“One thing about Star Wars that I’m really proud of is that it expands the imagination.” – George Lucas
The creation of an all-encompassing universe, involving merchandise, spin-offs and a continuing series of films is now seen as the benchmark of successful mainstream filmmaking. This can certainly be attributed to the mammoth success of the Marvel cinematic universe, in which films, TV and marketing materials have perfectly synthesised to create an addictive serialisation of cinema. Though, travel back to a galaxy far far away and it’s clear that Marvel’s blueprint was, in part, a mere copy of George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise.
Forcing the shift of filmmaking from an auteur-led experience, to an entrepreneurial model, George Lucas evolved the way in which movies were made, marketed and distributed, creating a breeding ground of merchandise and fan-culture in which Star Wars was packaged as an experience. The concept of the so-called movie ‘blockbuster’ had existed before the intergalactic film franchise, first appearing upon the release of Steven Speilberg’s 1975 film Jaws, which saw audiences queue around the block to get inside the cinema, but Lucas’ film was soon to alter the sheer definition of the word.
Capturing the appetite of an American population ripe out of the Vietnam War, in need of some escapist entertainment, Lucas’ film inspired an encyclopedia of possibility in which a sense of an exploratory universe was relished. “A cowboy movie set in space, that’s Star Wars, its old fashioned escapist entertainment pure and simple with no moral no message and it appears this is what just about everybody in the country is in the mood for,” speaks a newsreader at the time of release. The original star-hopping sci-fi, now known as A New Hope to modern audiences instilled an unprecedented sense of adventure and wider exploration where characters mention unknown events such as ‘The Clone Wars’; pure titillation for any excitable Star Wars fan.
Not only would this transform the way in which modern movies would be produced and distributed, but Lucas would also revive a sci-fi genre that had long been associated with grim prophecy and sincerity. As the leading genre of filmmaking in the current landscape of cinema, Lucas’ influence is clear, bringing some much-needed levity to the genre that would soon embrace joyful, bombastic narratives.
With the creation of such a sprawling universe came the coincidental invention of superfans, each vying for attention among the community, claiming that they knew ‘the most’ about Star Wars. Such fandom had existed previously for sci-fi rival Star Trek, though these fans lived on the cusp of society and were largely regarded as overly ‘geeky’, as part of the mainstream zeitgeist Star Wars was alternatively ‘cool’ to like. Growing virally across the world throughout the late 20th century, the release of the prequels in 1999 would show the true colours of Lucas’ new empire and set a precedent for the future of blockbuster moviemaking.
As the jacket-clad superfan at the start of the documentary Star Wars or Bust states “this is the closest thing to any sort of religious text or spirituality that as a people, as Americans, we can all identify with”. Though, for many, this was taken literally with the faux-religion Jediism being established in 2001, illustrating just how influential the universe of Star Wars has become. Acting as a direct inspiration for Ridley Scott’s Alien, James Cameron’s Terminator, and Christopher Nolan’s Inception among many others, George Lucas’ impact on cinema cannot be overstated, innovating filmmaking both narratively and technologically. Introducing new technical possibilities to the retina’s of 1970s audiences, as well as 1999 millennials with the introduction of fully CGI characters, as film critic Roger Ebert wrote: “Like The Birth of a Nation and Citizen Kane, Star Wars was a technical watershed that influenced many of the movies that came after.”