Star Wars Trilogy (1977-1983) – A Phenomenon

Note:  This paper was written for English class during my Junior Year in High School.  It represents the first, lengthy writings that I did on George Lucas and “Star Wars.”  Some opinions and speculation would later be changed or proved wrong.  Some analysis still holds true.

On May 25, 1977, THE “Star Wars” phenomenon was born. This was the date that the motion picture “Star Wars” premiered nationwide. It was this motion picture that would capture the imagination of millions of movie goers worldwide and go on to become the #1 highest grossing film at the time. High adventure, breathtaking special effects, and an engrossing story all came together to amaze people. It was this same formula that drew people back to the theatres and made the “Star Wars” sequels also big hits. With all of this success, you may be asking yourself how the “magic” that brought together several elements was produced. Throughout this paper, I hope to explain the evolution of “Star Wars” and the phenomenon it spawned.

The “Star Wars” saga was the central vision of one man: George Lucas. In the early 1970s, Lucas was considered to be one of Hollywood’s bright new directors. He had produced a major hit with the film “American Graffiti” and because of this, was in a position to receive large financial contributions for future films. With large amounts of money at his disposal, he felt ready to begin a project he had had in mind for many years.

From 1973 until 1976, George wrote 4 different drafts of the “Star Wars” screenplay. In 1975, filming was ready to begin. Once completed, the premiere in 1977 brought “Star Wars” great success. The film rocketed to the top of the all-time highest grossing film list. At Oscar time, “Star Wars” would prove to be a success, winning 7 Oscars. This success allowed George to plan a series of “Star Wars” films. He planned out a series of 9 films in all.

In 1980, the second “Star Wars” film premiered in theaters. With “The Empire Strikes Back,” George was able to finance the film himself. “Star Wars” had received major funding from 20th Century Fox to be completed. Because of the funding they invested, 20th Century Fox took 60% of the profits, leaving George with only a portion. This portion wasn’t small though, as George made $20 million after taxes. It was this $20 million that George invested into “The Empire Strikes Back.” The film had an initial budget of $24 million and would rise to around $30 million when all costs were tabulated. Because of the stress of having so much money involved, George chose not to direct the film. That responsibility fell to director Irvin Kershner. Despite this, George remained co-writer and was involved in pre- and post-production work.

Despite all of the worry, “The Empire Strikes Back” proved to be a major success, grossing over $300 million worldwide. There were even reports of fans beginning all-night vigils 3 days before the premiere on May 27, 1980.

With third film in the series, “Return of the Jedi,” George again chose not to direct. This time, it was the job of Richard Marquand. George would co-write and produce the film. Again, the film proved to be a success and is currently positioned at #4 on the all-time box office list behind “Star Wars.”

George Lucas once said that the fatal mistake of most science fiction films was spending too much time on special effects. He felt that when a film spent too much time “showing off” the special effects that the story began to usually diminish in quality. With “Star Wars,” George focused on the story, while the special effects were merely used to establish an environment for the characters.

The basic message behind the “Star Wars” trilogy was that the human spirit was the most powerful thin in existence. Despite this message, “Star Wars” was criticized by many critics for “worshiping” technology. I agree with George Lucas by saying that “Star Wars” was the complete opposite of what critics believed. In the end, technology failed and the drive to succeed prevailed. That is an idea that I think critics who dislike “Star Wars” failed to see.

In supporting the idea of human spirit within the trilogy, there are a few key moments in which this is most evident. Some of these scenes include:

  1. A scene involving the film’s hero, Luke Skywalker discovering his home burned to the ground was extremely emotional. Luke returns home to find his uncle and aunt, whom he had lived with since his youth, dead. They had burned to death in the home. The evil Empire, which whom Luke would later face, destroyed the home and killed the only family he knew, pointlessly. This is a key scene in which Luke is forced to be on his own and being a new life.
  2. Another key scene from “Star Wars” concerns the man who helped Luke deal with the sudden loss of his family, Obi Wan Kenobi. Obi Wan knew Luke’s father and his involvement in the story helped to introduce one of the trilogy’s key story elements – the force. The force was merely a religious practice that allowed people to control their own spirits. Although Obi Wan was able to teach Luke basic knowledge of the force, he was suddenly killed toward the end of “Star Wars.” The man who killed him, Darth Vader, was the pure essence of evil in the film. Whereas Luke represented all that was good, Vader defined evil to the extreme.
  3. It was this symbolism that helped a key scene development in “The Empire Strikes Back” so shocking. In the film’s conclusion, Vader reveals to Luke that he was the father Luke had believed to be dead. This was a scene that disturbed many fans. Prior to revealing his relation to Luke, Vader had cut off Luke’s hand during a duel. The relationship between the characters had been in George’s mind from the beginning of “Star Wars.” I feel that this scene helps to build the feeling and emotion to what I consider to be the “Star Wars” trilogy’s final, defining scene.
  4. In the conclusion of the final film of the trilogy, “Return of the Jedi,” Vader was forced to make a decision. Events in the film lead to a scene in which Vader could stand by and let Luke, his son, be killed by the Emperor who he served. Or, he could reject the forces of evil within him and kill the Emperor, thereby saving his son. Of course, Vader chose to kill the Emperor. He would die himself shortly thereafter, but not without telling Luke that he had succeeded in riding himself of evil.
    The prior scenes are really what make the “Star Wars” films exciting and entertaining again and again. The special effects offer a thrill, but it sit he story that holds the film together. A story that is full of raw emotion and spirit.

Luckily, for me and millions of other “Star Wars” fans around the globe, the future of “Star Wars” appears to be bright. With the original release of each film, hundreds of film-related merchandise flooded into stores. Everything from lunch boxes (I own one) to video games was produced. The popularity of this merchandise, of course, died down. The end seemed to slowly come in the mid-to-late 1980s.

But, there has been a surprising re-interest in “Star Wars” merchandise. Slowly, thing have begun to re-appear. A book trilogy, telling the aftermath of the “Star Wars” trilogy rocketed to #1 on the New York Times best seller list. Posters and even action figures have begun to reappear.

Recently, an announcement was made from George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch. A new trilogy of “Star Wars” was in the works. The first of which is scheduled to premiere in theaters in 1997. As the 1st trilogy had composed episodes 4, 5, and 6 in the planned 9 film series, the 2nd trilogy would represent episodes 1, 2, and 3. George has also said that the plot would feature a young Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader.

With box-office receipts at an all-time high, I expect the new trilogy to do quite well financially. I also think that with the advance sin film technology, such as increased use of computer, which the special effects of these new films will be at an even greater level than the 1st trilogy. Finally, and most importantly, I expect that George Lucas will be able to write his best story yet. I feel that each successive “Star Wars” film was better than its predecessor and I don’t see the trend among these films steering off course any time soon.

The “Star Wars” trilogy was truly amazing. In terms of business, it was monstrous, setting records financially. But, more importantly, the films had a story that captivated people. Its plot thrilled and touched people’s emotions. It has been something that touched my life and I hope it will continue to do so for a long time to come. Fortunately, I don’t think I have to worry about “Star Wars” going away anytime soon. With so much happening in merchandising and with the future films, “Star Wars” has secured itself in our society. Its future appears to be bright.

D.S. Christensen
Latest posts by D.S. Christensen (see all)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.