The Star Wars Saga
THE STAR WARS SAGA
Director: George Lucas
Production: Lucasfilm Productions; Technicolor, 35mm; running time: 121 minutes. Released Spring 1977 by 20th Century-Fox. Cost: $10 million.
Producer: Gary Kurtz; screenplay: George Lucas; photography: Gilbert Taylor; editors: Paul Hirsch, Marcia Lucas, and Richard Chew; sound: Derek Ball, Don MacDougall, Bob Minkler, and Ray West, sound effects editor: Benjamin Burtt, Jr.; art directors: John Barry, Norman Reynolds, and Leslie Dilley; music: John Williams; special effects: John Dykstra, John Stears, Richard Edlund, Grant McCune, and Robert Blalack; costume designer: John Mallo.
Cast: Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker); Harrison Ford (Han Solo); Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia Ograna); Alec Guinness (Ben "Obiwan" Kenobi); Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin); David Prowse (Lord Darth Vader, voice by James Earl Jones); Kenny Baker (R2-D2); Anthony Daniels (C-3PO); Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca).
Awards: Oscars for Art Direction/Set Direction, Sound, Best Original Score, Film Editing, Costume Design, and Visual Effects, 1977; Special Oscar to Ben Burtt, Jr. for sound effects, 1977.
McConnell, Frank, Storytelling and Mythmaking: Images in Film andLiterature, New York, 1979.
Hunter, Allan, Alec Guinness on Screen, London, 1982.
Velasco, Raymond L., A Guide to the Star Wars Universe, New York, 1984.
Austin, Bruce A., Current Research in Film: Audiences, Economicsand Law, Volume 1, Norwood, New Jersey, 1985.
Von Gunden, Kenneth, Alec Guinness: The Films, Jefferson, North Carolina, 1987.
Strick, Philip, in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1976.
Filmfacts (Los Angeles), no. 5, 1977.
Zito, S., "George Lucas Goes Far Out," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), April 1977.
Murphy, A. D., in Variety (New York), 25 May 1977.
Collins, Robert, "Star Wars: The Pastiche of Myth and the Yearning for a Past Future," in Journal of Popular Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio), Summer 1977.
"Star Wars Issue" of American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), July 1977.
Canemaker, J., "Star Wars Special Effects," in Millimeter (New York), July-August 1977.
Fok, T. C., and A. Lubow, in Film Comment (New York), July-August 1977.
Morris, G., in Take One (Montreal), July-August 1977.
Lindberg, I., in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), Autumn 1977.
Rosenbaum, Jonathan, "The Solitary Pleasures of Star Wars," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1977.
Ciment, Michel, and Robert Benayoun, in Positif (Paris), September 1977.
Clouzot, C., "Le Matin du magicien: George Lucas et Star Wars," in Ecran (Paris), September 1977.
Nicholson, D. W., "Special Effects in Star Wars," in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), October 1977.
Gow, Gordon, in Films and Filming (London), December 1977.
Le Peron, S., in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1977.
Wood, Denis, "The Stars in Our Hearts—A Critical Commentary on George Lucas's Star Wars," in Journal of Popular Film (Washington, D.C.), no. 3, 1978.
Mathers, F., in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), January 1978.
Rubey, D., "Not So Far Away," in Jump Cut (Berkeley), August 1978.
Ulbrich, P., in Film und Fernsehen (East Berlin), August 1978.
Tosi, V., in Bianco e Nero (Rome), January-February 1979.
Pye, Michael, and Lynda Miles, in Atlantic (Boston), March 1979.
Roth, L., "Bergsonian Comedy and the Human Machine in StarWars," in Film Criticism (Edinboro, Pennsylvania), Winter 1979.
Hirayama, Ruth L., in Magill's Survey of Cinema 4, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1980.
Wood, Denis, "The Empire's New Clothes," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1981.
Edwards, Phil, in Starburst (London), March 1982.
Lafficier, Randy and Jean-Marc, "Les Origines de Star Wars," in Ecran Fantastique (Paris), April 1983.
Harmetz, Aljean, "Burden of Dreams: George Lucas," in AmericanFilm (Washington, D.C.), June 1983.
Chion, M., "Cinema de rêve," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), October 1983.
Lewis, J., "A Situationist Perspective," in Jump Cut (Berkeley), March 1985.
Malmquist, Allen, "Saga Time at the 01' Bijou," in Cinefantastique (Oak Park, Illinois), October 1985.
McMahon, D. F., "The Psychological Significance of Science Fiction," in Psychoanalytic Review (New York), no. 2, 1989.
Meyer, D. S., "Star Wars, Star Wars, and American Political Culture," in Journal of Popular Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio), no. 2, 1992.
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
Director: Irvin Kershner
Production: Lucasfilm; Rank Film Color, 35mm, Panavision, Dolby sound; visual effects shot in Panavision; running time: 124 minutes. Released 14 June 1980 by 20th Century-Fox. Filmed in Elstree Studios, England, and on location in Finse, Norway; special effects shot at Industrial Light and Magic, California.
Producer: Gary Kurtz; executive producer: George Lucas; screenplay: Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, from an original story written for the screen by George Lucas; photography: Peter Suschitzy; editor: Paul Hirsch; visual effects editor: Conrad Buff; sound: Peter Sutton; special sound effects: Ben Burtt; production designer: Norman Reynolds; art directors: Leslie Dilley, Harry Lange, and Alan Tomkins; visual effects art director: Joe Johnston; music: John Williams; special effects: Brian Johnson and Richard Edlund; effects photography: Dennis Muren; optical photography: Bruce Nicholson; stop motion animation: Jon Berg and Phil Tippet; costume designer: John Mollo; design consultant: Ralph McQuarrie.
Cast: Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker); Harrison Ford (Han Solo); Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia); David Prowse (Lord Darth Vader, voice by James Earl Jones); Anthony Daniels (C-3PO); Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca); Kenny Baker (R2-D2); Frank Oz (Voice and mechanical workings of Yoda); Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian); Alec Guinness (Ben "Obi-wan" Kenobi).
Awards: Oscar for Sound, 1980; Special Achievement Oscar for Visual Effects, 1980.
Brackett, Leigh, Lawrence Kasdan, and George Lucas, The EmpireStrikes Back: Script Facsimile, Los Angeles, 1998.
Arnold, Alan, Once Upon a Galaxy: A Journal of the Making of "TheEmpire Strikes Back," New York, 1980.
Smith, Thomas G., Industrial Light and Magic: The Art of SpecialEffects, New York, 1986.
Brosnan, John, "Interview with Brian Johnson," in Starburst (London), no. 26, 1980.
"Empire Strikes Back Dossier," in Ecran Fantastique (Paris), no. 13, 1980.
Films and Filming (London), April 1980.
McGee, R., in American Film (Washington, D.C.), May 1980.
Harwood, J., in Variety (New York), 14 May 1980.
"Special Issue" of American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), June 1980.
Reiss, D., in Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), June 1980.
Combs, Richard, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), July 1980.
Vallerand, F., "John Williams et The Empire Strikes Back," in Séquences (Montreal), July 1980.
Shay, D., "Interview with Richard Edlund," in Cinefex (Riverside, California), August 1980.
Rogers, T., in Films in Review (New York), August-September 1980.
Clarke, Frederick S., in Cinefantastique (Oak Park, Illinois), Fall 1980.
Ciment, Michel, and A. Garsault, in Positif (Paris), September 1980.
Tessier, Max, in Image et Son (Paris), September 1980.
Gordon, Andrew, "The Empire Strikes Back: Monsters from the Id," in Science Fiction Studies, November 1980.
Lierop, P., in Skoop (Amsterdam), November 1980.
Mandrell, P., "Tauntauns, Walkers, and Probots," in Cinefex (River-side, California), December 1980.
Tellez, J. L., in Contracampo (Madrid), December 1980.
Termine, L., in Cinema Nuovo (Bari), December 1980.
Shay, Don, in Ecran Fantastique (Paris), no. 16, 1981.
de Kuyper, E., in Skrien (Amsterdam), March 1981.
Lancashire, Anne, "Complex Design in The Empire Strikes Back," in Film Criticism (Edinboro, Pennsylvania), Spring 1981.
Also see list of publications following Star Wars credits.
THE RETURN OF THE JEDI
Director: Richard Marquand
Production: Lucasfilm Ltd.; color, 35mm, Dolby sound; running time: about 120 minutes. Released Spring 1983 by 20th Century-Fox. Filmed Elstree Studios, England, and on location in Yuma, Arizona and Crescent City, California; special effects shot at Industrial Light and Magic, California.
Producer: Howard Kazanjian; executive producer: George Lucas; screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas, from an original story for the screen by George Lucas; photography: Alan Hume; editors: Sean Barton, Marcia Lucas, and Duwayne Dunham; sound designer: Ben Burtt; production designer: Norman Reynolds; music: John Williams; special effects: Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren and Ken Ralston; makeup and creature designers: Stuart Freeborn and Phil Tippett; costume designers: Aggie Guerard Rodgers and Nilo Rodis-Jamero.
Cast: Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker); Harrison Ford (Han Solo); Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia); Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian); Anthony Daniels (C-3PO); Kenny Baker (R2-D2 and Paploo); Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca); Ian McDiarmid (The Emperor); David Prowse (Darth Vader, voice by James Earl Jones); Sebastian Shaw (Anakin Skywalker); Warwick Davis (Wicket); Michael Carter (Bib Fortuna); Denis Lawson (Wedge); Alec Guinness (Ben "Obi-wan" Kenobi).
Kasdan, Lawrence, and George Lucas, in The Art of "The Return of the Jedi," New York, 1985.
Variety (New York), 18 May 1983.
"Special Issue" of American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), June 1983.
Callahan, J., "Raiders of the Jedi Secret," and "Jedi's Extra Special Effects," by Adam Eisenberg, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), June 1983.
Murdoch, Alan, "Interview with Richard Marquand," in Starburst (London), June 1983.
Solman, G., in Films in Review (New York), June-July 1983.
Cohen, P., in Skoop (Amsterdam), July 1983.
Crawley, Tony, "The Making of The Return of the Jedi," in Starburst (London), July 1983.
Edlund, Richard, Dennis Muren, and Ken Ralston, "Jedi Journal," in Cinefex (Riverside, California), July 1983.
Kobal, J., in Films and Filming (London), July 1983.
Schupp, P., in Séquences (Montreal), July 1983.
Strick, Philip, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), July 1983.
Hibbin, S., in Stills (London), July-August 1983.
"Special Issue" of Ecran Fantastique (Paris), October 1983.
Dumont, P., in Cinéma (Paris), October 1983.
Philbert, B., in Cinématographe (Paris), October 1983.
Marinero, P., in Casablanca (Madrid), January 1984.
Film Criticism (Meadville, Pennsylvania), Winter 1984.
Lewis, Jon, in Jump Cut (Berkeley), March 1985.
Starburst (London), May 1986.
Also see list of publications following Star Wars credits.
THE PHANTOM MENACE
Director: George Lucas
Production: Lucasfilm; 35mm, Arriscope, color (Deluxe), Dolby Sound; running time, 136 minutes. Released 19 May 1999, USA; filmed in Tozeur, Tunisia, Royal Palace, Caserta, Naples, Italy, and Elstree Studios, Leavesden, England; special effects created at Industrial Light and Magic, California. Cost: $115 million.
Producer: Rick McCallum; executive producer: George Lucas; screenplay: George Lucas; photography: David Tattershall; editors: Ben Burtt and Paul Martin Smith; special effects: Rob Coleman, John Knoll, Dennis Muren, Scott Squires; original music and conductor: John Williams; production designer: Gavin Bocquet; costume design: Trisha Biggar.
Cast: Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon Jinn); Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi); Natalie Portman (Queen Amidala/Padmé Naberrie); Jake Lloyd (Anakin Skywalker); Ian McDiarmid (Naboo Senator Cos Palpatine/Darth Sidious); Pernilla August (Schmi Skywalker); Oliver Ford Davies (Governor Sio Bibble); Hugh Quarshie (Captain Panaka); Ahmed Best (voice of Jar Jar Binks/Senator); Anthony Daniels (C-3PO); Kenny Baker (R2-D2); Frank Oz (voice of Yoda); Terence Stamp (Chancellor Finis Valorum); Brian Blessed (Boss Nass); Andrew Secombe (Watto); Ray Park (Darth Maul).
Awards: Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards, Sierra Award for Best Costume Design (Trisha Biggar), 2000; Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor (Jar-Jar Binks), 2000; Young Artist Award for Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Drama Film (Jake Lloyd), 2000.
Lucas, George, Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace: ScriptFacsimile, Los Angeles, 2000.
Pollock, Dale, Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas, New York, 1999.
Cavelos, Jeanne, The Science of Star Wars: An Astrophysicist'sIndependent Examination of Space Travel, Aliens, and Robots asPortrayed in the Star Wars Films, New York, 1999.
Anderson, Kevin J., and Daniel Wallace, Star Wars: The EssentialChronology, Los Angeles, 2000.
Blake, Larry, "Finishing The Phantom Menace—The Complete Post-Production for Star Wars Episode I," in Mix (Berkeley), 1 May 1999.
French, Lawrence, "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," in Cinefantastique (New York), 1 May 1999.
McCarthy, Todd, "Mighty Effects but Mini Magic," in Variety (New York), 17 May 1999.
Corliss, Richard, "The Phantom Movie," in Time (New York), 17 May 1999.
Gleiberman, Owen, "Force of Nature?" in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 21 May 1999.
"The Second Coming," in Maclean's (Toronto), 24 May 1999.
"Star Wars: A New Hype," in Film Review (London), 1 June 1999.
Robertson, Barbara, "Star Wars," in Computer Graphics World (San Francisco), 1 June 1999.
Travers, Peter, "Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace," in Rolling Stone (New York), 10 June 1999.
Duncan, Jody, Kevin H. Martin, and Mark Cotta Vaz, "Heroes' Journey," in Cinefex (Riverside), 1 July 1999.
Romney, Jonathan, "Cause and Effects," in New Statesman (London), 12 July 1999.
Alleva, Richard, "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," in Common-weal (New York), 16 July 1999.
Steyn, Mark, "Cinema: Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace," in The Spectator (London), 17 July 1999.
Robertson, Barbara, "Behind the Screens," in Computer GraphicsWorld (San Francisco), 1 August 1999.
Freer, Ian, review in Empire (London), August 1999.
Doherty, Thomas, "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," in Cinefantastique, 1 October 1999.
Carson, Tom, "The Screen," in Esquire (New York), 1 November 1999.
* * *
In terms of scope, the Star Wars films are a modern equivalent to The Iliad or The Odyssey. Not only do they depict a mythic history in the form of an epic narrative, they also tell a personal tale of courage and cowardice, adventure and romance. Supported by a dazzling display of special effects and cinematic technology, the films are set in a vivid fantasy world, "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." The series is so popular that each new film has joined the ranks of the top moneymakers of all time. More importantly, the early films generated a demand for big-budget science fiction and fantasy films, a demand that has continued into the 1990s and beyond.
The Disneyesque creator behind the films is George Lucas, who used the success of American Graffiti as a springboard for the production of the first Star Wars film, subtitled A New Hope. Lucas retained the rights to future Star Wars films and produced two sequels in the 1980s, subtitled The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. These three films are the middle trilogy of a tentatively planned nine film opus. The fourth film to be made, The Phantom Menace, which appeared in 1999, begins the sequence, and Lucas has plans to make its two sequels within ten years.
The middle trilogy relates the adventures of Luke Skywalker as he and his companions battle the evil Empire, led by Luke's archnemesis, Lord Darth Vader, who is actually the tool of the Emperor, a far more malevolent being. As they're now planned, the first trilogy will relate how the Emperor took power and will end with Luke as a young boy, while the third trilogy will begin years after Luke and his rebel allies have defeated the Emperor in Return of the Jedi. The first three films to be made are full of youthful energy, from the exuberance of the performers to the powerful but subtle strains of John Williams's Academy Award-winning score. Lucas may be the genius behind these films, but the contributions of others involved in the films should not be overlooked.
Although the series as a whole can be seen as a simple tale of good versus evil, this doesn't do justice to its moral complexity, which is particularly in evidence in the middle trilogy through the character of Luke. Luke's story is not only a fight against the evil Empire, it is also a fight against the evil within himself. His moral dilemma is complicated by the fact, as revealed in The Empire Strikes Back, that the villainous Darth Vader is Luke's father.
Luke's confrontation with his dark father is part of his initiation as a Jedi Knight, an initiation which involves training in the ways of "the Force," the mysterious power that exists in everything and "binds the universe together." An important theme in the films is how the Force can be used to control technology, for good or evil ends. Luke's initiation into this mysterious Force is a rite of passage. As such, aspects of his story conform to the classic structure of separation, transition and incorporation described by anthropologist Arnold van Gennep in his 1909 book Rites of Passage. For example, in The Empire Strikes Back Luke's right hand is cut off by his father during a fight and is later replaced with a mechanical hand. Despite this symbolic castration, Luke still sees goodness in his father, and in Return of the Jedi he spares his father's life when he sees that his father, who has become more machine than man, also has a mechanical hand. This device of the hands signifies a permanent separation that leads to a permanent incorporation—it is a symbol of union with the father and a mark of membership in the knighthood of the Jedi. As a result, Luke becomes a Jedi Knight and his father is again incorporated into the good side of the Force.
The duplication and inversion which exists in the confrontation between Luke and his father is reflected throughout the three early Star Wars films. For instance, the rebels must destroy two Death Stars, Luke has a twin sister, the two robots are a comical inversion of the courage and cowardice of the other main characters, and Obi-wan Kenobi is a benevolent double of the Emperor. Most importantly, the furry Ewoks of Return of the Jedi are an inverted duplication of the small, nasty Jawas of A New Hope. The primitive technology of the Ewoks is the crucial factor that defeats the more advanced technology of the Empire. The Ewoks thus demonstrate how the Emperor's inflated sense of power has caused him to minimize the powers of others resulting in the Emperor's own downfall.
In this respect, the communal celebration of all of the heroes at the forest home of the Ewoks in the final scene of Return of the Jedi represents an interesting development of the theme of duplication and inversion because it demonstrates the process whereby two can become one. Ultimately, the trilogy not only proclaims the unity of Luke with his father or Luke with his sister, it also proclaims the unity of the Many with the One. The spirit of togetherness at the end illustrates the essential oneness of the individual and the group.
The Emperor loses because he ignores the symbiotic nature of all such dualities; he fails to realize that the existence of the master depends on the existence of his servant. And the power of Luke as a mythic hero is his ability to transcend the distinctions between good and evil, to see the good within the bad and the human being behind the mechanical mask.
With their combination of fantastical settings, spectacular special effects and slick action sequences, it is little wonder that these three films captured the imagination of a generation of filmgoers. It was with intense anticipation, then, that early in 1999 fans awaited the release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Lucas's first directorial project since A New Hope in 1977.
So tense was the build-up that bootleg copies of the film, taken on camcorders at preview screenings, circulated on the internet months in advance, and when the release date became known, fans camped outside cinemas to buy advance tickets. Some cinemas even reported fans buying cinema tickets just to watch the Phantom Menace trailer.
Set thirty years before the original three-film sequence, in The Phantom Menace two Jedi knights set out to rescue Queen Amidala from the planet Naboo, and become involved in a battle with the Dark Side to prevent the Empire taking over the galaxy. The Phantom Menace did not disappoint in terms of its special effects, its battle scenes, or its action set pieces. Yet the film has been criticized on many fronts, including its lack of humor and clear story line, poor dialogue, and the apparent lack of directorial guidance in the performances of the actors.
It has been suggested that Lucas has become so involved with the saga that he is no longer able to judge where audiences need help working out the details of the plot. A less charitable view is that he no longer needs to make an effort in order to make money. Nevertheless, many critics look towards the next two films, due out in 2002 and 2005, to make sense of The Phantom Menace. Despite the failings of the latest film, it is inevitable that the next two episodes will be at least as successful at the box office as the others. While the overall concept may have the cultural weight of an Iliad or Odyssey, The Phantom Menace exposes serious narrative limitations in the execution of this modern saga.
—Thomas Snyder, updated by Chris Routledge
In 1977, George Lucas released a space opera titled Star Wars: A New Hope that has become not only one of the most important movies ever made, but one of the largest merchandising enterprises ever. The Star Wars phenomenon has led to two sequels (The Empire Strikes Back , and Return of the Jedi ), a set of prequels set for release at century's end, a score of books, numerous awards, and more toys than was once thought imaginable. Star Wars the movie was a remarkable piece of filmmaking, but Stars Wars the industry permeated popular culture in an unprecedented fashion—and looks to do so for years to come.
The Star Wars trilogy (as it was known before the release of the first Star Wars prequel, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, in May of 1999) was one of the most successful movie endeavors of all time. All three of the movies rank in the top ten of box office revenue and by 1999 it was estimated that the trilogy had earned $1.5 billion, plus three times that amount in merchandising. Beyond ticket sales the importance of the movies can be seen in the numerous Oscars, Golden Globes, and many other awards it has received. The movies were so popular that on the twentieth anniversary of the original, Lucas re-released the Star Wars trilogy with additional new footage (made with special effects that were not technologically possible in the late 1970s and early 1980s) and again drew viewers to theaters by the millions. Lucas stated that Star Wars was only 70 percent of what he had imagined and he described the release of the Special Edition not as the director's cut, but as the "director's wish."
The Star Wars movies are often described by critics as "corny" or "hokey" and as having a childishly simplistic plot, but these corny plots have taken hold of popular culture in an astounding fashion. The overall story has the simplicty of myth: rebel forces do battle with an evil empire, led by a cruel Emperor and his dark enforcer, Darth Vader. The movies depict the struggle between good (Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi, etc.) and evil (Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, and the Storm Troopers); they are populated with heroes, villains, warrior-wizards, wise mentors, ogres, and princesses. The story tells of the transmission of good and evil from father to son; it is also a story, according to Lucas, about "redemption." There is little that is new in the movies, much that is familiar. As scholar Andrew Gordon put it, " Star Wars is a masterpiece of synthesis, a triumph of American ingenuity and resourcefulness, demonstrating how the old may be made new again: Lucas has raided the junkyard of our popular culture and rigged a working myth out of scrap."
Prior to Star Wars, merchandising was only used to help promote a movie and rarely lasted after the movie had finished its run. But Star Wars merchandising became a business unto itself and and produced the most important licensing properties in history. The commercialization of Star Wars can be seen everywhere, from action figures to comic books to bank checks; there are even Star Wars -themed versions of Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, and Battleship. Kenner toys once estimated that for most of the 1980s they sold in excess of $1 billion a year in Star Wars related toys. In 1996, Star Wars actions figures were the best selling toy for boys and the second over-all bestseller, after Barbie; in 1999 Legos introduced new models based on space ships from the early movies. Even in the late 1990s, Star Wars toys remained incredibly popular.
As time wore on the amazing popularity of Star Wars items did not falter. In 1991, Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire became the first in a series of books based upon the Star Wars universe. It surprised the publishing world by going to No. 1 on the New York Times hardcover-fiction list. Marketers quickly discovered a new generation of fans who had never seen the movies in theaters but were nevertheless obsessed with Star Wars. This popularity can be easily seen, as a majority of the books published in the 1990s have reached the New York Times best seller list. The books have in one respect mirrored the real world; as the first generation of fans, now parents, take their children to see the re-release of Star Wars several of the books have focussed on the adventures of the children of Han Solo and Princess Leia.
Other books and movies spun off characters found in the trilogy. One set of books focused on the adventures of Lando Calrissian; two made-for-television movies featured the Ewoks (characters introduced in Return of the Jedi). The movies, The Ewok Adventure: Caravan of Courage (1984) and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985) benefited greatly from the splendid special effects provided by Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic, providing a rare treat for television movies. Both were considered superior fare for television, and were released theatrically abroad. The popularity of the two Ewok movies among children led to two half-hour animated adventure series. One featuring the Ewoks (1985-86) and the other the Droids R2D2 and C3PO (1985). Not only did the spin-offs demonstrate the appeal of the plethora of characters created by Lucas, but they further ingrained the Star Wars story into the cultural consciousness of fans old and new.
Star Wars merchandising kept pace with technology as Lucas Arts (the division of Lucas Industries tasked with developing computer games) created several games designed for the Nintendo system and for personal computers. Among the most popular of these games are X-Wing (1993), which was the best-selling personal computer gameof the year; Rebel Assault (1993), which sold 1.5 million copies, and the sequel Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire (1995); and Dark Forces (1995). In the late 1990s LucasArts became one of the top 5 producers of video games in the United States. As Lucas did in the film industry, LucasArts has pushed the outer limits of what was possible in computer games.
The popularity and long-term interest in Star Wars merchandise has given rise to a substantial collectors industry. With the high-level demand for original run Star Wars toys the value of many has skyrocketed. A vinyl-caped Jawa, which sold in 1978 for approximately $3, brought as much as $1,400 in the late 1990s. This has led to a number of conventions, books, and websites dedicated to collectibles. The demand and hoped for return on investment has led many toy stores to limit the number of any one item that can be purchased by customers.
Star Wars has had other far-reaching influences on Ameriocan popular culture. The theme music by John Williams, which won both the Oscar and the Golden Globe in 1978, is one of the most identifiable pieces of film music ever created. The sound of Darth Vader's artificially enhanced breathing is universally connected to dark foreboding danger, in much the same way that the theme music to films like Psycho and Friday the 13th connote coming horror. "May the force be with you" is just one of the most widely known of the many phrases from the movies that have worked their way into popular terminology. Nearly as well known is Obi-wan Kenobi's admonition to Luke Skywalker, uttered during the hurtling chase scene in the high-walled metallic canyon of the Death Star, to "trust the force, Luke."
Perhaps the most obvious influence Star Wars had in the political arena was its use as a linguistic device in the debate over the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). In an unrehearsed speech that took many foreign policy analysts by surprise, on March 23, 1983 President Ronald Reagan announced a goal of rendering nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete" by constructing a space-based defensive system. For 30 years, the American defense against nuclear attack had rested on the policy of MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction). MAD assumed that the threat of massive retaliation would deter Soviet attack. SDI would provide an actual defense against the weapons themselves. Opponents of Reagan's plan bitterly argued that not only would SDI prod the Soviet into developing new nuclear weapons that could penetrate SDI but that it wouldn't work anyway. Shortly after President Reagan's March 1983 speech, Senator Ted Kennedy derided SDI as "Star Wars" fantasy that was reckless, costly, and technologically unfeasible.
Senator Kennedy's term of derision stuck. Years after President Reagan's proposal was made, SDI is still known as "Star Wars." Indeed, the Federation of American Scientists, an interest group opposed to SDI, has on its web site page for SDI issues a moving picture of Darth Vader menacingly waving his lightsaber. And in an academic conference sponsored by Northwestern University, one group of scholars claimed that "Star Wars" was worse than simply defensive weapons in space: SDI was in reality a "Death Star," a potential offensive device in orbit that could destroy Earth just as Princess Leia's homeworld of Alderaan was destroyed.
Not surprisingly, the Star Wars series has directly influenced many subsequent science fiction films, first, in its upbeat and individualist theme and characterizations, and second, (and perhaps contradictorily) in its "mindless" special effects-induced action and weak plotline. In the first half of the 1970s science fiction films were either themed around gloom and doom messages of imminent environmental catastrophe—as in The Andromeda Strain (1971), The Omega Man (1971), and Soylent Green (1973)—or depicted an oppressive, corporate-controlled future in films such as Rollerball (1975) and George Lucas's own THX-1138 (1970). These films reflected the public backlash against government corruption in the Watergate-era and government dishonesty during the Vietnam conflict.
Star Wars abruptly changed the previously dispiriting and grim view of the future taken by science fiction films, offering a pro-freedom, anti-tyranny theme where the good guys actually won. (In The Omega Man and in Soylent Green, the lead characters are killed at the film's conclusion.) Star Wars, with its backdrop of a totalitarian universe, promoted the values of the individual against the state and the "freedom fighter," foreshadowing and congruent with the decade of the 1980s. The Empire is seen as a synthesis of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, a faceless bureaucratic tyranny that disturbs the agrarian, peaceful, trading peoples of the galaxy. Indeed, two of the primary heroes of the Star Wars saga, Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, are depicted as entrepreneurial privateers struggling against the oppressive state and avoiding its regulators.
The revival of religious values in the 1980s was also indicated in the Star Wars series. The individual-against-state theme of Star Wars is qualified by its solemnly spiritual individualism. With the mysticism of The Force, a plot device that Lucas had not originally intended to be a centerpiece of the series, Star Wars conveys the values of faith over reason and simplicity over complexity. Star Wars may be libertarian, but it is definitely not libertine and as such served as a precursor to the revival of small-town traditional values in the 1980s.
In keeping with its upbeat theme, Star Wars also resurrects the role of the unambiguous hero. In the 1960s and 1970s the heroes of many films were dubious heroes at best, and at worst anti-heroes. Among the films in this category are Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather series; Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver (1976); Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969); and the "Man with No Name" westerns and Dirty Harry cop films of Clint Eastwood. On the other hand, Star Wars offers the likes of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Lando Calrissian as genuinely good-hearted, if not faultless, characters. The faults they do possess—Luke leaving his Jedi training too soon to rescue Han and Leia—are faults of judgment that arise out of a love and concern for friends and not of character. In short, Star Wars reverses the bleakness, grimness, and unsettling tragedy inherent in many early 1970s films by, in part, offering characters to cheer for. Other science fiction films—indeed Hollywood in general—would come to mimic the heroic characterizations of Star Wars. The Indiana Jones series, Chuck Norris's Delta Force series, the Superman series, the Conan series, and of course the Rocky series all revive the heroic archtype central character. Nearly gone were the no-name, angst-ridden, amoral "heroes" of the late 1960s and 1970s.
A second influence of the Star Wars series was the way in which it heightened the use of special effects in film, especially science fiction film, to the detriment of plot. Battlestar Galactica (1978), for example, was an obvious and cheap Star Wars reproduction that was wholly devoid of plot. While other science fiction films succeeding Star Wars such as the Alien series, Superman (1978), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), E.T. (1982), the Jurassic Park series all possessed passable plots, the emphasis on the effects is clear. One film, Independence Day (1996), went so far as to mimic Luke's attack run through the Death Star's trench, replacing TIE fighters and X-Wings with F-18s and alien fighters.
Lucas has stated that the next Star Wars films are prequels to the released films, taking place approximately 35 years prior to the events of the original Star Wars (which is the fourth episode in the saga). The first of the prequels, Star Wars—Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, takes place in the last years of the Jedi Republic and deals with the early Jedi training of Luke's father, Anakin Skywalker, under Obi-Wan Kenobi, his love for a young Queen, and the maneuverings of Senator Palpatine to the throne. The film stars Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Frank Oz as the voice of Yoda. According to David Ansen in Newsweek, while the first film took audiences by surprise, the prequel came out "amid a cacophony of media hype, carrying on its shoulders the wildest hopes of several generations of worshipful moviegoers.… It's not hype to say that Phantom Menace [was] the most eagerly awaited movie ever made." The prequel was directed by George Lucas himself (the first film Lucas will have directed since the original Star Wars), and was reported to have cost $115 million to produce, with a 20-minute finalé alone costing a reported $22 million. The first prequel contains over 1,500 special effects, five times the number in effects-laden Independence Day. If one can judge by the hype that preceded the release of the movie on May 19, 1999, the force remains with the Star Wars franchise.
—Craig T. Cobane
Nicholas A. Damask
Ansen, David. "Star Wars: The Phantom Movie." Newsweek. May17, 1999, 56-60.
Cavelos, Jeanne. The Science of Star Wars: An Astrophysict's Independent Examination of Space Travel, Aliens, Planets, and Robots as Portrayed in the Star Wars Films and Books. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Champlin, Charles. George Lucas: The Creative Impulse. New York, Harry N. Abrams, 1997.
Edwards, Ted. The Unauthorized Star Wars Compendium: The Complete Guide to the Movies, Comic Books, Novels, and More. Boston, Little Brown, 1999.
Gordon, Andrew. "Star Wars: A Myth for Our Time." Literature/Film Quarterly. Vol. 6, No. 4, 1978, 314-26.
Jenkins, Garry. Empire Building: The Remarkable Real-Life Story of Star Wars. Secaucus, New Jersey, Carol Publishing Group, 1999.
Kelly, Kevin and Paula Parisi. "Beyond Star Wars: What's Next for George Lucas." Wired. February, 1997, 160-67, 210-12, 216-17.
Sansweet, Stephen J. Star Wars Encyclopedia. New York, Ballantine Publishing Group, 1998.
Sansweet, Stephen J. with Josh Ling. Star Wars: The Action Figure Archive. San Francisco, California, Chronicle Books, 1999.
Seabrook, John. "Why Is the Force Still with Us?" The New Yorker. January 6, 1997, 40-53.
Snyder, Jeffrey B. Collecting Star Wars Toys, 1977-1997: An Unauthorized Practical Guide. Atglen, Pennsyvlania, Schiffer Publishing, 1998.
"Star Wars." http://www.starwars.com. May 1999.
Weinberg, Larry. Star Wars: The Making of the Movie. New York, Random House, 1980.
George Lucas’s film Star Wars (1977) had a lasting impact on the genre of science fiction films, the film industry in general, popular culture, and the political culture during and after Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Lucas had established Lucasfilm Ltd. in 1971 and later founded Industrial Light and Magic, a special effects company. The revolutionary special effects in Lucas’s films set a standard for future science fiction and action films. The new technologies used to make Star Wars included a new type of motion camera, innovations in sound technology, and developments in digital and computerized sequencing. Before Star Wars, possibly the last science fiction film to revolutionize the genre was director Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The financial success of Star Wars changed Hollywood’s negative perception of science fiction films, making possible the production of other such films, including Star Trek: The Motion Picture (dir. Robert Wise, 1979).
Lucas eventually made six Star Wars films, the original trilogy and a prequel trilogy. The titles and years of release are: Star Wars (later retitled Star Wars: Episode IV–A New Hope, 1977); Star Wars: Episode V–The Empire Strikes Back (1980); Star Wars: Episode VI–Return of the Jedi (1983); Star Wars: Episode I–The Phantom Menace (1999); Star Wars: Episode II–Attack of the Clones (2002); and Star Wars: Episode III–Revenge of the Sith (2005). By 2005 the two Star Wars trilogies and all merchandising and franchising had earned close to $20 billion, making it among the most popular and profitable film series in U.S. film history. Many of the episodes were nominated for and won Oscars and other film awards.
The plot of the films centers around Luke Skywalker, his family, the Jedi Knights, and the turbulent history of an intergalactic empire struggling from opposing totalitarian and democratic forces. Luke’s character, his independent spirit, and tensions between him and his father (and surrogate fathers) hearken back to stories from the American West, Dickensian tales, and chivalry and medieval romances. The films also embody Joseph Campbell’s structuralist approach to mythology. A subtext underlying the films pits a romantic notion of mysticism and the divine in nature against an overreliance on technology. Though futuristic and featuring such “technology” as light sabers, warp drives, androids, and sky cities, the story takes place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” a setting that shrouds Star Wars in an ambiance of legend and mythology. In technical terms, the films are more science fantasy than science fiction and created a genre labeled “space opera.”
A variety of influences have been identified. These include Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress (1958); author Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy (1951–1953); Frank Herbert’s Dune books; and Jack Kirby’s Fourth World series published by DC Comics in the early 1970s. The relationship between Luke and his Jedi mentor Yoda is reminiscent of author Carlos Casteneda’s Don Juan books about shamanistic initiation. The films’ opening credits, with a scrolling tilted text that moves outward, is an homage to the Flash Gordon cinema-graphic serials from the late 1930s. Lucas indicated that he wanted to create a modern mythology, and the popularity of the films suggests that he succeeded. As evidence of this popularity are the many Star Wars –themed books and novelizations, comic books, syndicated comic strips, video and computer games, Web pages, and blogs, in addition to action figures and other Star Wars –related franchising and merchandizing.
Perhaps the most striking influence of Lucas’s films was on American political culture during and after the Reagan administration (1981–1989). Reagan was at times dubbed “Ronald Ray-Gun” in underground comic strips from the 1960s because, as an actor, he had played Steve Coe in Lewis Seiler’s Murder in the Air (1940). In this film, Reagan’s Coe tests an experimental “ray” weapon called the Inertia Projector. Reagan was reportedly a fan of Star Wars, and he incorporated various allusions to the film into his foreign policy. In particular, he referred to the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire,” advocated a missile defense system that was later labeled “Star Wars,” and drew parallels between communism and the Rebel Alliance of Star Wars.
Reagan’s two Evil Empire speeches were delivered on June 8, 1982, at the British House of Commons and on March 8, 1983, to the National Association of Evangelicals. On March 23, 1983, Reagan delivered what became known as the “Star Wars speech,” in which he enjoined “the scientific community … those who gave us nuclear weapons … to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.” Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, which proposed the development of ground- and satellite-based laser weapons that could target and destroy ballistic missiles, was termed “Star Wars” by a skeptical press and scientific community. The program was seen as heightening cold war tensions and militarizing space.
Star Wars allusions continued during the George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush administrations. During the Persian Gulf War (1991), for example, military officials called themselves Jedi Knights. Research, development, and funding for “Star Wars” missile defense technology continued through 2006, generating several books, including Francis FitzGerald’s Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars, and the End of the Cold War (2000); The Phantom Defense: America’s Pursuit of the Star Wars Illusion (2001) by Craig Eisendrath, Melvin A. Goodman, and Gerald E. Marsh; and Loring Wirbel’s Star Wars: US Tools of Space Supremacy (2003).
SEE ALSO Popular Culture; Science Fiction
Jenkins, Garry. 1997. Empire Building: The Remarkable Real Life Story of Star Wars. Secaucus, NJ: Carol.
Meyer, David S. 1992. Star Wars, Star Wars, and American Political Culture. Journal of Popular Culture 26 (2): 99–115.
Reagan, Ronald. 1983. Address to the Nation on Defense and National Security. March 23. http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1983/32383d.htm.
Seed, David. 1999. American Science Fiction and the Cold War: Literature and Film. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn.
In 1999, the film Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace opened after years of anticipation, aggressive marketing, and media hype. Episode I is the fourth Star Wars film to be released. The first movie by George Lucas (1944–), Star Wars (now often called Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope) appeared in 1977, starting a box office and merchandising franchise worth billions of dollars. Two sequels, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and The Return of the Jedi (1982) followed. By 1999, it was estimated that the trilogy had earned $1.5 billion. All three are in the top ten movies for box-office revenue. The Oscar-winning Star Wars theme music by John Williams (1932–) is among the best known of film-theme tunes.
Phrases from the series like "May the Force be with you" have entered the English language. In the 1980s, "Star Wars" was the name given to the controversial Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) proposed by President Ronald Reagan (1911–). The National Missile Defense system of President George W. Bush (1946–) has been dubbed "Son of Star Wars." The absorption of Star Wars into global popular culture is astonishing. Mention "the Force" almost anywhere in the world and people will understand its meaning.
All the Star Wars movies are based on the same simple idea that good struggles with evil. Set in a galaxy "far, far away" where peaceful, pioneering people are under threat from a savage Empire, the Star Wars movies retell familiar stories of American mythology. The opening scenes and story lines of A New Hope are similar to the opening of the 1956 Western The Searchers starring John Wayne (1907–1979; see entry under 1930s—Film and Theater in volume 2). Both films begin with the killing of a family and the destruction of their homestead. Like The Searchers, the initial Star Wars is also the story of a search for a missing woman. The success of the first three films can be put down to the simplicity of their message. The Star Wars films suggest that people are free to make choices about whether to be good or evil. Although they describe a society struggling against an oppressive regime, the films take the positive view that the human spirit can never be crushed.
Luke Skywalker becomes involved with rebel forces, pursuing the captors of beautiful Princess Leia, confronting the evil Darth Vader, and finally destroying the "Death Star," a huge and deadly artificial planet. Star Wars also comments on its own time, reflecting the Cold War (1945–91) between nations of the West and the former Soviet Union. Luke's adventures also include trying to inspire cynical trader Han Solo to join the rebels, dealing with the comical droids C-3PO and R2-D2, as well as learning to control "the Force." With the help of his tutor Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke begins his training as a Jedi Knight. The Empire Strikes Back sees Luke continuing his confrontation with evil, both in the form of the Empire and within himself. Luke also finds out that Darth Vader is actually his father. In this and the third film, The Return of the Jedi, Luke learns to control the Force and use it for good. He even succeeds in rescuing his father from the dark side of the Force.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace arrived in 1999 in a whirlwind of hype and excitement. Only the second of the Star Wars films to be directed by Lucas himself, it cost well over $100 million. Set thirty or so years before the events of A New Hope, The Phantom Menace is the story of Luke Skywalker's father Anakin and his training as a Jedi Knight, and the story of the rise of Emperor Palpatine as well. For those fans old enough to remember the release of the original film, The Phantom Menace promised to bring back memories of younger days. Younger fans hoped it would add to a story that was already part of popular mythology. Many even paid to watch other films just so they could see the Star Wars trailer (preview). The film itself could never live up to such expectations. Although loaded with impressive special effects, The Phantom Menace has been criticized for its lack of humor and clear plot, its weak dialogue, and poor performances by the actors.
When the original film appeared it set new standards in special effects and tapped into a popular need for positive stories about ordinary people struggling against market forces and so-called big government. By 2001, Star Wars had become far more than just a science-fiction adventure. It had inspired award-winning computer games, a best-selling series of books, a growing collectors' market in toys, and many Web sites. Block-buster movies like Independence Day (1996) have been inspired by the "look" of the Star Wars films. With two further episodes to run, including Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002), Lucas's Star Wars empire looks set to continue its domination of popular science fiction well into the twenty-first century.
For More Information
Edwards, Ted. The Unauthorized Star Wars Compendium: The Complete Guide to the Movies, Comic Books, Novels and More. Boston: Little Brown, 1999.
Jenkins, Garry. Empire Building: The Remarkable Real-Life Story of Star Wars. Secaucus, NJ: Carol Publishing Group, 1999.
Sansweet, Stephen J., and Timothy Zahn. Star Wars Encyclopedia. New York: Ballantine Publishing Group, 1998.
Slavicsek, Bill. A Guide to the Star Wars Universe. New York: Ballantine Publishing Group, 2000.
Star Wars.http://www.starwars.com (accessed on March 26, 2002).
Since the beginning of the Cold War, American society and culture have been affected by the desire to defend the nation against nuclear holocaust. Billions of dollars have been spent on researching, developing, and deploying a defense against missile attacks from the former Soviet Union and more recently from smaller states that have developed nuclear weapons.
The term Star Wars, coined by opponents of President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), came to be widely used to describe the system of space-based weapons intended to protect the United States from intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).
The United States first began missile defense research during World War II in response to Germany's rocket program, which included plans for ICBMs. One of the earliest proponents of missile defense was Edward Teller, who authored a report on the feasibility of defensive capabilities against atomic weapons for the U.S. Navy in 1945. Teller, a lifelong optimist about the possibilities for a defense against ICBMs, invited Ronald Reagan to visit him at the weapons laboratory in Livermore just after Reagan was elected governor of California in 1966. Reagan accepted, and Teller's two-hour briefing on the possibilities of missile defense left a lasting impression on Reagan.
In 1967, in response to the Soviet deployment of a missile defense system, President Lyndon Johnson ordered the deployment of a U.S. version called Sentinel, intended to protect U.S. cities. The program was later renamed Safeguard and refocused to defend strategic weapons systems. In 1972, as part of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, known as SALT, the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union. It limited the two countries to two missile defense sites, each with up to 100 interceptors, which was reduced to one site through a follow-up protocol in 1974.
In 1982, Teller gave a short presentation on strategic defense to President Reagan and the following year Teller, working with the White House Science Council, produced a report that formed the basis for Reagan's proposal to Congress in 1983. Originally, SDI was envisioned as a system of lasers and space-based interceptors (SBI). The SBI were large, garage-like satellites housing guidance systems and containing ten hit-to-kill interceptors known as smart rocks. This reliance on futuristic technology led to the system being called Star Wars, after the popular 1977 science fiction movie. Critics argued that the system was too expensive and provided easy targets for Soviet antisatellite weapons. In response, the system was redesigned to use miniaturized sensors and computers to give the individual interceptors the ability to operate independent of the satellites. Because the interceptors were smaller, they were called brilliant pebbles.
The demise of the Soviet Union and the success of U.S. Patriot missiles against Scud missiles in the first Gulf War led President George H. W. Bush to reorient
SDI toward the development of a ground-launched interceptor system known as Global Protection against Limited Strikes (GPALS). Although the research and development on such a system would not violate the ABM treaty, the deployment would. A decade later, in 2002, President George W. Bush ordered the deployment of a modest National Missile Defense (NMD), called Son of Star Wars by its detractors, and later that year the United States withdrew from the ABM Treaty.
A Department of Defense report estimated that from 1984 to 1994 SDI-related expenses amounted to $32.6 billion, but a Congressional Research Service report put the number at over $70 billion. Bush's 2005 budget provided over $10 billion in funding for NMD, but some analysts put the total cost for deployment at around $100 billion.
Baucom, Donald R. The Origins of SDI, 1944–1983. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992.
Denoon, David B. Ballistic Missile Defense in the Post-Cold War Era. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1995.
Duric, Mira. The Strategic Defense Initiative: U.S. Policy and the Soviet Union. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003.
FitzGerald, Frances. Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars, and the End of the Cold War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000.
Holms, Hans-Henrik. "Star Wars." Journal of Peace Research 23 (1986): 1–8.
Craig T. Cobane
Star Wars: A New Hope premiered in the spring of 1977, followed by its two sequels:The Empire Strikes Back in 1981 and Return of the Jedi in 1983.* It quickly became apparent that this was a science fiction trilogy unlike any previous movies of this genre, a fact emphasized by the way the movie shattered previous box-office records and won awards, including seven of the ten Academy Awards for which it was nominated.
The movies tell the story of Luke Skywalker (actor Mark Hamill) who—together with his Jedi mentors Ben "Obi-Wan" Kenobi (Alec Guinness) and Yoda, his friends Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and his two trusty androids C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker)—battles Darth Vader (David Prowse; voice, James Earl Jones) and the evil Empire to restore peace to the Galaxy.
The most obvious difference between Star Wars and its predecessors was the special effects. Computer graphics were still in their infancy in 1977, and much of the technology needed to realize director George Lucas's vision had to be developed as the production of Star Wars progressed. The advancement of computerized special effects can be seen by comparing the initial trilogy with the "special edition" versions released in 1997—Lucas had to wait for technology to catch up with his initial vision for scenes such as the Mos Eisley spaceport in Star Wars and Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back. Nevertheless, the special effects in the original trilogy stunned moviegoers. For the first time, spaceships were depicted as vehicles that looked as if they had been through many battles instead of appearing as shiny flying saucers. Battle scenes looked real, and moviegoers felt as if they were in the middle of the action. Aliens displayed a wide variety of appearances rather than simply looking like bulbous-headed humans with three fingers.
The Star Wars trilogy represented the variety of worlds that humans might encounter throughout a galaxy. Planets ranged from the desert planet of Tatooine orbiting a double star to Yoda's swamp world of Dagobah, from the ice-covered world of Hoth to the gaseous Bespin with Lando Calrissian's Cloud City. Star Wars presented an array of new weapons such as the light saber and a new power, the Force, which could be used for either good or evil. Some of the concepts, such as creatures living on airless asteroids and spaceships traveling at speeds greater than the speed of light, are (at least at present) definitely in the realm of science fiction. Nevertheless, there were enough scientifically reasonable concepts in the movies to make everything seem possible at some other time or place in the universe.
As a proponent of space exploration, Lucas hoped that Star Wars would excite the younger generation about space and its exploration. Lucas has said, "I would feel very good if someday they colonize Mars . . . and the leader of the first colony says 'I did it because I was hoping there would be a Wookiee up there.'"
see also Entertainment (volume 1); Faster-Than-Light Travel (volume 4); Interstellar Travel (volume 4); Lucas, George (volume 1); Movies (volume 4); Science Fiction (volume 4).
Nadine G. Barlow
Sansweet, Stephen J. The Star Wars Encyclopedia. New York: Ballantine Books, 1998.
Slavicsek, Bill. A Guide to the Star Wars Universe. New York: Ballantine Books, 2000.
* The prequel trilogy to Star Wars debuted in 1999 with The Phantom Menace, and the second movie, Attack of the Clones, was released in 2002.
STAR WARS was written and directed by George Lucas and was released by Twentieth Century Fox in 1977. A science fiction tale, Star Wars centers on the journey Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) makes from innocent young man to noble Jedi Knight. Skywalker eventually teams up with Hans Solo (Harrison Ford) in an effort to save Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) from the treacherous Darth Vader (David Prowse and James Earl Jones). A classic tale of good versus evil with dazzling special effects, Star Wars ushered in the era of the blockbuster. The film grossed over $450 million in United States theaters alone. It inspired Lucas to create his own studio, Lucas Films Ltd., and produce several sequels and prequels, The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983), The
Phantom Menace (1999), and Attack of the Clones (2002). Star Wars also inspired a spin-off industry of merchandise, from models of x-wing fighters to Pez candy dispensers, that generated over $4 billion in sales. The film earned seven Academy Awards.
Some critics charged that Star Wars reproduces racial stereotypes in its representations of both human and alien diversity. No recognizable actors of color are employed in the film, and only a few are in the sequels. James Earl Jones, a black actor, provides the voice but not the performance of Darth Vader. Nevertheless, some count Star Wars as a landmark film for both its innovative use of special effects and its problematic racial politics.
Campbell, Richard, with Christopher R. Martin and Bettina Fabos. Media and Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication. 2d ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's Press, 2000.
Sobchack, Vivian. Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film. 2d ed. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1997.
See alsoFilm Industry ; Hollywood .
Star Wars ★★★★ Star Wars: Episode 4—A New Hope 1977 (PG)
First entry in Lucas's “Star Wars” trilogy proved to be one of the biggest boxoffice hits of all time. A young hero, a captured princess, a hotshot pilot, cute robots, a vile villain, and a heroic and mysterious Jedi knight blend together with marvelous special effects in a fantasy tale about rebel forces engaged in a life or death struggle with the tyrant leaders of the Galactic Empire. Set a new cinematic standard for realistic special effects, making many pre-”Star Wars” effects seem almost laughable in retrospect. Followed by “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) and “Return of the Jedi” (1983). 121m/C VHS, DVD . Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness, Peter Cushing, Kenny Baker, James Earl Jones, David Prowse, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew; D: George Lucas; W: George Lucas; C: Gilbert Taylor; M: John Williams. Oscars '77: Art Dir./Set Dec., Costume Des., Film Editing, Sound, Visual FX, Orig. Score; AFI '98: Top 100; Golden Globes '78: Score; L.A. Film Critics '77: Film, Natl. Film Reg. '89.
Star Wars • an informal name for the Strategic Defense Initiative.