Star Wars (film)

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Star Wars
Film poster showing a man triumphantly holding a laser sword in the air, a woman sitting beside him, and two robots staring at them. A figure of the head of a helmeted man and a space station with several starships heading towards it are shown in the background. Atop the image is the text "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." Below is shown the film's logo, above the credits and the release details.
North American theatrical release poster by Tom Jung[1]
Directed by George Lucas
Produced by Gary Kurtz
Written by George Lucas
Starring
Music by John Williams
Cinematography Gilbert Taylor
Edited by
Production
  company
Lucasfilm
Distributed by 20th Century Fox1
Release date(s)
  • May 25, 1977 (1977-05-25)
Running time 121 minutes[2]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $11 million[3]
Box office $775,398,007[3]

Star Wars (later retitled Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) is a 1977 American epic space opera film written and directed by George Lucas. The film stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, and Alec Guinness. In the story, a group of freedom fighters known as the Rebel Alliance and led by Princess Leia, plots to destroy the Death Star space station, which carries a planet-destroying capability created by the Galactic Empire. This conflict disrupts the isolated life of farmboy Luke Skywalker when he inadvertently acquires the droids containing the stolen plans for the Death Star. After the Empire begins a destructive search for the missing droids, Skywalker agrees to accompany Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi on a mission to return the Death Star plans to the Rebel Alliance and save the galaxy from the tyranny of the Galactic Empire.

Lucas began writing the script to Star Wars after completing American Graffiti. He based the plot outline on The Hidden Fortress, and the Flash Gordon serials. Lucas approached Alan Ladd, Jr. after United Artists and Universal Pictures rejected his script, and it was decided that the project would be financed and released through 20th Century Fox. Shot mostly in Tunisia, England, and Guatemala, the film was met with numerous problems during production, including bad weather conditions, malfunctioning equipment, and financial difficulties. The script underwent numerous changes, and Lucas founded Industrial Light & Magic specifically to create the groundbreaking visual effects needed for the film.

Star Wars was released theatrically in the United States on May 25, 1977. The film earned $460 million in the United States and $314 million overseas, surpassing Jaws (1975) to become the highest-grossing film until it was itself surpassed by E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in 1983. When adjusted for inflation as of 2013, the film is the second highest-grossing film in the United States and Canada, and the third highest-grossing film in the world. The film received 10 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, winning six. The film is often ranked as one of the best films of all time. Star Wars was selected to become part of the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in its first year of opening, becoming the most immediate addition at the time, as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." The film's soundtrack was added to the United States National Recording Registry 15 years later.

Lucas has re-released Star Wars a number of times, incorporating notable changes such as modified computer-generated effects, altered dialogue, re-edited shots, remixed soundtracks, and added scenes. Following the film's massive success, it spawned two sequels: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), both of which became critically and commercially successful. A prequel trilogy was released between 1999 and 2005, and a sequel trilogy is currently in development, with a number of the major cast members from the 1977 film returning for Star Wars Episode VII, scheduled for release in 2015.[4]

Plot[edit]

The galaxy is in a civil war, and spies for the Rebel Alliance have stolen plans to the Galactic Empire's Death Star, a heavily armed and armored space station capable of destroying an entire planet. Rebel leader Princess Leia is in possession of the plans, but her ship is captured by Imperial forces under the command of the evil lord Darth Vader. Before she is captured, Leia hides the plans in the memory of an astromech droid called R2-D2, along with a holographic recording. The small droid flees to the surface of the desert planet Tatooine with fellow protocol droid C-3PO.

The droids are captured by Jawa traders, who sell the pair to moisture farmers Owen and Beru and their nephew, Luke Skywalker. While Luke is cleaning R2-D2, he accidentally triggers part of Leia's message, in which she requests help from Obi-Wan Kenobi. The only "Kenobi" Luke knows of is an old hermit named Ben Kenobi who lives in the nearby hills. The next morning, Luke finds R2-D2 searching for Obi-Wan, and meets Ben Kenobi, who reveals himself to be Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan tells Luke of his days as a Jedi Knight, one of a faction of former galactic peacekeepers with supernatural powers derived from an energy field called the Force, who were wiped out by the Empire. Contrary to his uncle's statements, Luke learns that his father fought alongside Obi-Wan as a Jedi Knight before he was betrayed and killed by Vader, Obi-Wan's former pupil who turned to the dark side of the Force. Obi-Wan then offers Luke his father's lightsaber.

Obi-Wan views Leia's complete message in which she begs him to take the Death Star plans to her home planet of Alderaan and give them to her father for analysis. Obi-Wan invites Luke to accompany him to Alderaan and learn the ways of the Force. Luke initially declines, but changes his mind after discovering that Imperial stormtroopers searching for C-3PO and R2-D2 have destroyed his home and killed his aunt and uncle. Obi-Wan and Luke hire smuggler Han Solo and his Wookiee first mate Chewbacca to transport them on their ship, the Millennium Falcon. Upon the Falcon's arrival at Alderaan, they find out that the planet has been destroyed by order of the Death Star's commanding officer, Grand Moff Tarkin, as a demonstration of the Death Star's power. The Falcon is captured by the Death Star's tractor beam and brought into its hangar bay. While Obi-Wan goes to disable the tractor beam, Luke discovers that Leia is imprisoned aboard and, with the help of Han and Chewbacca, rescues her. After several harrowing escapes, the group makes its way back to the Falcon. Obi-Wan engages in a lightsaber duel with Darth Vader and is killed. The Falcon escapes the Death Star, unknowingly carrying a tracking device that enables the Empire to follow it to the rebels' hidden base on Yavin IV.

The rebels analyze the Death Star plans and identify a vulnerable exhaust port that connects to the station's main reactor. Luke joins the rebel assault squadron, while Han collects his payment for the transport and intends to leave despite Luke's request that he stay and help. In the ensuing battle, the rebels suffer heavy losses after several unsuccessful attack runs, leaving Luke one of the few surviving pilots. Vader leads a squad of TIE fighters and prepares to attack Luke's X-wing ship, but Han returns and fires on the Imperials, sending Vader spiraling away. Helped by spiritual guidance from Obi-Wan to use the Force, Luke successfully destroys the Death Star seconds before it can fire on the rebel base. Leia later awards Luke and Han with medals for their heroism.

Cast[edit]

The three lead protagonists of Star Wars (from left): Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Han Solo (Harrison Ford)
Anthony Daniels was convinced to take the role of C-3PO after seeing a design drawing of the character's face
  • Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker: a young man raised by his aunt and uncle on Tatooine, who dreams of something more than his current life. Lucas favored casting young actors without long-time experience. To play Luke (then known as Luke Starkiller), Lucas sought actors who could project intelligence and integrity. While reading for the character, Hamill found the dialogue to be extremely odd because of its universe-embedded concepts. He chose to simply read it sincerely, and he was selected instead of William Katt, who was subsequently cast in the Brian De Palma-directed Carrie (Lucas shared a joint casting session with De Palma, a long-time friend of his).[5][6]
  • Harrison Ford as Han Solo: a cynical smuggler hired by Obi-Wan and Luke to take them to Alderaan in his ship, the Millennium Falcon, which is co-piloted by Chewbacca. Lucas initially rejected casting Ford for the role, as he had previously worked with him on American Graffiti. Instead, he asked Ford to assist in the auditions by reading lines with the other actors and explaining the concepts and history behind the scenes that they were reading. Lucas was eventually won over by Ford's portrayal and cast him instead of Kurt Russell, Nick Nolte,[6] Sylvester Stallone,[7] Christopher Walken, Burt Reynolds, Billy Dee Williams (who later played Lando Calrissian in the sequels), and Perry King (who later played Han Solo in the radio plays).[5][8]
  • Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia: a member of the Imperial Senate and leader of the Rebel Alliance. Many young actresses in Hollywood auditioned for the role of Princess Leia, including Amy Irving,[6] Terri Nunn and Cindy Williams,[5] and Jodie Foster. Foster turned down the role because she was already under contract with Disney and working on two films at the time.[9] Carrie Fisher was cast under the condition that she lose 10 pounds for the role.[10]
  • Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin: the commander of the Death Star and a Regional Governor of the Galaxy. Aware that the studio disagreed with his refusal to cast big-name stars, Lucas signed veteran stage and screen actor Peter Cushing as Tarkin.[5] Lucas originally had Cushing in mind for the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, but Lucas believed that "his lean features" would be better employed as an antagonist, so Cushing was given the role of Grand Moff Tarkin instead. Lucas commended Cushing's performance, saying "[He] is a very good actor. Adored and idolized by young people and by people who go to see a certain kind of movie. I feel he will be fondly remembered for the next 350 years at least." Cushing, commenting on his role as Grand Moff Tarkin, joked: "I've often wondered what a 'Grand Moff' was. It sounds like something that flew out of a cupboard."[11]
  • Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi: an aging Jedi who fought during the Clone Wars, and who introduces Luke to the Force. Lucas needed an established actor for the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Producer Gary Kurtz said, "The Alec Guinness role required a certain stability ... which meant we needed a very, very strong character actor to play that part."[5] Before Guinness was cast, Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune (who starred in Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress) was considered for the role.[6] Guinness was one of the few cast members who believed that the film would be successful; he negotiated a deal for 2% of the one-fifth gross royalties paid to George Lucas, which made him quite wealthy in later life. He agreed to take the part of Kenobi on the condition that he would not have to do any publicity to promote the film.[12] Lucas credited him with inspiring the cast and crew to work harder, saying that Guinness contributed significantly to the completion of the filming.[13] Harrison Ford said, "It was, for me, fascinating to watch Alec Guinness. He was always prepared, always professional, always very kind to the other actors. He had a very clear head about how to serve the story."[5]
  • Anthony Daniels as C-3PO: a protocol droid who speaks over six million languages. Daniels auditioned for and was cast as C-3PO; he has said that he wanted the role after he saw a Ralph McQuarrie drawing of the character and was struck by the vulnerability in the robot's face.[5][14] Initially, Lucas did not intend to use Daniels' voice for C-3PO. 30 well-established voice actors read for the voice of the droid. According to Daniels, one of the major voice actors, believed by some sources to be Stan Freberg, recommended Daniels' voice for the role.[5][15]
  • Kenny Baker as R2-D2: an astromech droid who is carrying the Death Star plans and a secret message for Obi-Wan from Princess Leia. Baker was in London, performing a musical comedy act with his acting partner Jack Purvis, and learned that the film crew was looking for a small person to fit inside a robot suit and maneuver it; Baker, who is 3 ft 8 in (1.12 m) tall, was cast immediately after meeting George Lucas. He said, "He saw me come in and said 'He'll do' because I was the smallest guy they'd seen up until then." He initially turned down the role three times, hesitant to appear in a film where his face would not be shown and hoping to continue the success of his comedy act, which had recently started to be televised.[16]
  • Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca: Han Solo's sidekick, a 200-year-old Wookiee, and first mate of the Millennium Falcon. While filming in London, where additional casting took place, Mayhew was immediately cast as Chewbacca after he stood up to greet Lucas.[17] He was reported to have gotten into character by mimicking the mannerisms of animals he saw at public zoos.[12]
  • David Prowse as Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones): a Dark Lord of the Sith and a prominent figure in the Galactic Empire, who hopes to destroy the Rebel Alliance. Lucas originally intended for Orson Welles to voice Vader (after dismissing using Prowse's own voice due to his English West Country accent). After deciding that Welles' voice would be too recognizable, he cast the lesser-known James Earl Jones instead.[6]

Other characters included: Owen and Beru, Luke's uncle and aunt, portrayed by Phil Brown and Shelagh Fraser, respectively; Jack Purvis, Kenny Baker's partner in his London comedy act, portrayed the Chief Jawa in the film; Eddie Byrne performed the role of General Vanden Willard, a general during the Galactic Civil War; actors Denis Lawson and Garrick Hagon were cast as rebel pilots Wedge Antilles and Biggs Darklighter (also Luke's childhood friend), respectively.

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

George Lucas, the director and writer of Star Wars, shown here in 2007. He was unsuccessful in pitching his idea to both United Artists and Universal Studios because the idea was "a little strange". Eventually, Lucas presented the treatment to 20th Century Fox, and the film was approved.[18]

Elements of the history of Star Wars are commonly disputed, as George Lucas's statements about it have changed over time.[a 1] As early as 1971, after he completed directing his first full-length feature THX 1138, Lucas has said that it was around this time that he first had an idea for a space fantasy film,[19] though he has also claimed to have had the idea long before then.[20] Originally, Lucas wanted to adapt the Flash Gordon space adventure comics and serials into his own films, having been fascinated by it since he was young. He said, "I especially loved the Flash Gordon serials... Of course I realize now how crude and badly done they were... loving them that much when they were so awful, I began to wonder what would happen if they were done really well."[21]

At the Cannes Film Festival in May following the completion of THX 1138, Lucas was granted a two-film development deal with United Artists; the two films were American Graffiti, and an idea for a space opera he called The Star Wars. That same time, Lucas also pushed towards buying the Flash Gordon rights. With his friend and director Francis Ford Coppola, Lucas traveled to New York to secure financing for American Graffiti from United Artists, and took a side trip to King Features Syndicate (publisher and rights owner of the Flash Gordon comic strip and character).[21] However, he ended up unsuccessful, saying "They said they wanted Federico Fellini to direct it, and they wanted 80 percent of the gross, so I said forget it. I could never make any kind of studio deal with that."[21] After that, Lucas went to United Artists and showed the script for American Graffiti, but they passed on the film, which was then picked up by Universal Studios.[22] United Artists also passed on The Star Wars, which Lucas shelved for the time being.[23] After spending the next two years completing American Graffiti, Lucas turned his attention to The Star Wars.[22]

Lucas began his creation process by taking small notes, inventing odd names and assigning them possible characterizations. Lucas would discard many of these by the time the final script was written, but he included several names and places in the final script or its sequels. He revived others decades later when he wrote his prequel trilogy. He used these initial names and ideas to compile a two-page synopsis titled Journal of the Whills, which told the tale of the training of apprentice CJ Thorpe as a "Jedi-Bendu" space commando by the legendary Mace Windy.[24] Frustrated that his story was too difficult to understand,[25] Lucas then began writing a 13-page treatment called The Star Wars on April 17, 1973, which had thematic parallels with Akira Kurosawa's 1958 film The Hidden Fortress.[26]

After United Artists rejected to budget the film, Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz presented the film treatment to Universal, the studio that financed American Graffiti; however, it passed on its options for the film because the concept was "a little strange" and said that Lucas should follow American Graffiti with more consequential themes.[18] Lucas said, "I've always been an outsider to Hollywood types. They think I do weirdo films."[18] Another reason the film was rejected "because it was science fiction, and science fiction wasn't popular in the mid-'70s." Kurtz said that "what seems to be the case generally is that the studio executives are looking for what was popular last year, rather than trying to look forward to what might be popular next year."[27] He also cited Lew Wasserman who "just didn't think much of science fiction at that time, didn't think it had much of a future then, with that particular audience."[28] Lucas explained in 1977 that the film is not "about the future" and that it "is a fantasy much closer to the Brothers Grimm than it is to 2001." He added, "My main reason for making it was to give young people an honest, wholesome fantasy life, the kind my generation had. We had westerns, pirate movies, all kinds of great things. Now they have The Six Million Dollar Man and Kojak. Where are the romance, the adventure, and the fun that used to be in practically every movie made?"[18]

There were also concerns regarding the project's potentially high budget. Lucas and Kurtz, in pitching the film, said that it would be produced "Roger Corman style"—it is low-budgeted and "the budget was never going to be more than".[28] Although none had yet accepted to support the film, Lucas and Kurtz still persisted because "other people had read it and said, 'Yeah, it could be a good idea...'"[28] Lucas pursued Alan Ladd, Jr., the head of 20th Century Fox, and in June 1973 closed a deal to write and direct the film. Although Ladd did not grasp the technical side of the project, he believed that Lucas was talented. Lucas later stated that Ladd "invested in me, he did not invest in the movie."[5] The deal afforded Lucas $150,000 to write and direct.[12]

Writing[edit]

It's the flotsam and jetsam from the period when I was twelve years old. All the books and films and comics that I liked when I was a child. The plot is simple—good against evil—and the film is designed to be all the fun things and fantasy things I remember. The word for this movie is fun.

—George Lucas[18]

Later that year, Lucas began writing a full script of his synopsis, which he would complete in May 1974. In this script he reintroduced the Jedi, which had been absent in his previous treatment, as well as their enemies, the Sith. He changed the protagonist, who had been a mature general in the treatment, to an adolescent boy, and he shifted the general into a supporting role as a member of a family of dwarfs.[5][15] Lucas envisioned the Corellian smuggler, Han Solo, as a large, green-skinned monster with gills. He based Chewbacca on his Alaskan Malamute dog, Indiana, (whom he would later use as namesake for his next character, Indiana Jones), who often acted as the director's "co-pilot" by sitting in the passenger seat of his car.[15]

Many of the final elements in the film began to take shape, though the plot[29] was still far removed from the final script; it began, however, to diverge from The Hidden Fortress and take on the general story elements that would comprise the final film. Lucas began researching the science fiction genre, both watching films and reading books and comics.[30] His first script incorporated ideas from many new sources. The script would also introduce the concept of a Jedi Master father and his son, training to be a Jedi under the father's Jedi friend, which would ultimately form the basis for the film and even the trilogy. However, in this draft, the father is a hero who is still alive at the start of the film.[31]

Lucas grew distracted by other projects, but he would return to complete a second draft of The Star Wars by January 1975; which still had some differences from the final version in the characters and relationships. For example, the protagonist Luke had several brothers, as well as his father, who appears in a minor role at the end of the film. The script became more of a fairy tale quest as opposed to the action-adventure of the previous versions. This version ended with another text crawl, previewing the next story in the series. This draft was also the first to introduce the concept of a Jedi turning to the dark side; a historical Jedi that became the first to ever fall to the dark side, and then trained the Sith to use it. Impressed with his works, Lucas hired conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie to create paintings of certain scenes around this time. When Lucas delivered his screenplay to the studio, he included several of McQuarrie's paintings.[32]

A third draft, dated August 1, 1975, was titled The Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Starkiller which now had most of the elements of the final plot, with only some differences in the characters and settings. Luke was again an only child, with his father already dead. This script would be re-written for the fourth and final draft, dated January 1, 1976 as The Adventures of Luke Starkiller as taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars. Lucas worked with his friends, Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, to revise the fourth draft into the final pre-production script.[33] 20th Century Fox approved a budget of $8,250,000; American Graffiti, having been released in 1973 to positive reviews, allowed Lucas to renegotiate his deal with Alan Ladd, Jr. and request the sequel rights to the film. For Lucas, this deal protected Star Wars' unwritten segments and most of the merchandising profits.[5] During production, Lucas changed Luke's name to Skywalker and altered the title to simply The Star Wars and finally Star Wars.[34] He would also continue to tweak the script during filming, most notably adding the death of Kenobi after realizing he served no purpose in the ending of the film.[35][36]

Filming[edit]

In 1975, Lucas founded the visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) after discovering that 20th Century Fox's visual effects department had been disbanded. ILM began its work on Star Wars in a warehouse in Van Nuys, California. Most of the visual effects used pioneering digital motion control photography developed by John Dykstra and his team, which created the illusion of size by employing small models and slowly moving cameras. Model spaceships were constructed on the basis of drawings by Joe Johnston, input from Lucas, and paintings by McQuarrie. Lucas opted to abandon the traditional sleekness of science fiction by creating a "used universe" in which all devices, ships, and buildings looked aged and dirty.[5][37][38]

Gilbert Taylor served as the film's cinematographer. George Lucas originally wanted Geoffrey Unsworth, who had provided the cinematography for Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), to do the film's cinematography.[28] Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz approached him, and Unsworth was interested and accepted the offer. However, Unsworth eventually withdrew the position to work on the Vincente Minnelli-directed A Matter of Time instead, which "really annoy[ed]" Kurtz.[28] Lucas called up for other cinematographers, and after considering a number of people, he hired Gilbert Taylor, basing his choice on Taylor's cinematography for Dr. Strangelove and A Hard Day's Night. He said, "I thought they were good, eccentrically photographed pictures with a strong documentary flavor."[39] During production, Lucas and Taylor, whom Kurtz called "old-school" and "crotchety",[40] were not well with each other and had disputes over filming.[28] With a background in independent filmmaking, Lucas was accustomed to creating most of the elements of the film himself. His lighting suggestions were rejected by an offended Taylor, who felt that Lucas was overstepping his boundaries by giving specific instructions, sometimes even moving lights and cameras himself. Taylor refused to use the soft-focus lenses and gauze Lucas wanted after Fox executives complained about the look.[40] Kurtz told, "In a couple of scenes [...] rather than saying, 'It looks a bit over lit, can you fix that?', he'd say, 'turn off this light, and turn off that light.' And Gil would say, 'No, I won't do that, I've lit it the way I think it should be – tell me what's the effect that you want, and I'll make a judgment about what to do with my lights.'"[28]

A traditional underground building in Matmata, Tunisia was used as a set for Luke Skywalker's home on Tatooine.

Originally, Lucas envisioned the planet of Tatooine, where much of the film would take place, as a jungle planet. Gary Kurtz traveled to the Philippines to scout locations; however, because of the idea of spending months filming in the jungle would make Lucas "itchy", the director refined his vision and made Tatooine a desert planet instead.[41] Kurtz then researched all American, North African and Middle Eastern deserts, and found Tunisia, near the Sahara desert, as the ideal location.[39]

When principal photography began on March 22, 1976 in the Tunisian desert for the scenes on Tatooine, the project faced several problems.[42] Lucas fell behind schedule in the first week of shooting due to malfunctioning props and electronic breakdowns.[42][43] Gilbert Taylor said that Lucas, who was consumed by the details of the complicated production, "avoided all meetings and contact with me from day one, so I read the extra-long script many times and made my own decisions as to how I would shoot the picture."[44] Moreover, a rare Tunisian rainstorm struck the country, which further disrupted filming. Taylor said that "you couldn't really see where the land ended and the sky began. It was all a gray mess, and the robots were just a blur." Given this situation, Lucas requested for heavy filtration, which confused Taylor.[45] He said, "I thought the look of the film should be absolutely clean [...] But George saw it a differently, so we tried using nets and other diffusion. He asked to set up one shot on the robots with a 300mm, and the sand and sky just mushed together. I told him it wouldn't work, but he said that was the way he wanted to do the entire film, all diffused." This difference was later settled by 20th Century Fox executives, who backed Taylor's suggestion.[45]

Filming began in Chott el Djerid, while a construction crew in Tozeur took eight weeks to transform the desert into the desired setting.[39] Other locations included the sand dunes of the Tunisian desert near Nafta, where a scene featuring a giant skeleton of a creature lying in the background as R2-D2 and C-3PO make their way across the sands was filmed.[46] When actor Anthony Daniels wore the C-3PO outfit for the first time in Tunisia, the left leg piece shattered down through the plastic covering his left foot, stabbing him.[43] He also could not see through his costume's eyes, which was covered with gold to prevent corrosion.[41] Abnormal radio signals due to the Tunisian sands made radio-controlled R2-D2 models to run out of control. Kenny Baker, who portrays R2-D2, said, "I was incredibly grateful each time an Artoo [R2] would actually worked right."[41] Production moved to Matmata to film Luke's home on Tatooine. Lucas chose Hotel Sidi Driss, which is larger than the typical underground dwellings, to film the interior of Luke's homestead.[46] Additional scenes for Tatooine was filmed at Death Valley in North America.[47]

After completing filming in Tunisia, the cast and crew moved into the more controlled environment of Elstree Studios, near London.[43] Difficulties encountered in Tunisia was assumed to cease; however, due to strict British working conditions adhered to on set, a new problem arose—filming had to finish by 5:30 P.M., unless Lucas was in the middle of a scene.[12] Despite Lucas's efforts, his crew had little interest in the film and did not take the project seriously. Most of the crew considered the project a "children's film", rarely took their work seriously, and often found it unintentionally humorous.[5][48] Actor Baker later confessed that he thought the film would be a failure. Harrison Ford found the film weird in that "... there's a princess with weird buns in her hair ..." and called Chewbacca a "... giant in a monkey suit".[5]

Tikal, Guatemala, which served as the setting of the rebel base.

The planet of Yavin IV, which acted as the rebel base in the film, was filmed in the Mayan temples at Tikal, Guatemala. Lucas selected the location as a potential filming site after seeing a poster of it hanging at a travel agency while he was filming in England. This inspired him to send a film crew to Guatemala in March 1977 to shoot scenes. While filming in Tikal, the crew paid locals with a six pack of beer to watch over the camera equipment for several days. A year later after the shoot, the wooden huts where the crew stayed were burned by leftists during the Guatemalan Civil War.[49]

Lucas rarely spoke to the actors, who felt that he expected too much of them while providing little direction. His directions to the actors usually consisted of the words "faster" and "more intense".[5] Kurtz stated, "That wasn't completely true, but it happened a lot where he would just say, 'Let's try it again a little bit faster.' That was about the only instruction he'd give anybody. A lot of actors don't mind—they don't care, they just get on with it. But some actors really need a lot of pampering and a lot of feedback, and if they don't get it, they get paranoid that they might not be doing a good job." Kurtz described Lucas not "gregarious, he's very much a loner and very shy" and that "he didn't like working with a large crew, he didn't like working with a lot of actors."[28]

Ladd offered Lucas some of the only support from the studio; he dealt with scrutiny from board members over the rising budget and complex screenplay drafts.[5][43] Initially, Fox approved $8 million for the project; Gary Kurtz said, "we proceeded to pick a production plan and do a more final budget with a British art department and look for locations in North Africa, and kind of pulled together some things. Then, it was obvious that 8 million wasn't going to do it—they had approved 8 million." After requests from the team that "it had to be more", the executives "got a bit scared".[28] For two weeks, Lucas and his crew "didn't really do anything except kind of pull together new budget figures". At the same time, after production fell behind schedule, Ladd told Lucas he had to finish production within a week or he would be forced to shut down production. Kurtz said that "it came out to be like 9.8 or .9 or something like that, and in the end they just said, 'Yes, that's okay, we'll go ahead.'"[28] The crew split into three units, with those units led by Lucas, Kurtz, and production supervisor Robert Watts. Under the new system, the project met the studio's deadline.[5][43]

During production, the cast attempted to make Lucas laugh or smile, as he often appeared depressed. At one point, the project became so demanding that Lucas was diagnosed with hypertension and exhaustion and was warned to reduce his stress level.[5][43] Post-production was equally stressful due to increasing pressure from 20th Century Fox. Moreover, Mark Hamill's car accident left his face visibly scarred, which suppressed re-shoots.[43]

Post-production[edit]

Star Wars was originally slated for release on Christmas 1976; however, delays pushed the film's release to summer 1977. Already anxious about meeting his deadline, Lucas was shocked when editor John Jympson's first cut of the film was a "... complete disaster". According to an article in Star Wars Insider No. 41 by David West Reynolds, this first edit of Star Wars contained about 30–40% different footage from the final version. This included scenes that have never been seen elsewhere along with alternate takes of existing scenes. After attempting to persuade Jympson to cut the film his way, Lucas replaced him with Paul Hirsch and Richard Chew. He also allowed his then-wife, Marcia Lucas, to aid the editing process while she was cutting the film New York, New York with Lucas's friend Martin Scorsese. Richard Chew found the film had an unenergetic pace; it had been cut in a by-the-book manner: scenes were played out in master shots that flowed into close-up coverage. He found that the pace was dictated by the actors instead of the cuts. Hirsch and Chew worked on two reels simultaneously; whoever finished first moved on to the next.[5]

Meanwhile, Industrial Light & Magic was struggling to achieve unprecedented special effects. The company had spent half of its budget on four shots that Lucas deemed unacceptable.[43] Moreover, theories surfaced that the workers at ILM lacked discipline, forcing Lucas to intervene frequently to ensure that they were on schedule. With hundreds of uncompleted shots remaining, ILM was forced to finish a year's work in six months. Lucas inspired ILM by editing together aerial dogfights from old war films, which enhanced the pacing of the scenes.[5]

Steven Spielberg claimed to have been the only person in the audience to have enjoyed the film in its early cut screening.

During the chaos of production and post-production, the team made decisions about character voicing and sound effects. Sound designer Ben Burtt had created a library of sounds that Lucas referred to as an "organic soundtrack". Blaster sounds were a modified recording of a steel cable, under tension, being struck. The lightsaber sound effect was developed by Burtt as a combination of the hum of idling interlock motors in aged movie projectors and interference caused by a television set on a shieldless microphone. Burtt discovered the latter accidentally as he was looking for a buzzing, sparking sound to add to the projector-motor hum.[50] For Chewbacca's growls, Burtt recorded and combined sounds made by dogs, bears, lions, tigers and walruses to create phrases and sentences. Lucas and Burtt created the robotic voice of R2-D2 by filtering their voices through an electronic synthesizer. Darth Vader's breathing was achieved by Burtt breathing through the mask of a scuba regulator implanted with a microphone.[51]

In February 1977 Lucas screened an early cut of the film for Fox executives, several director friends, as well as Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin of Marvel Comics, who were preparing a Star Wars comic book. The cut had a different crawl from the finished version and used Prowse's voice for Darth Vader. It also lacked most special effects; hand-drawn arrows took the place of blaster beams, and when the Millennium Falcon fought TIE fighters, the film cut to footage of World War II dogfights.[52] The reactions of the directors present, such as Brian De Palma, John Milius, and Steven Spielberg, disappointed Lucas. Spielberg, who claimed to have been the only person in the audience to have enjoyed the film, believed that the lack of enthusiasm was due to the absence of finished special effects. Lucas later said that the group was honest and seemed bemused by the film. In contrast, Ladd and the other studio executives loved the film: Gareth Wigan told Lucas, "This is the greatest film I've ever seen ...," and cried during the screening. Lucas found the experience shocking and rewarding, having never gained any approval from studio executives before.[5] The delays increased the budget from $8 million to $11 million.[53]

Cinematic and literary allusions[edit]

War films such as the The Dam Busters and 633 Squadron , which used aircraft like the Avro Lancaster (top) and the Mosquito (bottom), respectively, were inspirations for the battle sequences

According to Lucas, different concepts of the film were inspired by numerous sources, such as Beowulf and King Arthur for the origins of myth and religion.[5] Lucas originally intended to rely heavily on the 1930s Flash Gordon film serials; however, he resorted to Akira Kurosawa's film The Hidden Fortress, and Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, because of copyright issues with Flash Gordon.[54] Star Wars features several parallels to Flash Gordon, such as the conflict between Rebels and Imperial Forces, the wipes between scenes, and the famous opening crawl that begins each film.[55][56] A concept borrowed from Flash Gordon — a fusion of futuristic technology and traditional magic — was originally developed by one of the founders of science fiction, H. G. Wells. Wells believed the Industrial Revolution had quietly destroyed the idea that fairy tale magic might be real. Thus, he found that plausibility was required to allow myth to work properly, and substituted elements of the Industrial Era: time machines instead of magic carpets, Martians instead of dragons, and scientists instead of wizards. Wells called his new genre "scientific fantasia".[57]

The influence of Kurosawa's 1958 film can be seen in the relationship between C-3PO and R2-D2, which evolved from the two bickering peasants in The Hidden Fortress, and a Japanese family crest seen in the earlier film is similar to the Imperial Crest. Star Wars also borrows heavily from another Kurosawa film, Yojimbo,[55] examples of which include: in both films, several men threaten the hero, bragging about how wanted they are by the authorities, and end up with an arm being cut off by a blade; Kuwabatake Sanjuro (portrayed by Toshiro Mifune) is offered "... twenty-five ryo now, twenty-five when you complete the mission ...", whereas Han Solo is offered "Two thousand now, plus fifteen when we reach Alderaan." Lucas's affection for Kurosawa may have influenced his decision to visit Japan in the early 1970s, leading some to believe he borrowed the name "Jedi" from "jidaigeki" (period dramas, referring to films typically featuring samurai).[57]

Tatooine is similar to Arrakis from Frank Herbert's Dune series. Arrakis is the only known source of a longevity spice called Melange. References to "spice", various illegal stimulant drugs, occur throughout the last three films of the Star Wars saga. In the original film, Han Solo is a spice smuggler who has been through the spice mines of Kessel. In the conversation at Obi-Wan Kenobi's home, between Obi-Wan and Luke, Luke expresses a belief that his father was a navigator on a spice freighter. Other similarities include those between Princess Leia and Princess Alia, and between Jedi mind tricks and "The Voice", a controlling ability used by Bene Gesserit. In passing, Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are "moisture farmers"; in Dune, dew collectors are used by Fremen to "... provide a small but reliable source of water."[58] Frank Herbert reported that, "David Lynch, [director of the 1984 film Dune] had trouble with the fact that Star Wars used up so much of Dune." The pair found "... sixteen points of identity ..." and they calculated that, "... the odds against coincidence produced a number larger than the number of stars in the universe."[59]

The Death Star assault scene was modeled after the film The Dam Busters (1955), in which Royal Air Force Lancaster bombers fly along heavily defended reservoirs and aim bouncing bombs at dams, in order to cripple the heavy industry of the Ruhr. Some of the dialogue in The Dam Busters is repeated in the Star Wars climax; Gilbert Taylor also filmed the special effects sequences in The Dam Busters. In addition, the sequence was partially inspired by the climax of the film 633 Squadron (1964), directed by Walter Grauman,[60] in which RAF de Havilland Mosquitos attack a German heavy water plant by flying down a narrow fjord to drop special bombs at a precise point, while avoiding anti-aircraft guns and German fighters. Clips from both films were included in Lucas's temporary dogfight footage version of the sequence.[61]

The opening shot of Star Wars, in which a detailed spaceship fills the screen overhead, is a nod to the scene introducing the interplanetary spacecraft Discovery One in Stanley Kubrick's seminal 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The earlier big-budget science fiction film influenced the look of Star Wars in many other ways, including the use of EVA pods and hexagonal corridors. The Death Star has a docking bay reminiscent of the one on the orbiting space station in 2001.[62] The film also draws on The Wizard of Oz (1939): similarities exist between Jawas and Munchkins; the main characters disguise themselves as enemy soldiers; and when Obi-Wan dies, he leaves only his empty robe, similar to the melting of the Wicked Witch of the West. Moreover, Luke, like Dorothy Gale, lives on a farm with his uncle and aunt.[55][63] Although golden and male, C-3PO was inspired by the robot Maria, the Maschinenmensch from Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis. His whirring sounds were speculated to be inspired by the clanking noises of The Wizard of Oz character the Tin Woodsman and C-3PO has an arc throughout the Star Wars saga that is similar to the arc of the Cowardly Lion.[64]

Soundtrack[edit]

Original vinyl release

On the recommendation of his friend Steven Spielberg, Lucas hired composer John Williams. Williams had worked with Spielberg on the film Jaws, for which he won an Academy Award. Lucas felt that the film would portray visually foreign worlds, but that the musical score would give the audience an emotional familiarity; he wanted a grand musical sound for Star Wars, with leitmotifs to provide distinction. Therefore, he assembled his favorite orchestral pieces for the soundtrack, until John Williams convinced him that an original score would be unique and more unified. However, a few of Williams' pieces were influenced by the tracks given to him by Lucas: the "Main Title Theme" was inspired by the theme from the 1942 film Kings Row, scored by Erich Wolfgang Korngold; and the track "Dune Sea of Tatooine" drew from the soundtrack of Bicycle Thieves, scored by Alessandro Cicognini.

In March 1977, Williams conducted the London Symphony Orchestra to record the Star Wars soundtrack in 12 days.[5] The original soundtrack was released as a double LP in 1977 by 20th Century Records.[65] 20th Century Fox released The Story of Star Wars that same year which adapted the film and presented it as a narrated story with music, dialogue and sound effects from the original film[66] The American Film Institute's list of best film scores ranks the Star Wars soundtrack at number one.[67]

Release[edit]

Premiere and initial release[edit]

Charles Lippincott was hired by Lucasfilm as marketing director for Star Wars. As 20th Century Fox gave little support for marketing beyond licensing T-shirts and posters, Lippincott was forced to look elsewhere. He secured deals with Marvel Comics for a comic book adaptation, and with Del Rey Books for a novelization. A fan of science fiction, he used his contacts to promote the film at the San Diego Comic-Con and elsewhere within fandom.[5][27] Worried that Star Wars would be beaten out by other summer films, such as Smokey and the Bandit, 20th Century Fox moved the release date to the Wednesday before Memorial Day: May 25, 1977. However, fewer than 40 theaters ordered the film to be shown. In response, 20th Century Fox demanded that theaters order Star Wars if they wanted an eagerly anticipated film based on the best-selling novel The Other Side of Midnight.[5]

"On opening day I ... did a radio call-in show ... this caller, was really enthusiastic and talking about the movie in really deep detail. I said, 'You know a lot about the film.' He said, 'Yeah, yeah, I've seen it four times already.'"

—Producer Gary Kurtz, on when he realized Star Wars had become a cultural phenomenon[68]

Star Wars debuted on Wednesday, May 25, 1977, in fewer than 32 theaters, and eight more on Thursday and Friday. Kurtz said in 2002, "That would be laughable today." It immediately broke box office records, effectively becoming one of the first blockbuster films, and Fox accelerated plans to broaden its release.[27][69] Fearing that Star Wars would fail, Lucas had made plans to be in Hawaii with his wife Marcia. Having forgotten that the film would open that day,[70] he spent most of Wednesday in a sound studio in Los Angeles. When Lucas went out for lunch with Marcia, they encountered a long line of people along the sidewalks leading to Mann's Chinese Theatre, waiting to see Star Wars.[43] He was still skeptical of the film's success despite Ladd and the studio's enthusiastic reports. While in Hawaii, it was not until he watched Walter Cronkite discuss the gigantic crowds for Star Wars on the CBS Evening News that Lucas realized he had become very wealthy (Francis Ford Coppola, who needed money to finish Apocalypse Now, sent a telegram to Lucas's hotel asking for funding).[70] Even technical crew members, such as model makers, were asked for autographs, and cast members became instant household names;[5] when Ford visited a record store to buy an album, enthusiastic fans tore half his shirt off.[70]

The film was a huge success for the studio, and was credited for reinvigorating it. Within three weeks of its release, 20th Century Fox's stock price had doubled to a record high. This was due in no small part to the grosses from Star Wars: prior to 1977, 20th Century Fox's greatest annual profits were $37,000,000, while in 1977, the company easily broke that record by posting a profit of $79,000,000.[5] Although the film's cultural neutrality helped it to gain international success, Ladd became anxious during the premiere in Japan. After the screening, the audience was silent, leading him to fear that the film would be unsuccessful. Ladd was later told by his local contacts that, in Japan, silence was the greatest honor to a film, and the subsequent strong box office returns confirmed its popularity.[5]

When Star Wars made an unprecedented second opening at Mann's Chinese Theatre on August 3, 1977, after William Friedkin's Sorcerer failed, thousands of people attended a ceremony in which C-3PO, R2-D2 and Darth Vader placed their footprints in the theater's forecourt.[69][5] At that time Star Wars was playing in 1,096 theaters in the United States.[71] Approximately 60 theaters played the film continuously for over a year;[72] in 1978, Lucasfilm distributed "Birthday Cake" posters to those theaters for special events on May 25, the one-year anniversary of the film's release.[73]

Lucas himself was not able to predict how successful Star Wars would be. After visiting the set of the Steven Spielberg–directed Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Lucas was sure Close Encounters would outperform the yet-to-be-released Star Wars at the box office. Spielberg disagreed, and felt Lucas's Star Wars would be the bigger hit. Lucas proposed they trade 2.5% of the profit on each other's films; Spielberg took the trade, and still receives 2.5% of the profits from Star Wars.[74]

Later releases[edit]

The 1997 theatrical release poster of the new Special Edition version of the film

The film was originally released as Star Wars, without "Episode IV" or the subtitle A New Hope.[12] The subtitles were added starting with the film's theatrical re-release on April 10, 1981.[12] Star Wars was re-released theatrically in 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, and, with additional scenes and enhanced special effects (further subtitled as the Special Edition), in 1997.[75]

After ILM used computer-generated effects for Steven Spielberg's 1993 film Jurassic Park, Lucas concluded that digital technology had caught up to his original vision for Star Wars.[5] For the film's 20th anniversary in 1997, Star Wars was digitally remastered and re-released to movie theaters, along with The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, under the campaign title Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition.

The Special Edition contained visual shots and scenes that were unachievable in the original release due to financial, technological, and time constraints; one such scene involved a meeting between Han Solo and Jabba the Hutt.[5] The process of creating the new visual effects for Star Wars was featured in the Academy Award-nominated IMAX documentary film, Special Effects: Anything Can Happen, directed by Star Wars sound designer, Ben Burtt.[76] Although most changes were minor or cosmetic in nature, some fans believe that Lucas degraded the film with the additions.[77] For instance, a particularly controversial change, in which a bounty hunter named Greedo shoots first when confronting Han Solo, has inspired T-shirts brandishing the phrase "Han Shot First".[78]

Star Wars required extensive restoration before Lucas's Special Edition modifications could even be attempted. It was discovered that in addition to the negative motion picture stocks commonly used on feature films, Lucas had also used internegative film, a reversal stock which deteriorated faster than negative stocks did. This meant that the entire printing negative had to be disassembled, and the CRI (color reversal internegative) portions cleaned separately from the negative portions. Once the cleaning was complete, the film was scanned into the computer for restoration. In many cases, entire scenes had to be reconstructed from their individual elements. Fortunately, digital compositing technology allowed them to correct for problems such as alignment of mattes, "blue-spill", and so forth.[79]

Though the original Star Wars was selected by the National Film Registry of the United States Library of Congress in 1989,[80] it is unclear whether a copy of the 1977 theatrical sequence or the 1997 Special Edition has been archived by the NFR, or indeed if any copy has been provided by Lucasfilm and accepted by the Registry.[81][82] While the agency has a mandate to register films for preservation, it has no authority to secure its selections from authors or copyright holders.[83]

Home video[edit]

Star Wars debuted on Betamax,[84] LaserDisc,[85] Video 2000, and VHS[86][87] between the 1980s and 1990s by CBS/Fox Video. The final issue of the original theatrical release (pre-Special Edition) to VHS format occurred in 1995, as part of "Last Chance to Own the Original" campaign, available as part of a trilogy set and as a standalone purchase.[88] The film was released for the first time on DVD on September 21, 2004, in a box set with The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and a bonus disc of supplementary material. The films were digitally restored and remastered, and more changes were made by George Lucas. The DVD features a commentary track from Lucas, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren, and Carrie Fisher. The bonus disc contains the documentary Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy, three featurettes, teasers, theatrical trailers, TV spots, still galleries, an exclusive preview of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, a playable Xbox demo of the LucasArts game Star Wars: Battlefront, and a "Making Of" documentary on the Episode III video game.[89] The set was reissued in December 2005 as part of a three-disc limited edition boxed set without the bonus disc.[90]

The trilogy was re-released on separate two-disc limited edition DVD sets from September 12 to December 31, 2006, and again in a limited edition tin box set on November 4, 2008;[91] the original versions of the films were added as bonus material. Controversy surrounded the release because the unaltered versions were from the 1993 non-anamorphic LaserDisc masters, and were not re-transferred using modern video standards. The transfer led to problems with colors and digital image jarring.[92]

All six Star Wars films were released on Blu-ray Disc on September 16, 2011 in three different editions, with A New Hope available in both a box set of the original trilogy[93][94] and with the other five films on Star Wars: The Complete Saga, which includes nine discs and over 40 hours of special features.[95] The original theatrical versions of the films were not included in the box set; the new 2011 revisions of the trilogy were however leaked a month prior to release, and caused mass controversy over new changes made to these movies and an online uproar against Lucas.[96]

20th Century Fox owned full rights to the original film until they sold it to Lucas in 1998 in exchange for a lower distribution fee for the prequels and broadcast rights to Episode I.[97] In late 2012, The Walt Disney Company announced a deal to acquire Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion, with approximately half in cash and half in shares of Disney stock.[98] Although Disney will now own the rights to all Star Wars films, under a previous deal with Lucasfilm, the distribution rights to the first film will remain with Fox in perpetuity, while the distribution arrangements for the remaining films are set to expire in 2020. This could affect future video box set releases unless Disney and Fox come to an arrangement.[99]

On August 16, 2014, online site Comicbook.com,[100] citing unidentified sources, claimed that Disney/Lucasfilm plannd to release the unaltered original trilogy on Blu-ray in 2015 prior to the release of Star Wars Episode VII, which will be released to theaters on December 18, 2015. Other sources, however, questioned the claims in light of Comicbook.com's unidentified sources and lack of credibility, the fact that such a re-release would require a deal between Disney and Fox, and Lucas' own public statements about his preference for the altered versions.[101][102]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

Star Wars remains one of the most financially successful films of all time. The film earned $1,554,475 through its opening weekend ($6.05 million in today's terms), building up to $7 million weekends as it entered wide release ($27.2 million in today's terms).[3] It replaced Jaws as the highest-earning film in North America just six months into release,[103] eventually earning over $220 million during its initial theatrical run ($856 million in today's terms).[104] Star Wars entered international release towards the end of the year, and in 1978 added the worldwide record to its domestic one,[105] earning $410 million in total.[106] Reissues in 1978, 1979, 1981, and 1982 brought its cumulative gross in Canada and the U.S. to $323 million,[107] and extended its global earnings to $530 million.[108] The film remained the highest-grossing film of all time until E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial broke that record in 1983.[109]

Following the release of the Special Edition in 1997,[110] Star Wars briefly reclaimed the North American record before losing it again the following year to Titanic.[111] In total, the film has earned $775,398,007 worldwide (including $460,998,007 in North America alone).[3] Adjusted for inflation, it has earned over $2.5 billion worldwide at 2011 prices, making it the most successful franchise film of all time.[112] According to Guinness World Records, the film ranks as the third-highest-grossing film when adjusting for inflation;[113] at the North American box office, it ranks second behind Gone with the Wind on the inflation-adjusted list.[114]

Critical response[edit]

"What makes the Star War experience unique, though, is that it happens on such an innocent and often funny level. It's usually violence that draws me so deeply into a movie — violence ranging from the psychological torment of a Bergman character to the mindless crunch of a shark's jaws. Maybe movies that scare us find the most direct route to our imaginations. But there's hardly any violence at all in Star Wars (and even then it's presented as essentially bloodless swashbuckling). Instead, there's entertainment so direct and simple that all of the complications of the modern movie seem to vaporize."

Roger Ebert, in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times[115]

Upon its release, contemporary critical opinion was positive. In his 1977 review, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called the film "... an out-of-body experience ...", compared its special effects to those of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and opined that the true strength of the film was its "... pure narrative".[115] Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film "... the movie that's going to entertain a lot of contemporary folk who have a soft spot for the virtually ritualized manners of comic-book adventure ..." and "... the most elaborate, most expensive, most beautiful movie serial ever made."[116] A.D. Murphy of Variety described the film as "magnificent" and claimed George Lucas had succeeded in his attempt to create the "... biggest possible adventure fantasy ..." based on the serials and older action epics from his childhood.[117] Writing for The Washington Post, Gary Arnold gave the film a positive review, writing the film "... is a new classic in a rousing movie tradition: a space swashbuckler."[118] The film was not without its detractors. Pauline Kael of The New Yorker criticized Star Wars, stating that "... there's no breather in the picture, no lyricism ...", and that it had no "... emotional grip".[119]

British press for the film was positive. Derek Malcolm of The Guardian concluded that the film "... plays enough games to satisfy the most sophisticated."[120] The Daily Telegraph's Adrian Berry said that Star Wars "... is the best such film since 2001 and in certain respects it is one of the most exciting ever made." He described the plot as "... unpretentious and pleasantly devoid of any 'message.'"[121] In his review for BBC, Matt Ford awarded the film five out of five stars and wrote, "Star Wars isn't the best film ever made, but it is universally loved."[122]

The film continues to receive critical acclaim from modern critics. The film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes sampled 71 reviews and judged 93% of them to be positive. Its consensus states in summary, "A legendary expansive and ambitious start to the sci-fi saga, George Lucas opens our eyes to the possibilities of blockbuster film-making and things have never been the same."[123] Metacritic reports an aggregate score of 91 out of 100 (based on 13 reviews), indicating "... universal acclaim".[124] In his 1997 review of the film's 20th anniversary release, Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune gave the film four out of four stars, saying, "A grandiose and violent epic with a simple and whimsical heart."[125] A San Francisco Chronicle staff member described the film as "... a thrilling experience."[126]

Gene Siskel, writing for the Chicago Tribune in 1999, said, "What places it a sizable cut about the routine is its spectacular visual effects, the best since Stanley Kubrick's 2001."[127] Andrew Collins of Empire magazine awarded the film five out of five and said, "Star Wars' timeless appeal lies in its easily identified, universal archetypes — goodies to root for, baddies to boo, a princess to be rescued and so on — and if it is most obviously dated to the 70s by the special effects, so be it."[128] In his 2009 review, Robert Hatch of The Nation called the film "... an outrageously successful, what will be called a 'classic,' compilation of nonsense, largely derived but thoroughly reconditioned. I doubt that anyone will ever match it, though the imitations must already be on the drawing boards."[129] On a less positive note, Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader stated, "None of these characters has any depth, and they're all treated like the fanciful props and settings."[130] Peter Keough of the Boston Phoenix said, "Star Wars is a junkyard of cinematic gimcracks not unlike the Jawas' heap of purloined, discarded, barely functioning droids."[131]

Awards[edit]

Alec Guinness, shown here in 1973, received multiple award nominations for his performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi

The film garnered numerous accolades after its release. Star Wars won six competitive Academy Awards at the 50th Academy Awards: Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound and Best Visual Effects. A Special Achievement for Sound Effects Editing went to sound designer Ben Burtt.[132] Additional nominations included Alec Guinness for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, George Lucas for Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture, which were instead awarded to Woody Allen's Annie Hall.[132]

At the 35th Golden Globe Awards, the film was nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Alec Guinness), and it won the award for Best Score.[133] It received six British Academy Film Awards nominations: Best Film, Best Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Production/Art Design, Best Sound, and Best Score; the film won in the latter two categories.[134] John Williams' soundtrack album won the Grammy Award for Best Album of Original Score for a Motion Picture or Television Program,[135] and the film attained the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.[136]

The film also received twelve nominations at the Saturn Awards, the oldest film-specialized awards to reward science fiction, fantasy, and horror achievements, and won nine: Best Science Fiction Film, Best Direction and Best Writing for George Lucas, Best Supporting Actor for Alec Guinness, Best Music for John Williams, Best Costume for John Mollo, Best Make-up for Rick Baker and Stuart Freeborn, Best Special Effects for John Dykstra and John Stears, and Outstanding Editing for Paul Hirsch, Marcia Lucas and Richard Chew.[137]

Legacy[edit]

The original Star Wars trilogy is considered one of the best film trilogies in history.[138] Lucas has often stated that the entire trilogy was, in essence, intended as one film. However, he said that his story material for Star Wars was too long for a single film, so he opted to split the story into multiple films.[5][139][140] Lucas also told that the story evolved over time and that "There was never a script completed that had the entire story as it exists now [1983] ... As the stories unfolded, I would take certain ideas and save them ... I kept taking out all the good parts, and I just kept telling myself I would make other movies someday."[141] In early interviews, it was suggested the series might comprise nine or 12 films.[142] Star Wars launched the careers of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher.[5] Ford, who subsequently starred in the Indiana Jones series (1981–2008), Blade Runner (1982), and Witness (1985) after working on the film, told the Daily Mirror that Star Wars "boosted my career", and said, "I think the great luck of my career is that I've made these family movies which are introduced to succeeding generations of kids by their families at the time it seems appropriate."[143] Being part of the series "was like ... incredibly lucky" for him.[144]

The film has spawned a series of films, consists of two trilogies, and an extensive media franchise called the Expanded Universe including books, television series, computer and video games, and comic books. In 1978, at the height of the film's popularity, Smith-Hemion Productions approached Lucas with the idea of a television special called Star Wars Holiday Special. It debuted on CBS on November 17, 1978, and the result is often considered a failure; Lucas himself disowned it.[145] All of the main films have been box office successes, with the overall box office revenue generated by the Star Wars films (including the theatrical Star Wars: The Clone Wars) totaling $4.38 billion,[146] making it the fifth highest-grossing film series.[147]

In popular culture[edit]

Star Wars and its ensuing film installments have been explicitly referenced and satirized on many instances across a wide range of media. Hardware Wars, released in 1978, was one of the first fan films to parody Star Wars.[148] It received positive critical reaction, went to earn over $1 million, and is one of Lucas's favorite Star Wars spoofs ever.[149][150][151] Writing for The New York Times, Frank DeCaro said, "Star Wars littered pop culture of the late 1970s with a galaxy of space junk."[152] He cited Quark (a short-lived 1977 sitcom that parodied the science fiction genre)[152] and Donny & Marie (a 1970s variety show that produced a 10-minute musical adaptation of Star Wars guest starring Anthony Daniels and Peter Mayhew)[153] as "television's two most infamous examples".[152] Mel Brooks's Spaceballs, a satirical comic science fiction parody, later came out in 1987 to mixed reviews.[154] Lucas actually permitted Brooks to make a spoof of the film under "one incredibly big restriction: no action figures. [Lucas] said, 'Yours are going to look like mine.' I [Brooks] said OK."[155]

Current comedy television shows such as Family Guy,[156] Robot Chicken,[157] and The Simpsons[158] have debuted episodes satirizing the film series. Star Wars, together with Lucas, was also the subject of the 2010 documentary film The People vs. George Lucas that details the issues of filmmaking and fanaticism pertaining to the film franchise and its creator.[159] Many elements of the film have also endured presence in popular culture. The iconic weapon of choice of the Jedi, the lightsaber, was voted in the survey of approximately 2,000 film fans as the most popular weapon in film history.[160] The expressions "Evil empire" and "May the Force be with you" have become part of the popular lexicon.[161] To commemorate the film's 30th anniversary in May 2007, the United States Postal Service issued a set of 15 stamps depicting the characters of the franchise. Approximately 400 mailboxes across the country were also designed to look like R2-D2.[162]

Cinematic influence[edit]

Film critic Roger Ebert wrote, "Like The Birth of a Nation and Citizen Kane, Star Wars was a technical watershed that influenced many of the movies that came after."[163] It began a new generation of special effects and high-energy motion pictures. The film was one of the first films to link genres — such as space opera and soap opera — together to invent a new, high-concept genre for filmmakers to build upon.[37][163] Finally, along with Steven Spielberg's Jaws, it shifted the film industry's focus away from personal filmmaking of the 1970s and towards fast-paced big-budget blockbusters for younger audiences.[5][163][164]

After seeing Star Wars, director James Cameron quit his job as a truck driver to enter the film industry. Other filmmakers who have said to have been influenced by Star Wars include Dean Devlin, Gareth Edwards,[165] Roland Emmerich, John Lasseter,[166] David Fincher, Peter Jackson, Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott, John Singleton, and Kevin Smith.[37] Cameron, Jackson, and Scott were influenced by Lucas's concept of the "used future" (where vehicles and culture are obviously dated) and extended the concept for their films, such as Cameron's Titanic, and Scott's science fiction horror film Alien and science fiction noir film Blade Runner. Jackson used the concept for his production of The Lord of the Rings trilogy to add a sense of realism and believability.[37] Christopher Nolan cited Star Wars as an influence when making the 2010 blockbuster film, Inception.[167]

Some critics have blamed Star Wars, as well as Jaws, for ruining Hollywood by shifting its focus from "sophisticated" films such as The Godfather, Taxi Driver, and Annie Hall to films about spectacle and juvenile fantasy.[168] One such critic was Peter Biskind, who complained, "When all was said and done, Lucas and Spielberg returned the 1970s audience, grown sophisticated on a diet of European and New Hollywood films, to the simplicities of the pre-1960s Golden Age of movies... They marched backward through the looking-glass."[168][70] In an opposing view, Tom Shone wrote that through Star Wars and Jaws, Lucas and Spielberg "... didn't betray cinema at all: they plugged it back into the grid, returning the medium to its roots as a carnival sideshow, a magic act, one big special effect ...", which was "... a kind of rebirth".[164]

Honors[edit]

AFI 100 Years... series
American Film Institute[178]

In its May 30, 1977 issue, the film's year of release, Time magazine named Star Wars the "Movie of the Year". The publication claimed it was a "... big early supporter ..." of the vision which would become Star Wars. In an article intended for the cover of the issue, Time's Gerald Clarke wrote that Star Wars is "... a grand and glorious film that may well be the smash hit of 1977, and certainly is the best movie of the year so far. The result is a remarkable confection: a subliminal history of the movies, wrapped in a riveting tale of suspense and adventure, ornamented with some of the most ingenious special effects ever contrived for film." Each of the subsequent films of the Star Wars saga have graced the magazine's cover.[179]

In 1989, the Library of Congress selected Star Wars for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant"[80] (though it remains unclear which edition, if any, the NFR has succeeded in acquiring from Lucasfilm[81][82]). In 2002, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back were voted as the greatest films ever made in Channel 4's 100 Greatest Films poll.[180] In 2006, Lucas's original screenplay was selected by the Writers Guild of America as the 68th greatest of all time.[181] In 2011, ABC aired a primetime special, Best in Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time, that counted down the best films as chosen by fans, based on results of a poll conducted by ABC and People magazine. Star Wars was selected as the No. 1 Best Sci-Fi Film. In 2012, the film was included in Sight & Sound's Critics' Top 250 Films list, ranking at No. 171 on the list.[182] In 2008, Empire magazine ranked Star Wars at No. 22 on its list of the "500 Greatest Movies of All Time".[183]

In addition to the film's multiple awards and nominations, Star Wars has also been recognized by the American Film Institute on several of its lists. The film ranks first on 100 Years of Film Scores,[67] second on Top 10 Sci-Fi Films,[177] 15th on 100 Years...100 Movies[169] (ranked 13th on the updated 10th anniversary edition),[176] 27th on 100 Years...100 Thrills,[170] and 39th on 100 Years...100 Cheers.[175] In addition, the quote "May the Force be with you" is ranked eighth on 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes,[173] and Han Solo and Obi-Wan Kenobi are ranked 14th and 30th respectively on 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains.[171]

Merchandising[edit]

The Star Wars "Early Bird Certificate" toyline from a 1977 Kenner Products catalog.

Little Star Wars merchandise was available for several months after the film's debut; only Kenner Products had accepted marketing director Charles Lippincott's licensing offers. Kenner responded to the sudden demand for toys by selling boxed vouchers in its "empty box" Christmas campaign. Television commercials told children and parents that vouchers within a "Star Wars Early Bird Certificate Package" could be redeemed for four action figures between February and June 1978.[5] Jay West of the Los Angeles Times said that the campaign "became the most coveted empty box in the history of retail."[184] In 2012, the Star Wars action figures were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.[185]

The novelization of the film was published in December 1976, six months before the film was released. The credited author was George Lucas, but the book was revealed to have been ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster, who later wrote the first Expanded Universe novel, Splinter of the Mind's Eye (1978). The book was first published as Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker; later editions were titled simply Star Wars (1995) and, later, Star Wars: A New Hope (1997), to reflect the retitling of the film. Marketing director Charles Lippincott secured the deal with Del Rey Books to publish the novelization in November 1976. By February 1977, a half-million copies had been sold.[5]

Marvel Comics also adapted the film as the first six issues of its licensed Star Wars comic book, with the first issue dated May 1977. Roy Thomas was the writer and Howard Chaykin was the artist of the adaptation; like the novelization, it contained certain elements, such as the scene with Luke and Biggs, that appeared in the screenplay but not in the finished film.[52] The series was so successful that, according to Jim Shooter, it "...single-handedly saved Marvel".[186] In 2013, Dark Horse Comics published a comic adaption of the plot of the original screenplay.[187]

Lucasfilm adapted the story for a children's book-and-record set. Released in 1979, the 24-page Star Wars read-along book was accompanied by a 33⅓ rpm 7-inch phonograph record. Each page of the book contained a cropped frame from the movie with an abridged and condensed version of the story. The record was produced by Buena Vista Records, and its content copyrighted by Black Falcon, Ltd., a subsidiary of Lucasfilm "... formed to handle the merchandising for Star Wars".[188] The Story of Star Wars was a 1977 record album presenting an abridged version of the events depicted in Star Wars, using dialogue and sound effects from the original film. The recording was produced by George Lucas and Alan Livingston, and was narrated by Roscoe Lee Browne. The script was adapted by E. Jack Kaplan and Cheryl Gard.

A radio drama adaptation of the film was written by Brian Daley, directed by John Madden, and produced for and broadcast on the American National Public Radio network in 1981. The adaptation received cooperation from George Lucas, who donated the rights to NPR. John Williams' music and Ben Burtt's sound design were retained for the show; Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) reprised their roles as well. The radio drama featured scenes not seen in the final cut of the film, such as Luke Skywalker's observation of the space battle above Tatooine through binoculars, a skyhopper race, and Darth Vader's interrogation of Princess Leia. In terms of Star Wars canon, the radio drama is given the highest designation (like the screenplay and novelization), G-canon.[189][190]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Although theatrical and home media distribution rights to all other Star Wars films will be transferred respectively to Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment by May 2020,[191] 20th Century Fox will continue to control their interest to the first film for the foreseeable future.[192]
Annotations
  1. ^ The Secret History of Star Wars has, as its basis, a goal of determining the true history of Star Wars, and offers numerous examples of interviews, quotes, and official publications from the 1970s to present which contradict other statements or evidence.

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Bibliography
  • Baxter, John (1999). Mythmaker: The Life and Work of George Lucas (1st edition). New York: William Morrow. ISBN 978-0-380-97833-5.
  • Bouzereau, Laurent (1997). Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays. New York: Del Rey. ISBN 0-345-40981-7.
  • Kaminski, Michael (2008). The Secret History of Star Wars: The Art of Storytelling and the Making of a Modern Epic. Kingston, Ont.: Legacy Books Press. ISBN 978-0-9784652-3-0.
  • Pollock, Dale (1999). Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80904-4.
  • Rinzler, J. W. (2007). The Making of Star Wars. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0-345-49476-4.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bailey, T. J. (2005). Devising a Dream: A Book of Star Wars Facts and Production Timeline. Louisville, Ky.: Wasteland Press. ISBN 1-933265-55-8.
  • Blackman, W. Haden (2004). The New Essential Guide to Weapons and Technology, Revised Edition (Star Wars). New York: Del Rey. ISBN 0-345-44903-7.
  • Sansweet, Stephen (1992). Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. ISBN 0-8118-0101-2.

External links[edit]