43 Years Into The Past
Today in Nerd History, we take a look back at George Lucas’s epic space opera, Star Wars.
In Nerd History, we celebrate the past by revisiting significant dates that gave birth to some of geek culture’s finest productions of story, imagination, adventure, and overall impact and influence.
For Star Wars, the impact of the film is loud and clear. And in today’s post, we’ll look at the development of the first film in the franchise, which was released today back in 1977.
George Lucas and The Force
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… an up-and-coming writer-director by the name of George Lucas had an idea. Inspired by various science fiction outlets, Lucas envisioned a different direction away from the commonplace Hollywood films that grew from controlled studios. This direction led to the formation of the studio American Zoetrope by Lucas and his friend Francis Ford Coppola.
After he made his directorial debut with the science fiction film THX 1138 in 1971, he moved on to form his own company by the name of Lucasfilm, Ltd. Two years later, the success of his second film, American Graffiti, would propel him to finally develop an adaptation based on one his favorite shows from his childhood.
The show was from the mid-1930s – the adventurous sci-fi serials that featured Flash Gordon. Lucas aimed to obtain the rights in order to make his dream come to life. Unfortunately, the rights wouldn’t be sold to him, which made him depressed for a brief period before being motivated to write his own, with inspired thoughts and notions from the Flash Gordon serials.
Lucas watched films and read comic books as he composed a concept for his next project. He wrote up a short treatment and entitled it The Star Wars. The mission to get a studio to produce the story was a tedious ride of repeated disappointments. Rejections were fired left and right: United Artists, Universal Pictures, and Walt Disney Productions were among the companies that refused to produce it. It wasn’t until Alan Ladd Jr., head of 20th Century-Fox, saw Lucas’s talent and decided to give him a chance. From then on, The Star Wars en route to full development.
The Star Wars
Following the deal from 20th Century-Fox, Lucas committed his time to write the screenplay. It went through a few drafts before settling on The Star Wars for his title. Other revisions beforehand included Adventures of the Starkiller, Adventures of Luke Starkiller, and The Star Wars a couple of times in-between. Along with its narrative development, Lucas would continuously add things and take stuff out. In fact, it wasn’t fully complete until production was well underway. He would add tweaks to details here and there as filming went on. Eventually, some of these changes involved changing Luke’s last name from Starkiller to Skywalker and officially changing the title to just Star Wars. Obviously, more changes would be made in the film’s Special Edition decades later.
Lucas hired creative individuals to help bring his ideas into existence once he organized his own visual effects company, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). Some of the ingenious designers would go on to win Academy Awards for their efforts in Star Wars. John Mollo won for Best Costume Design; Paul Hirsch, Richard Chew, and Marcia Lucas (also Lucas’s first wife) won for Best Film editing; Steven Spielberg‘s friend John Williams received Best Original Score; Leslie Dilley, Norman Reynolds, John Barry, and Roger Christian won the Oscar for Best Production Design; John Stears, John Dykstra, Richard Edlund, Grant McCune, and Robert Blalack received their Oscars for their visual effects work; and Ben Burtt was given the Special Achievement Academy Award for his voice work on the creatures and robots.
Star Wars was released on May 25th, 1977, after a couple of delays due to production timing and fear of other summer movies dominating the box office. It first opened up to several dozen theaters before the film’s reception was beginning to rise. In no time, Lucas became wealthy as Star Wars was breaking box office records, and the film had superbly surpassed expectations from all around. It would even go overseas to the audiences from the U.K. to all the way to Japan. The final theater count for those that screened Star Wars had reached 1,750 theaters worldwide.
Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford became stars overnight, Lucasfilm was being recognized by the other studios, a deep fanbase was born, and an epic space journey was commenced before the public’s eyes. Everyone wanted to be a Jedi, or even a Sith Lord with a Darth Vader helmet and voice impersonation. Using the Force turned imaginations wild. And the film would go on to shift the realms of possibilities in cinema, breaking traditional ground in favor of a wave of more creative risks in film-making.
“The Force Will Be With You, Always”
The major success of Star Wars drove Lucas to compose two sequels: The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and Return of the Jedi in 1983. It wasn’t until 1979 when Lucas included the subtitle “Episode IV – A New Hope” to the original to give it more of a Flash Gordon vibe, where each episode was a numbered chapter as the narrative went along. Hamill, who portrayed Luke Skywalker, said in an interview in 2016 that he asked Lucas about the purpose of starting on Episode IV, and “why aren’t we doing Episode I?” Lucas’s response was that he wanted to basically mimic the Flash Gordon serials, where the audience can believe that they’re merely coming into the middle of a story.
Eventually, the narrative gaps would be filled in a prequel trilogy and a sequel trilogy down the line, with the most recent entry being Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. The entire film franchise would later be dubbed The Skywalker Saga.
Star Wars is known to be one of the greatest sci-fi/fantasy films of all-time. The film spawned a multi-billion dollar franchise that also continued with many other forms of media, from comic books to television shows and, of course, video games. It’s bizarre to believe that Star Wars was initially going to be a Flash Gordon adaptation. It’s not hard to imagine a “what if?” scenario if George Lucas had been sold the rights to Flash Gordon. The same amount of dedication and passion would’ve played into the adaptation, and it could’ve been a worldwide phenomenon.
Nonetheless, we were given the handsome grace of George Lucas’s original creation. And it all stemmed from a simple idea that grew into a universe of relationships, wars, philosophy, and Baby Yodas.
43 years later, Star Wars is still celebrated worldwide, and we at The Nerd Stash thank Lucas for his epic space opera.
May the Force be with you.