Future Retroism: Star Wars
A Long Time Ago in a London Film Studio Far, Far Away
On Dec. 18, 2015, Star Wars fans received an early Christmas gift from Disney in, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” The seventh instalment in the science fiction series spans nearly four decades. After ten years of waiting, fans could once again return to that galaxy far, far away. But Star Wars wasn’t always the multi-billion-dollar franchise it is today. Before there was a force to be awakened, an avenging Sith or even a new hope, there was a little, 1977 film simply called: “Star Wars.”
The movie begins with a title crawl written by George Lucas and Brian De Palma and set to the theme composed by John Williams. The crawl has become a defining characteristic of the Star Wars franchise. Every film, as well as most licensed video games, have featured an opening crawl to set the tone for the story about to unfold. The opening crawl has become so synonymous with the Star Wars brand that it has been referenced and parodied in almost every facet of popular culture. This crawl succeeds in acclimating the audience to the universe they are about to be thrust into. In the initial crawl, the audience learns that an evil galactic empire has built a massive weapon with the ability to destroy entire planets in a single blast. Princess Leia Organa is fleeing for her life with plans to take this weapon with her.
From that point on, we, the audience, are along for the ride as we escape with two droids as they attempt to deliver a message to a mysterious sage. We empathize with a farm boy as he loses everything he has and goes with the sage. We take off with a smuggler as he avoids imperial attention and parties to which he owes money. We are there when the princess sees her home world destroyed before her eyes. We are there when the princess is finally rescued. The sage dies, an attack is launched against the space weapon and the farm boy unlocks his inner potential.
The cast of “Star Wars” was as star-studded as the expanses of space in the film. In addition to relative unknowns like Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker, and Carrie Fisher, as Princess Leia, the film featured many actors with big reputations. Harrison Ford, Han Solo, had already worked with George Lucas on “American Graffiti,” and Alec Guinness, as Obi Wan Kenobi, was a respectable British actor. Playing the Grand Moff Tarkin, Peter Cushing had worked alongside Christopher Lee as doctor Van Helsing in the “Dracula” line of hammer horror films. The voice of Darth Vader was none other than James Earl Jones.
The music of “Star Wars” was composed by John Williams. Before “Star Wars,” he had done the music for films such as “The Towering Inferno” and “Jaws.” Since then, he has worked on countless films from “Harry Potter” and “Superman” to “Indiana Jones” and even more recent movies such as 2012’s “Lincoln” and Disney’s upcoming “BFG.” His orchestral melodies set the tone like nothing else and his music contributed to making “Star Wars” the phenomenon it is today.
Before “Star Wars,” George Lucas had received acclaim for his film, “American Graffiti,” a film that glamorized the Americana of the 1950s. Lucas’ first film, which had also earned him some praise, was a sci-fi film called “THX 1138.” He would later use the THX moniker when naming his audio/video presentation company. Even with this minor praise, Lucas came forward with his pitch for a space fantasy many studios doubted. Eventually, Twentieth Century Fox decided to take the chance, but wanted to remain distant in case the movie was to fail commercially. Because of that, Lucas was able to keep the merchandising rights. With every toy, album and poster created, Lucas earned a percentage and quickly becoming one of the wealthiest directors of the time.
Shortly before the release of the sequel film, “The Empire Strikes Back,” George Lucas returned to the original film and added, “Episode IV: A New Hope” to the title. This told fans that the first movie was only one in a series of films to come. It was also a sign to fans of things to come. Over the years, Lucas would return to the original trilogy and touch up the graphics. In the ‘90s, before the release of “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” Lucas released the special editions of the original trilogy. With the advent of computer animation and enhancements, Lucas saw the opportunity to improve his vision for the series. With the addition of enhanced quality and more expansive environments, changes also came with CGI aliens and creatures and alterations to the story many fans see as unnecessary.
The most controversial change came in the cantina scene of “A New Hope.” Lucas felt that having Han Solo strike first made him seem too violent and gave people the wrong impression of his character. To remedy this, Lucas edited the scene to have an alien named Greedo fire first and move Han’s head quickly to the right before having him fire. Many fans have called foul on this and petitions have been made to make available the original cuts of the films. Lucas, however, remains steadfast in his decisions. When the Library of Congress requested a cut of the original version, George Lucas would only turn over a copy of the enhanced special edition. Even to this day, you can only see the original cuts of the original trilogy on DVD contained within bonus discs of limited edition sets.
Today the series has millions of fans all over the world. The newest installment, “The Force Awakens,” holds the record for highest gross for opening weekend, week and has become the highest grossing film domestically. Even though George Lucas is no longer at the reigns, the film hit all the points a good “Star Wars” film needed. It had a close group of heroes, an enormous base posing a threat to the entire galaxy and a whirlwind of creative characters and locales. It reintroduced fans to the universe the same way “Star Wars” always has since a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…