There is nothing quite like seeing the beginning of the first Star Wars film. You are welcomed by a description that is reminiscent to the “once upon a time…” you read in old folktales or hear from your parents’ bedtime stories to put you to sleep. Then comes the flash of a movie title set among the stars, as it is accompanied by an opening score that is fit to greet kings and queens of old. As John Williams’ orchestra continues to play, a description is pulled up like a scroll from below the movie screen to give context to the following scene.
The music turns softer and merely whistles as you gaze upon the blackness of the galaxy. Three planets are shown to give you a sense of how small you are in the grand scheme of things. And while you enjoy the view, a game of cat and mouse is played by a small Rebel ship. What it is running away from is revealed seconds later: a terrifying, arrow-shaped starship called an Imperial Star Destroyer looms overhead, its grandiose size covering almost half of the screen as the orchestra builds its music to a crescendo. Those three planets’ sizes are now ineffective in comparison to the glorious power of the Empire. You are in awe. You are petrified. You have just witnessed one of the most powerful opening shots in film history.
The 70’s was a decade of growth, change, and struggle. Technology was advancing with inventions like video cassettes; video games; M.R.I.; and liposuction. On the other hand, Women’s Rights, LGBT Rights, and many other minority groups fought for equality. Protests grew for environmental change and to stop the bloody war in Vietnam. The formation of a “New Right” in the United States defended political conservatism and traditional family roles, while US President Richard Nixon’s actions weakened the faith of the people in the federal government.
Because of the growing distrust and divisions among the people, moralities were shaken. Good and bad were no longer black and white, but unclear and grey. Films such as The Godfather, The French Connection, or Taxi Driver, took advantage of the blurring lines between good and evil and dropped conventional heroic qualities such as idealism, courage, or morality. Characters who had these qualities were called antiheroes and took the spotlight in 70’s cinema.
An uncertain America and an uncertain world needed something to remind them of their core values. During that time, it wasn’t religion nor any political figure that did the job on making clear what is good or what is bad: it was Star Wars.
But before Star Wars became the success that it is today, it was just a raw concept formed by a young, idealistic filmmaker named George Lucas. Lucas had the idea of his space opera during the post-production of his film American Graffiti. It was on May 1973 that he distributed a 14-page outline of the script to distribute to several film studios. After being rejected by other studios, the script eventually found its way to 20th Century Fox. However, the finished script was too long for one movie, forcing Lucas to lengthen the first third of it into one movie and leave the rest for two future films. This firmly established the original Star Wars trilogy.
SUCCESS AND IMPACT
It was late spring, on the eve of May 25, 1977 in the USA. Opening in only about 40 theaters, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was thought to enter the movie scene and exit without any remembrance. Unknown to George Lucas, his crew, and to the whole world, what was to be a definite miss became one of the most important contributors to pop culture. The film defied conventional wisdom and won people with just its opening shot. Star Wars would proceed to break 36 house records, earning its title as the highest-grossing film of 1977 and the highest-grossing film of all time until E.T. The Extraterrestrial broke that record in 1982. It was eventually nominated for 11 Oscars and won 7 of them.
Thanks to its success, production for the sequel began, taking 3 years before its release. Lightning would strike twice in the case of The Empire Strikes Back, with its character-driven storyline and special effects that pushed boundaries, becoming the standard for sequels as it surpassed the original. Later, Return of the Jedi would be released in 1983, and while not getting the same amount of praise as did the previous film, it was still a film that many enjoyed. 16 years later, the prequels were developed, and years after that we have seen the new chapter in the Star Wars saga—Episode 7: The Force Awakens—and the newly released Rogue One.
After almost 4 decades, Star Wars continues to find its way into every person’s heart and soul, changing people’s perspectives. You look around and you see its influences everywhere: from religion, merchandise, and people’s normal conversations. It has become a fundamental part of our culture. Anyone could watch the films and relate to it because it tells a universal story: the story of a nobody who is destined for greatness. It is not the story of cultures or nationality, but about man leaving his environment to a life which everybody expects or desires to happen.
“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 imaginations. You bring it out just as the war in Vietnam is ending and 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. Plus it’s alot of fun. It’s a lot of fun to watch Star Wars.” -Bill Moyers
People have become part of the Star Wars franchise—not because we are in it—but because we grow up with it. I grew up watching the prequels, having watched the original trilogy only around my early teenage years. For others, they grew up watching the original trilogy…and for the next generation, they get to grow up with the next set of the franchise. Its ability to expand with more sequels, spin-offs, and even television series, makes it accessible to anyone of any age.
Even those who have never watched Star Wars knows of Darth Vader, the Death Star, Yoda, and Luke Skywalker. They are aware of them because these characters have changed pop culture and films themselves. When A New Hope came out, it brought back a sense of fantasy, wonder and made movies fun again. In a way, it was a new hope for the audience.
You do not hear about a Star Wars fandom because it reaches out to everyone. Its fans are not a small group and neither are they exclusive. There is no such thing as Star Wars culture because it is already part of our own.
What makes Star Wars so important is that it is no ordinary sci-fi…it has themes and lessons that I could discuss for hours. It is great on the surface level but is much more appreciated once you study it. It is a tale of epic heroes, villains, and monsters disguised under spaceships and lightsabers. The fact that its intro is “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” is enough to tell the audience that it is not just sci-fi; it is science fantasy. It is reminiscent of the past yet looking forward to the future.
This saga—inspired by different cultures and stories—made a whole mythology of its own, creating its own set of rules, worlds, and characters. Each episode has become a branch of this lore, telling a new part of its universe. It is why I cannot get myself to fully dislike the prequels, because they still explore and expand on ideas such as the Force or the origin of Darth Vader.
It also allowed a space for the youth to become interested in religions such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and many more. Almost every religion could relate its ideas and themes with the Force, which was created as a thin base for religion by George Lucas. The Force illustrated the light and the dark side and how both should remain in balance. It made clear on what is good and what is bad. It taught its audience that people of different races can unite and do so for mutual benefit…to show a sense of individuality and community, and to put that community before oneself.
Yes, in a way it is about galactic, epic struggles, but it is also about family at heart…A large myth focused on the Skywalker family set in deep space. It is about the sins of the father and how the father is redeemed by his own children. It is about transformation: from the rise of Anakin Skywalker to his fall as Darth Vader; from the nobody that was Luke Skywalker to the Jedi Knight he became. For me, it showed that you can decide to do good and have compassion or be part of the problem. It is not a grand decision…no one is forced to blow up a space station or face off against a pale, wrinkly emperor. Doing good can be a small act that is done every day in your life.
There is nothing quite like watching a Star Wars film. I believe that every generation will have their own episodes of Star Wars to grow up with. We owe it to them to have the same sense of awe we had when they see a starship fly overhead in the opening shot.
Decades from now, I still believe that Star Wars would remain relevant. Art is not dead as long as it has an audience. And Star Wars will never be dead unless it is a story no longer needed to be told. Into the future, like the tales of Iliad or Gilgamesh, Star Wars will remain…as a tale of long, long ago.
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