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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Star Wars Reaches its 30th Anniversary

According to Wikipedia, "Star Wars is an American epic space opera media franchise, centered on a film series created by George Lucas. It depicts the adventures of various characters a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away". To me, as a ten your old kid who lived just blocks from our small town movie theater, Star Wars was an introduction to the movie going "experience". I'd been to the movies many times, but that was just to see a movie. Star Wars wasn't just a movie you went to see. It was an experience, which raised the bar and changed the way I, and many others, experienced movies forever more.

May 25, 1977 Star Wars opened in theaters and would go on to be the highest-grossing film of the year. The under-anticipated SciFi film revolutionized the use of special effects in film production, combining the use of miniatures with digital processing. It also ushered in the soon to be popular idea of omitting an opening credits sequence - but not without consequence. Lucas was told by the Screen Actors Guild (the Actors Union) that he must have an opening credits sequence, or else no distributor would touch it. So, he stuck to his guns and chose to distribute the film independently instead, without opening credits. Although it may not seem like much today, his action is considered one of the most important events in the history of motion pictures. Why? Because he challenged an arbitrary standard followed by thousands of filmmakers before him, and he enforced his will as director to maintain his vision of how the film should be presented.

And as we all know, Star Wars (renamed Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), became a worldwide pop culture phenomenon spawning two immediate sequels The Empire Strikes Back in 1981 and Return of the Jedi in 1983. All three films were nominated for Academy Awards with wins going to the first two films; Sound for Empire and Special Effects for both. These three films constitute the original trilogy. Of course, you can't talk about the trilogy without mentioning the huge commercial success each has enjoyed. Combined with the other subsequent films the Star Wars franchise has become the third highest-grossing film series ever (you can probably guess what the first two are).

Since its inception Star Wars holds a Guinness World Records title for the "Most successful film merchandising franchise". While 20th Century Fox retains the physical distribution rights for the first two Star Wars trilogies, and permanent rights for the original 1977 film, they dropped the ball on what many consider to be the real pot of gold: the ancillary markets. Star Wars has been nothing less than prolific when it comes to its cultural invasiveness. The series has spawned an extensive media franchise which includes television series, video games, theme park attractions, comic books, and much, much more. In fact, almost all films now pattern their merchandising model after the one established by Star Wars.

Although no other film had ever inspired such pervasive mass marketing, embedding its moniker and images on anything and everything, its director had a hunch about the film's real value beyond the box office. In 1977, while filming the original film, Lucas decided to take a pay-cut to his own salary which included residuals in exchange for fully owning the merchandising rights of the franchise to himself. Since no other film had ever had such an extensive, long lasting, multi generational life span, the studio believed they were missing out on nothing much. However, to date, such short sightedness has cost 20th Century Fox, more than $20 billion in revenue profits.

The film's significant impact on modern popular culture can't be overvalued. The phrase "may the Force be with you" is an example of how deeply embedded the Star Wars heritage is within the mass psyche. Its identity has become part of the popular realm with the first film in 1977 was a cultural unifier, enjoyed by a wide spectrum of people. In deed, the film can be said to have helped launch the science fiction boom of the late 1970s and early 80s, making science fiction films a mainstream, blockbuster genre on a scale far surpassing its humble "B" genre past. In fact, in 1989 the Library of Congress selected the original Star Wars film for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry, as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." That's pretty amazing for a little film imagined by a relatively new, young filmmaker working with a small budget. It's pretty damn impressive, really.

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