About Star Wars
By Cathy Richey, the Cathy Factor
Star Wars: A New Hope premiered in the spring of 1977,
followed by its two sequels: The Empire Strikes Back in 1981 and
Return of the Jedi in 1983. It quickly became apparent that this
was a science fiction trilogy unlike any previous movies of this
genre, a fact emphasized by the way the movie shattered previous
box-office records and won awards, including seven of the ten
Academy Awards for which it was nominated.
The movies tell the story of Luke Skywalker (actor Mark
Hamill) who ultimately battles the evil Empire to restore peace to the Galaxy.
He does this with his Jedi mentors Ben "Obi-Wan" Kenobi
(Alec Guinness) and Yoda. Helping him along the way are his friends Princess Leia Organa
(Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford). And he has two trusty androids
C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker).
His nemesis is Darth Vader (David Prowse; voice, James Earl Jones), though as
the series moves forward we find there's much more to this relationship and to
Darth Vader than we see in the first movie.
The most obvious difference between Star Wars and its
predecessors was the special effects. Computer graphics were
still in their infancy in 1977, and much of the technology
needed to realize director George Lucas's vision had to be
developed as the production of Star Wars progressed.
If you compare the first Tron movie to its sequel, which came many years
later, you'll get yet another illustration of the difference in computer
As for Star Wars, the
advancement of computerized special effects can be seen by
comparing the initial trilogy with the "special edition"
versions released in 1997—Lucas had to wait for technology to
catch up with his initial vision for scenes such as the Mos
Eisley spaceport in Star Wars and Cloud City in The Empire
The special effects in the original trilogy stunned
moviegoers. For the first time, spaceships were depicted as
vehicles that looked as if they had been through many battles
instead of appearing as shiny flying saucers. Battle scenes
looked real, and moviegoers felt as if they were in the middle
of the action. Aliens displayed a wide variety of appearances
rather than simply looking like bulbous-headed humans with three
The Star Wars trilogy represented the variety of worlds that
humans might encounter throughout a galaxy. Planets ranged from
the desert planet of Tatooine orbiting a double star to Yoda's
swamp world of Dagobah, from the ice-covered world of Hoth to
the Bespin with Lando Calrissian's Cloud City.
Remember those old sci-fi movies and television shows, in which the weapons
were usually a "laser" of some sort that really looked like a badly modified gun
from a cheap Western? Instead of shooting bullets, they'd shoot invisible rays
(or a badly animated light beam) and the actor being zapped would take a
pratfall. No imagination, when you think about it.
But Star Wars
presented an array of new weapons such as the light saber. And it presented a
new power, the Force. This could be used for either good or
evil. Some of the concepts, such as creatures living on airless
asteroids and spaceships traveling at speeds greater than the
speed of light, are definitely in the realm of science fiction.
That faster than light travel was a feature of Star Trek, the cult series
that preceded Star Wars. So a large core of the audience already accepted this.
There's also the fact that, during the Stagflation years, people's paychecks
seemed to disappear faster than the speed of light. So all very plausible in a
There were enough scientifically reasonable
concepts in the movies to make everything seem possible at some
other time or place in the universe.
As a proponent of space exploration, Lucas hoped that Star
Wars would excite the younger generation about space and its
exploration. Lucas has said, "I would feel very good if someday
they colonize Mars and the leader of the first colony says
'I did it because I was hoping there would be a Wookiee up
- "The Phantom Menace" made $431 million in the U.S. and
was nominated for three Academy Awards.
- "Attack of the Clones" made $310 million in the U.S. and
was nominated for an Academy Award.
- "The Empire Strikes Back" made $290 million in the U.S.,
was nominated for four Academy Awards and won two.
- "Revenge of the Sith" made $380 million in the U.S. and
was nominated for an Academy Award.
- "Return of the Jedi" made $309 million in the U.S., was
nominated for four Academy Awards and won one.
- "A New Hope" made nearly $461 million in the U.S., was
nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won seven.