It’s been over forty years since popular culture was changed pretty much overnight with the release of a single film, Star Wars, and today is the perfect day to reflect on its lasting impact. The film, simply titled “Star Wars,” was released in 1977 and quickly became the most popular singular film franchise in history with the release of two sequels during the early 80s. These films (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi) have since collectively been referred to as the “original trilogy” and serve as the core of a franchise that spawned many more films, television episodes, comic books, and, of course, merchandise.
Still, there are many that might schluff the whole thing off as silly. After all, it is a franchise known for its laser guns and space wizards. There will always be a segment of the population that are either not interested in such stories or simply dismiss the entire thing as too cartoonish, that Star Wars itself really doesn’t matter. Maybe there are more important things to think about.
Star Wars, however, does matter. There are two important ways in which the impact and importance of Star Wars can not be undersold. The first is the story in and of itself. The second is how the films have changed the way things are done in Hollywood.
The Story: Taking cues from the hero’s journey. The original Star Wars film begins with Luke Skywalker, a farmer thrown into a grand adventure of close calls and great escapes. Soon, he realizes his potential and family history that might have set him on his path, to begin with. The characters in this story – Darth Vader, Han Solo, Princess Leia, C-3P0, R2-D2, and Yoda – are all iconic. The story became a modern myth, and, much like how the stories of the Gods of Olympus bound together cultures from long ago, the characters and lore of Star Wars are known throughout every nation and culture today. The adventures contained within these films have spectacular action set-pieces, moments of great humor, and scenes of introspection. The themes that play out within these stories are timeless and universal.
Each character has a distinct voice and a memorable personality. Each battle is vivid and exciting. Each conflict feels important, and each film is optimistic. Suffice to say; it may be the greatest story about the battle between good and evil ever told.
How It Changed Movies: In order to produce the first film in 1977, whole technologies had to be created. Motion control photography was invented, creating impressive shots featuring spaceships engaging in exciting dogfights. A whole soundscape was created for the various weapons, vehicles, and alien creatures. Stunning matte paintings were made to extend the breadth of the impressive sets that had been constructed. The production design was impeccable, as each spaceship, each computer console, and even each doorway, and every piece of fantastic machinery, seemed like something that felt like something that actually worked. The music was bold and epic in scope but also contained tiny leitmotifs for each of the main characters. Despite all of the challenges that filmmakers faced, somehow that first film came together, and when it finally premiered, audiences hadn’t seen anything like it. The opening shot, which features a massive ship entering from overhead, was an instant hook. Audiences were immediately drawn into this fantastic world.
Even today, the most successful blockbusters have taken their cues from Star Wars. Action spectacles with mythological undertones, accompanied by moments of character-driven humor, are defining attributes of today’s biggest movies. Some of the greatest modern filmmakers set out in this business after being inspired by the first film or its subsequent sequels.
Star Wars matters because it is not just one of the greatest films for escapist entertainment. It was ahead of its time, and Hollywood realized that people wanted the theater excited and energized, having been able to leave their reality at the cinema entrance for a few hours. Once leaving the cinema, the story never really ended: kids now had new heroes to look up to and a template for new worlds they could imagine. People could share their love for Star Wars with others by showing new merchandise. The franchise has emboldened what is possible in the art of filmmaking. It has enriched the spirits of those who came to see it.
Check our website for several Star Wars feature stories to celebrate May the Fourth!