I remember seeing this at the old Embassy Theater on Market Street in San Francisco when it was about a year old. (The Embassy was not a first-run theater. They specialized in triple features, and every day you could play Ten-O-Win for swell prizes!) It was totally unexpected, and this old SF fan was delighted. Nothing I’d seen was remotely like it. Even though it was clear that it had been made on a low budget, this Lucas fellow had squeezed the best out of every dime. He shot in the Frank Lloyd Wright Marin County building, and in the still uncompleted BART tunnels. Everyone wore white, everyone had a shaved head. The sound track was a weird mix of stuff, and this dystopia was more real than anything I had ever seen. There were long scenes in a vast studio painted all white, which seemed to have no boundaries. And one of the best touches of all were the robot policemen. Black leather and silver faces and white helmets, a mix of the familiar and the futuristic. (One of them was Johnny Weissmuller Jr.!)
It was a failure at the time, but now is widely regarded as a minor masterpiece. It was the first feature film by George Lucas, expanded from a short he made for film school. (Did you know Lucas has only directed six films? Four of them were Star Wars.) I found a “special” DVD of the film, and because Lucas likes to monkey with his films long after release, it is an updated version, about two minutes longer, and with quite a few scenes pumped up with CGI added in to make it look bigger than it was. I sort of wish I had the original version. Part of its attraction was how small it was, small and economical. Now some parts of it look just like your typical 21st century epic. But the small parts remain, and are the best parts.