The “Star Wars” phenomenon

By Alicia Brown

On May 25, 1977, opening in a mere 43 screens across the country, no one was ready for the cultural phenomenon that is known as “Star Wars.” Director George Lucas took the audience to “a galaxy far, far away” and the public keeps asking for more.

I was ten when I first experienced “Star Wars,” and with 5 older siblings ranging from 10 to 28, we all bonded over movies. There was always something about “Star Wars” in particular though; it was the one movie that left all of us, despite gender or age, in awe. My dad always told us stories of how he saw the original “Star Wars” opening weekend. “There were about 15 people in the whole theater and there were zero expectations for the movie itself,” he said.

“Star Wars” references are deeply embedded in popular culture. Quotes, characters, sounds, and visuals have become integral components in the tapestry of American society. The film can be said to have helped launch the science fiction boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s, turning science fiction films into a blockbuster genre.

George Lucas deliberately wove the most successful elements of heroic epics from throughout history into his story. “He had trouble finishing his original story until he [stumbled] upon the works of Joseph Campbell … including Campbell’s outline of the Hero’s Journey,” according to Dr. Travis Langley, author of “Star Wars Psychology: Dark Side of the Mind.”

Following the 12 steps of a hero’s journey, George Lucas crafted a story that has become a classic. With his then-pioneering special effects, lightsabers, and one of the most terrifying villains moviegoers had ever seen, “Star Wars” became a phenomenon.

At the time, special effects were still in the stone age. Science fiction movies didn’t have big audiences. In fact, the 1970s were littered with sci-fi movies that didn’t cut it at the box office, like “The Andromeda Strain,” “Logan’s Run,” and “Damnation Alley,” just to name a few. A movie budgeted at $13 million was never expected to reach the amount of fame and success it did: $775 million worldwide.

With the love shown to what would later be titled “Episode IV: A New Hope” in 1981, many more chapters would come for our hero’s journey including two original sequels: “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) and “Return of the Jedi” (1983). Between 1999 and 2005 Lucas films released a prequel trilogy, which received mixed reviews from critics and fans alike. A much more popular sequel trilogy began in 2015 with the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” All seven films were nominated, however, for Academy Awards (with wins going to the first two films released) and have been commercial successes, with a combined box office revenue of over $7.5 billion, making “Star Wars” the third highest-grossing film series ever. Spin-off productions include the animated TV shows “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” (2008) and “Rogue One” (2016), the latter of which is the first in a planned series of anthology films.

A new generation now prepares itself for battle in the “galaxy far, far away.” The eighth movie, “Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” has made a lot of noise months ahead of its release date. “The Last Jedi” is scheduled to premiere on December 15. So head to a theatre near you to experience what 40 years of captivating story lines and iconic characters have led up to.

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