Here’s Gary Kurtz, producer of Star Wars in a 1979 article from The Atlantic:
“The title Star Wars was an insurance policy. The studio didn’t see it that way; they thought science fiction was a very bad genre, that women didn’t like it, although they did no market research on that until after the film was finished. But we calculated that there are something like $8 million worth of science fiction freaks in the USA, and they will go to see absolutely anything with a title like Star Wars.”
Initial research from 20th Century Fox using the title and a brief synopsis came back with the results that only males under 25 were interested in seeing the film. Fox then deliberately marketed the film with a view to attracting older and female cinemagoers by pushing images of humans (including Princess Leia) centerstage and referring to the film in more mythic tones, rather than science fiction. IMDB
I read this today, in Andrew Stanton’s profile in the October 17th, 2011 edition of The New Yorker, in relation to the upcoming John Carter movie:
[Disney] also nervously lopped “of Mars” off the film’s title, to lower the barrier between women filmgoers–who are famously averse to sci-fi–and Taylor Kitch’s smoldering aura.
It’s… John Carter of Mars. It’s a stable of science fiction, quite literally the father of space opera, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and, ironically in this context, Star Wars.
Renaming it is in itself ridiculous; after all, every single remake coming to your local cineplex are there because you’re already familiar the name, making it easier to sell. Beyond that, to name it John Carter puts it in amongst movies like Joe Black, Jane Eyre, and Billy Elliot…
And let’s be honest here, the Barsoom series is one long male power fantasy. John Carter is strong, sexy, clever, as good with the flesh as with the steel. Unbearably so in the books, as it were.
Now, to be fair, John Carter is considerably more expensive than Star Wars was in its time, but considering the continuing popularity of Star Wars as a franchise–despite Lucas’s best attempts to alienate his original fanbase–not to mention the success of games like Half-Life, Halo, and Gears of War and TV series like Lost and Battlestar Galactica, movies like Inception or really any of the innumerable superhero movies, including such garbage as the recent Transformers movies… that by now Hollywood would trust the general public to succumb to either marketing, or simply, an idea, a solid, good movie even?