Star Wars came up to the vision he initially had. He felt he had just made this little kids’ movie.
“He came to Mobile, Alabama where I was shooting Close Encounters on this humongous set and hung out with me for a couple of days.
“He said: ‘Oh my God, your movie is going to be so much more successful than Star Wars. This is gonna be the biggest hit of all time.'”
In an attempt to make back some money that he thought he was going to lose, Lucas decided to place a bet with Spielberg over their two science fiction films.
Lucas asked: “You want to trade some points? I’ll give you two and a half percent of Star Wars if you give me two and a half percent of Close Encounters.”
Spielberg was happy to oblige. He replied: “Sure, I’ll gamble with that, great.”
Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a great success. It earned $300 million at the box office.
It also won two Oscars: One for Best Cinematography and another for Best Sound Effects Editing.
But, by the end of the year Star Wars had earned more than $500 million at the box office.
This hefty sum meant Star Wars had earned Spielberg a staggering $12.5 million in residuals – just off that two point five percent the directors traded.
Even today, 44 years later, Star Wars is earning Spielberg unbelievable amounts of money.
Spielberg went on to add: “Close Encounters made so much money and rescued Columbia from bankruptcy. It was the most money I ever made, but it was a meagre success story.”
Spielberg said: “Star Wars was a phenomenon and I was the happy beneficiary of a couple of points from that movie which I am still seeing money on today.”
The two directors worked together so well that, a decade later, they started the Indiana Jones franchise, where they made three films together.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is on Netflix now.
The Star Wars saga is on Disney Plus now.