Sorry for the late reply. So, where to start.
First of all, "9% of its opening gross?" How large of a window do you think an opening entails? From the Wed ROTJ opened through its first Sun, it made $99.06M, adjusted. Fri-Sat it made $67.74M (still a damn good start for a modestly budgeted blockbuster today, 35 years later), which is 68.4%. Now, I'm going to assume you meant its entire initial run and not just opening, which you would be right. Of course, that doesn't change the point that the industry was going through a shift to having larger opening weekends, with films having less time in theaters. Sorry, it's just a fact.
My point is two-fold:
1) The idea that movies in general suddenly became significantly more front-loaded between 1977 and the very early 80s is without merit. The process was very slow and didn't really start to become apparent until the 90s, and it wasn't until this century when they reached their current levels of front-loading. The most front-loaded blockbusters of the 80s were almost all sequels to other hit films, and were still not nearly as front-loaded as most major films of today. Whatever change, if any, from 1977 to 1980-83 was imperceptibly small.
2) That, even if it was the truth that films rapidly became more front-loaded during the late 70s & early 80s, it is a complete red herring. Movies being more front-loaded shouldn't have any impact on lifetime grosses. That was the point of bringing up E.T. and Titanic. A New Hope was the event film of the past 70 years. While they didn't reach ANH's heights, E.T. and Titanic came damn close to it. They showed that people will still turn out in massive numbers to see a big event film. Even The Force Awakens showed that today, becoming the highest-grossing film of the past 20 years by a significant margin, and the third highest-grossing of the past 40 years (bested only by the aforementioned E.T. and Titanic), and second highest-grossing of its franchise.
There was absolutely no reason for The Empire Strikes Back to experience the massive 45% drop from A New Hope that it did. You and others like you seem to think that The Last Jedi should have grossed, what, at least 80% of TFA instead of ~65%? Had ESB and ROTJ both grossed 80% of what ANH did, their adjusted domestic grosses would have been well north of a billion dollars, putting them ahead of TFA. Yet they failed to do so, doing adjusted domestic numbers on par with what Forrest Gump and Jurassic World did years later, and your narrative is incapable of explaining why. The "It was increased front-loading/Changes in audience habits" argument doesn't work. The "It was home video" excuse proffered in previous threads on this subject doesn't work. It can't be blamed on TV broadcasts. In short, your attempt to argue that ESB dropped from ANH because of changes in the industry whereas TLJ dropped from TFA because "negative audience reaction" simply doesn't hold up under scrutiny. I get it. ESB is a classic film, regarded by many as the best in the series. But we don't get to invent special rules for it.
ANH was as mentioned a massive pop culture phenomenon, and remains the second highest-grossing film ever. Empire was never going to replicate that. It didn't have the novelty of the original. Put simply, fewer people felt it was worth seeing (or seeing as much for those who saw ANH multiple times). The Phantom Menace was the first new Star Wars film in 16 years. It did amazing numbers (#3 for the 90s; currently #8 for films of the "Blockbuster Era"). Neither of its sequels did anywhere near as well. The novelty had worn off. The Force Awakens again was the beneficiary of pent-up demand, plus it promised the return of classic characters as well as fresh new direction after George Lucas' missteps with the prequels. Meanwhile, The Last Jedi didn't have that same level of excitement or anticipation.
A New Hope, The Phantom Menace, and The Force Awakens all had a massive hype machine behind them. Their respective sequels did not, though they were still hit films in their own regard. The Last Jedi was never going to pull anywhere close to TFA numbers.
Oh, and in regards to the Special Editions, I don't know why you don't find that a valid point to bring up. 20th Century Fox did not make it a secret that the whole trilogy was getting a remastered re-release. The original trailer for the Special Editions (the one that started with with showing Star Wars on an old CRT TV on a blank black background) had footage from all three movies, ESB and ROTJ had their own SE trailers, and all three films got multiple TV spots. Everyone knew all three films were coming back to theaters. Despite this, audiences gave ANH most of their attention, because it's still the big event film that mainstream audiences will flock to. ESB and ROTJ... not so much.Last edited by Shadow1980 - on 14 September 2018