The legacy of “Star Wars” is so extensive that I could devote dozens of posts on the subject, but my goal is to focus on just the facets of our culture impacted by the original 1977 film. Those of you looking for my thoughts on “The Ewok Adventure” will have to look elsewhere.
- “Star Wars” opened in only 32 theaters, but broke box office records at all of them. During the summer of 1977, the film rolled out to over 1000 theaters across the country and was the runaway blockbuster hit of the year. Along with “Jaws”, “Star Wars” redefined the summer movie season. Once a dumping ground for the studios’ low-budget fare, the summer continues to be the place for big franchise tent poles and movie star action heroes. Great news for studios, terrible news for the New Hollywood scene of the early ‘70s.
- 20th Century Fox was in danger of going bankrupt for most of the ‘70s, but “Star Wars” revived the studio, and helped turn it into the conglomerate it is today.
- George Lucas was able to maintain sequel rights in his original “Star Wars” contract, and immediately began work on a follow-up. “The Empire Strikes Back” came out in 1980 and found its own place in the NFR. The trilogy was concluded in 1983 with “Return of the Jedi”. “Empire” is still the gold standard for sequels, while “Jedi”…is fine.
- While we were eagerly awaiting that first sequel, Lucas decided to keep the franchise alive with a TV special. “The Star Wars Holiday Special” should be viewed at least once by any Star Wars fan, and then never again.
- Once computer technology caught up with George Lucas’ vision, he re-released the original trilogy in 1997 with revised special effects and new scenes. That’s great George, but we can still get the unaltered versions, right? Right? George where are you going?
- Always referring to “Star Wars” as a nine or even twelve-part saga, Lucas made the first three episodes (aka “the prequels”) from 1999 to 2005. They were breakthroughs in terms of digital effects, but garbage fires in terms of maintaining the original film’s spirit. Once Lucasfilm was sold to Disney in 2012, a sequel trilogy with the original cast was immediately announced.
- In addition, Disney has cranked out two anthology films, including “Rogue One”, which occurs literally moments before “Star Wars”. While they’re both totally unnecessary, I will admit to enjoying “Solo”.
- Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford all became overnight stars and lifelong icons thanks to “Star Wars”. Ford in particular benefited from George Lucas’ next project with friend Steven Spielberg: “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.
- Soooooooooo many parodies and spoofs over the years (IMDb alone lists over 4000 movies and TV shows!). We’ll start with the earliest, a sketch from “The Richard Pryor Show” and a musical tribute from “Donny & Marie”. Interesting foreshadowing having the Osmonds play Luke & Leia.
- The best parody of the original film is still Ernie Fosselius’ “Hardware Wars”. “Spaceballs” is fine as an overall send-up of the original trilogy, but “Hardware” is clearly coming from a place of love.
- As for more recent fare, “Family Guy” is always hit-or-miss, and their “Star Wars” parody “Blue Harvest” is no exception. Lots of great gags, but Herbert as Obi-Wan? [Shudder]
- A lot of “Star Wars” knock-offs came our way in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. Notable entries include “Star Crash”, “The Black Hole”, and ironically, a big-budget adaptation of “Flash Gordon”, which is all Lucas wanted to make in the first place!
- Every line, scene and character has been referenced in the last 40 years of pop culture. There’s even a dedicated group of fans that remade the entire movie (and no, that’s not a “Force Awakens” joke).
- Prolific filmmakers from James Cameron and Ridley Scott to Peter Jackson and Kevin Smith have been influenced by “Star Wars”. That’s right, every white male movie nerd owes a debt to “Star Wars”.
- Did you know the “Star Wars” theme has lyrics?
- Easily the film’s most ‘70s influence: “Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk” was a disco album by Meco that turned John Williams’ themes into an extended dance mix. The main track, “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band”, was number one on the Billboard charts for two weeks!
- Merchandising! My God, the merchandising! The action figures alone have their own Wikipedia pages! Yes, plural!
- The “Star Wars” comic book series helped boost Marvel’s steadily declining sales. And now the same conglomerate owns them both!
- There are countless comics, novels, video games, and other stories within the Star Wars Expanded Universe that I’m glad I never got into, because they’re not canon anymore!
- I’ll tell you what video game is still awesome: Super Star Wars for Super NES!
- My favorite little piece of non-canonical Star Wars was the NPR radio drama with Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels reprising their roles. Why is it so impossible to track down? Public radio my ass.
- Industrial Light and Magic went from a bunch of geeks blowing up model kits in Marin to the industry standard in film special effects thanks to “Star Wars”.
- Speaking of effects, remember that time CNN used holograms for their 2008 Election coverage? That was weird, right?
- Today, “Star Wars” has a cult following larger (and louder) than most religions. For the record, I like “Star Wars”…as a movie. If there’s some offshoot of the property I don’t like, I don’t watch it again and move on with my life.
- And at long last, Chewbacca received his medal at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards.
Further Viewing: “The Hidden Fortress”: Kurosawa’s 1958 samurai film, and a major influence on “Star Wars”. Lucas even sneaks the phrase “hidden fortress” into the dialogue!
Further Further Viewing: There are a LOT of videos out there about the making of “Star Wars”, but as an amateur editor myself, I gravitate towards the expertly researched “How Star Wars Was Saved In The Edit”. The “Star Wars” editing team earned the hell out of that Oscar.
Listen to This: The “Star Wars” soundtrack, featuring John Williams’ instantly iconic score, was added to the National Recording Registry in 2004. The NRR gives the soundtrack its historical context, and states the album “has been credited with reviving symphonic film scores in Hollywood motion pictures”. There’s also an essay by John Williams expert Emilio Audissino, Ph.D.