The hype surrounding Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens was unmatched. Post the prequel era, Star Wars fans were eager to see the next installments of the mythical space-western, especially after the lucrative $4 billion deal between Disney and Lucasfilm. When J.J Abrams' Episode VII appeared on the big screen in 2015, the film broke box office records, eventually raking in $2.066 billion, making it one of the most profitable films. You probably know how the rest of the story goes, with the advent of the latest chapters, the Star Wars became one of the most polarizing series ever made.
Today, we are not going to talk about the latest movies (thankfully) or about the equally controversial Star Wars prequels. Help yourself with a large heap of member berries, your Star Wars Lego sets, and sit back and enjoy.
A film with generational impact
As a 90's kid, I didn't come across the original Star Wars Trilogy until I was nine years old. Let alone Star Wars, the science fiction genre altogether never got on my radar at that age. However, that soon changed when my father showed me The Empire Strikes Back for the first time. The scenes, story, sense of adventure, action, and characters pulled me in and did not let go. I had so many questions. What is a Sith? What is a Jedi? Why does Darth Vader sound like Mufasa? Can we get an X -Wing? And most importantly, when can we get ourselves a light-saber? When I found out that there were movies before and after The Empire Strikes back, life could not have gotten any better.
Star Wars is one of those rare film series that continue to inspire people, creating generations of fans. Beyond its cultural impact, the 1977 space epic changed the landscape of Hollywood. In a lot of ways, Star Wars played a significant role in shifting the film industry from deep introspective pieces to more effects-laden blockbusters. If anything, Star Wars was the first computer-generated blockbuster, a trend that is still very much alive and well today, especially during the summer months. In the current sea of CGI films, both good and bad, it can be hard to remember how revolutionary the Star Wars Films were at the time they were released.
Creating a great film with significant effects was not easy.
Saying that George Lucas and his team thought outside of the box is a little cliched at this point. Lucasfilm needed to deliver a great screenplay with an exciting plot that takes place in space while also bringing this universe to life in a way that did not distract from the story. Planets, alien creatures, spaceships, and space battles were hard to employ in a film as SFX at the time was very limited.
To tackle the monumental task in 1975, George Lucas founded the legendary Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). A team of around 45 young people would go on to innovate, perfecting existing SFX techniques and creating their own. Let's take a look at why Star Wars was so revolutionary for its time.
Industrial Light & Magic created new camera technology.
Without the following technology, some of your favorite "fast-paced" scenes in The New Hope might not have existed. John Dykstra led the charge at Industrial Light & Magic with the simple but challenging task of coming up with great SFX for the film. As technology was limited at the time, John Dykstra ended up creating camera technology specifically for the film. Dubbed the Dykstraflex, the motion-controlled camera system could be programmed by computer, helping videographers to create realistic starship maneuvers, and creating the illusion that stationary models were moving quickly. Innovations like this are what earned Industrial Light & Magic their place among the best FX studios in Hollywood.
Studio executives eventually gave George Lucas anything he wanted.
Nowadays, major movie studios will not even blink at throwing millions of dollars at special effects for a potential summer blockbuster hit. However, this was far from the reality when Star Wars was being made. Nevertheless, some studio execs were willing to give Lucas millions of dollars to develop the special effects for A New Hope. Two years had passed since the initial deal, and before the release of the first Star Wars film, execs were interested in seeing where all their money had gone. Lucas had nothing to show them except a 2.5-second clip of a TIE fighter. Surprisingly, this was enough to get them to give George Lucas anything that he wanted from there onwards, as they were blown away by the brief shot.
They created an otherworldly sound design.
The sound design presented in Star Wars is some of the most iconic and memorable in history. You probably know the sound a light-saber makes. If I were to ask you to make a Chewbacca growl, you could probably do one on command. What about the sound of a TIE fighter scream? Now more than ever, sound design plays a major role in our films. Sound is what immerses audiences into a story. It is even more important in the science fiction genre, as it gives a setting more character. Before A New Hope, sound design was not as important in Hollywood. All of that changed when the "mad scientist" and sound designer Ben Burtt created the sounds mentioned above for the Star Wars films. Burtt's genius was his ability to merge organic sounds with electronic sounds to create space-age and futuristic effects. He turned designing sound into both an art and science.
The Star Wars World feels lived-in.
Back then, when science fiction creators would imagine the future or other worlds, the standard picture that would come to mind is cities and worlds filled to the brim with shiny designs with a sterilized vibe or bright and clean neon lines tracing anything and everything around. Think of the Jetsons, for example, that's from the same era.
The team on Star Wars, however, wanted to embark off to an entirely different route. Star Wars worlds have a very distinct feeling to them. They feel like people and aliens have been living there for millennia, which helps play into Star Wars lore. No robot, spaceship, or cruiser works perfectly. Things break down. If anything, most places feel like the American Old West. This aesthetic made a return in the widely popular Disney+ Mandalorian series. Dubbed the "sci-fi" of yesterday, these design choices started with a New Hope and have influenced a lot of modern science fiction properties.
The Millenium Falcon, X-wings, and TIE fighters
Forget pod racing, these spacecraft are some of the most iconic in Star Wars and the science fiction genre. George Lucas wanted to merge his love of cars, auto racing, and fighter jets into powerhouse space vessels that can maneuver through space at breakneck speeds. Lucas has made it clear that he wanted to bring the concept of WWII dogfights to space, that's why Star Wars was some of the best space battles in all of science fiction.
What is your favorite Star Wars fact? Perhaps it is time to take a trip down memory lane and rewatch the original trilogy. We probably will not be going to any theatres anytime soon. You might need a New Hope.