As of Wednesday, May 25th, Star Wars is almost 40 years old.
Upon its release in 1977, no one could have predicted the impact it would have on science fiction entertainment — and modern cinema on the whole.
The Los Angeles Times published an article six years ago on the film phenomenon that not only changed how people viewed film, but heard it: THX, the sound reproduction system complete with a crescendo we have all come to recognize, debuted in The Return of the Jedi, yet another brilliant Lucas product.
George Lucas didn’t just demand technological advancement, he inspired it. And he was an innovator in almost every aspect of his directing, from his insistence that the sets be kept looking gritty (which, to his chagrin, they weren’t) to his 40 percent ownership of all film merchandising back before Fox could have foreseen the sensation the films would become (BBC, 2007).
At $4 per ticket and a limited release with no premiere, the Star Wars franchise had the makings of a modest and unpromising opening, according to a New York Daily News article by Helen Kennedy, but those humble beginnings turned into a (literal) overnight success, eventually bringing in well over $4 billion with the sequels and merchandise to follow.
All of this despite Charles Lippincott, the past promotions chief for Lucasfilm company, admitting, “Theaters didn’t want the movie. We were lucky to get thirty theaters to open it.”
Even the director was a relative unknown, who was rumored to interact little with his own actors, all while creating a movie within a genre that many thought reserved for children and nerds. Star Wars allowed audiences to connect to a plethora of fantastic yet relatable characters in fantastically familiar yet undeniably beautiful settings, tied into an almost Shakespearean plot. It’s no wonder they called Star Wars a “Western set in space.” That sense of adventure, combined with an epic hero’s quest and a twisted family backstory made for a timeless classic.
Pamela McClintock of The Hollywood Reporter marveled at the fact that this classic was actually replaced by a now “forgotten film” after its brief 14 day release at Mann’s Chinese Theater.
Today, a mainstream film made under a $60 million budget is considered practically a miracle, whereas that was an industry standard a decade ago, as reported by Forbes. If you’re curious as to film budgets, take a look at The-Numbers.com for some examples of serious expenditure in the entertainment industry. The Avengers, for example, had a budget just over $225 million in 2012, and its newest sequel tacked on another $25 million. Lucas made Star Wars for $11 million, and watched as the first film went on to make over $500 million in domestic and foreign release.
Money wasn’t the deciding factor in success, then or now. Some may argue that the Disney marketing machine helped the newest Star Wars movie, but I would caution them to observe that even this newest (and notably inferior) film kept true to a certain formula: authentic-looking sets, good actors — mostly unknowns — thrilling music, and a plot that uses action more than it relies on heavy-handed dialogue.
Megan Wallin is a young writer with a background in the social sciences and an interest in seeking the extraordinary in the mundane. A Seattle native, she finds complaining about the constant drizzle and overabundance of Starbucks coffee therapeutic. With varied work experiences as a residential counselor, preprimary educator, musician, writing tutor and college newspaper reporter/editor, Megan is thrilled to offer a unique perspective through writing, research and open dialogue.