Release Year: 1977
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas
Jedi, lightsabers, Wookiees, Darth Vader, Tatooine, Mos Eisley—does this list have any meaning to you beyond being a jumble of nonsense words? Chances are it does, and the reason why can be found a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,
Star Wars has so heavily influenced pop culture that it needs no introduction. The film's imagery has become so pervasive that most people will recognize a Wookie as easily as they do an alligator.
Wait a sec—do alligators have the U- or V-shaped jaws?
Make that "most people will recognize a Wookie more easily than they do an alligator."
Alligators and Wookiees aside, it can be hard to believe today that Star Wars was a gamble, a film that bucked many of the Hollywood trends of its day. In the 1970s, popular movies featured morally ambiguous anti-heroes in dark gritty worlds (think Taxi Driver and The Godfather) but director and screenwriter George Lucas chose to focus on a classic tale about good, evil, and... lightsabers.
His hero (and by now our hero) is Luke Skywalker, a naïve boy living on the remote planet of Tatooine. After his family is killed by the evil Empire, Luke decides to help an aging warrior, Obi-Wan Kenobi, return two droids to the rebels. Luke's adventures lead him to gather a ragtag group of allies, battle an evil Empire, and rescue Princess Leia, a path that will lead him to his destiny as a Jedi knight.
Even though this back-to-basics storytelling seems like the furthest thing from a risk ever, it was totally out of left field in the American cinemascape. As journalist Bill Moyers notes:
Timing is everything in art. You bring out Star Wars too early and it's Buck Rogers; you bring it out too late and it doesn't fit our imagination. You bring it out just as the war in Vietnam is ending when America feels uncertain of itself and the old stories have died, and you bring it out at that time and suddenly it's a new game. Also, it's a lot of fun to watch Star Wars. (Source)
Star Wars: A New Hope hit theaters in 1977, which was perfect timing: everyone stopped disco-ing for two hours and took their velour jumpsuits to the movie theater. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards in 1978 and took home eight of the little gold men, including Best Editing, Sound, and Special Effects. (It did lose Best Picture to Annie Hall—shucks.)
The Jedi-love spread well beyond Hollywood. The film was a watershed moment in pop culture, spawning throngs of fans who wanted to buy anything with Star Wars on it: toys, t-shirts, records, pillows, perfumes, bathrobes, and even cookbooks—although what in Star Wars looks tasty, exactly? Aunt Beru's blue milk?
The hype train didn't stop there. Star Wars created a franchise Empire. With Lucas at the helm, the sci-fi film spawned seven sequels—did you think we forgot about The Clone Wars?—as well as a rich universe of lore-expanding books, comics, TV shows, and video games.
In 2012, Disney purchased Lucasfilms Ltd and the rights to Star Wars and announced plans to release one Star Wars movie every year for the foreseeable future, shifting the focus to a cinematic universe similar to Marvel's.
But it all—and we're including all of Harrison Ford's cinematic career in "it all"—started with a huge gamble that resulted in one, single sci-fi film.
Imagine a world without Star Wars.
No, but really. Remove from your memory every time you've heard "May the force be with you," and every time you tried to use Jedi mind tricks on your parents when they asked you to do your chores. (We can't have been the only nerdy preteen that attempted ye olde "These are not the droids you're looking for.")
Now remove every Star Wars reference in music—from Justin Bieber to Eminem to Kanye to Madonna to Queen. Now remove every Star Wars reference in TV shows and movies—from Friends to 30 Rock to The Big Bang Theory to Live Free and Die Hard to Superbad to Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
Those are just the trivial ways that Star Wars has changed, if not the galaxy, at least the world.
The impact of this one little movie is truly astronomical (space pun!). It can be argued that Star Wars has changed the moviemaking industry more than any other film. Its success changed how films were produced, how they were marketed, and how studios decided what movies to make.
Along with Jaws, Star Wars was one of the first summer blockbusters. In addition to referring to when a film drops, the term has become a genre in-and-of-itself, defining large, spectacle-driven films designed as money-making tent-poles for their respective studios.
However, Star Wars' greatest windfall came with its treatment of merchandising. During contact negotiations, Lucas deferred a $500,000 directing fee in return for the licensing and merchandising rights. Back in the day, neither was considered very valuable, so 20th Century Fox agreed to the deal. In the words of one pretty woman: big mistake. Huge.
Counting all seven movies, Star Wars has brought in $4.3 billion worth of revenue, but the toy sales alone have amassed $12 billion. This figure doesn't include books, comics, video games, clothing, pencils, buttons, cereal, fruit snacks—the list goes on. As mentioned in the 1977 Star Wars documentary, "Star Wars has spawned more star wares than anyone can count. It has become an inescapable phenomenon" (source).
With dollar signs in their eyes, studio execs have been chasing the Star Wars formula ever since. They greenlight more and more movies telling simple tales with characters displaying easily identifiable character traits. These blockbusters are action packed, special effects driven spectacles of escapism—but most importantly, they're the bedrock for huge merchandising campaigns.
Batman, The Lion King, Jurassic Park, the Marvel Cinematic universe, all have spawned a cavalcade of merchandise, in some cases when it was completely inappropriate. Robocop (1987) features a man whose skin melts from toxic waste before being violently run down by the hero—what's that doing with a line of toys and children's clothing?!
The next time you call someone a "young padawan," listen to Notorious B.I.G.'s "Hypnotize," binge-watch Buffy, buy an Iron Man action figure for your nephew or—hey—walk into the movie theater to escape the midsummer heat with some highly entertaining CGI-infused movie goodness, remember to mentally thank Star Wars.
On March 23, 1983, during the Cold War, President Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). The program aimed to create an anti-ballistics missile system that would deter missile attacks launched against the United States, but some of the proposals were a little out there—you know, space lasers, kinetic energy weapons, and the like. These super sci-fi ideas resulted in the program being nicknamed "Star Wars" in the media. (Source)
The scene where Luke and Leia swing across the bridge may have been performed on a sound stage, but it wasn't free of peril. The gap was built thirty feet in the air, and Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher performed the stunt with the help of a harness. The shot was done in a single take to capture the actors' genuine anxiety and excitement. (Source)
Before the film's release, George Lucas invited some friends to his private screening room to show them a rough cut of the film. It was seriously rough, too, with historic WWII battle footage in place of the unfinished special effects. (Source)
Luke Skywalker went through several changes while Lucas drafted Star Wars. At different points of the writing process, Luke was a girl, a 65-year-old military general, and had the last name of Starkiller. Hardly an appropriate name for a peace-loving Jedi, is it? (Source)
Star Wars' iconic Death Star attack drew inspiration from footage of WWII dogfights. However, as the authors of Fantastic Voyages point out, the only reason WWII fighter planes can maneuver as they do is because of air friction and Bernoulli's Principle. The vacuum of outer space does not allow for either of these, meaning the X-Wings could never have banked the way they do in the film. (Source)
Making the Kessel Run
Starwars.com is the official Internet home of all things Star Wars, and we mean all things.
It's not a Wookiee Wiki—although that is fun to say—but a fan wiki dedicated to the entire Star Wars universe.
You Don't Know Jack!
Did you know Jack Purvis played the Chief Jawa? This Star Wars IMDB page has plenty more trivia tidbits.
AFI Hearts Star Wars
AFI gives Lucas' film recognition on several of its Top 100 lists. Its Star Wars webpage is basically the Internet equivalent of a hallway trophy case.
Ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster, this Star Wars novel was released before the film to get people pumped. It was the first of many novels to come.
IGN explains the changes to the Star Wars canon heralded by Disney's ownership of the franchise. They also explain what it means to be "canonical."
Legen…Wait for It… Dary!
For more than thirty years, a legion of Star Wars novels, comics, and video games told stories that were officially part of the Star Wars mega-story. While no longer official, they are still loved by fans and are today known under the title "Star Wars Legends."
It Belongs in a Museum
Rose Eveleth becomes a celluloid archeologist in her search for the original cut of Star Wars that George Lucas doesn't want people to see.
Thumbs Way Up
Roger Ebert gave Star Wars four out of four stars in his 1977 review. He calls the film an out-of-the-body experience, which is a good thing… we think.
Steve Persall discusses the mythology behind Star Wars, including Lucas' study of Joseph Campbell's works.
What do Casablanca, Flash Gordon, and The Hidden Fortress have in common? Not much, but as Tim Robey points out, they are three of the ten films that inspired Star Wars either visually or from a narrative perspective.
Paying It Forward
G.S. Perno considers the twenty-five lessons that Star Wars taught future filmmakers.
A Long Time Ago
Writing for Time magazine, Richard Corliss looks at the thirty-five-plus-years-in-the-making phenomenon that is Star Wars.
Io9 brings together Marcelo Zuniga's videos documenting the various changes made to Star Wars over the years.
That 70's Documentary
Here is the first Star Wars documentary. First aired in September 1977, this documentary has that special 70's vibe.
This History Channel documentary discusses the science and technology of the Star Wars universe. You may not learn how to fashion a lightsaber, but you will learn a lot about plasma.
Celebrate Goof Films, Come On!
2015's Star Wars Fan Film Awards brought the serious and the silly together for a celebration of fan creations.
Fan on the Run
For the Star Wars Uncut project, fans split the film into 15-second scenes and recreated each in their individual styles. Editing the scenes back together, they refashion Star Wars as an eclectic mashup of pure love.
Here's a Star Wars sketch from Robot Chicken. Just 'cause.
Songs for Days
This soundtrack provides a track-by-track playlist of John Williams' classic score, everything from the main title to the throne room celebration.
"Epic" is an overused word these days, but is there a better one for the original Star Wars movie poster? Don't think so.
This Star Wars Episode IV Special Edition movie poster is all shiny to go with new special effects.
The original cast members pose for the camera in this vintage shot.
Behind the Scenes
Alec Guinness and George Lucas have a talk on the Tunisia set.
No Rest for the Wired
Kenny Baker and Anthony Daniels hang out in the desert as R2-D2 and C-3PO respectively.
This Tumblr page collects Star Wars fan art for your viewing pleasure.