On May 25, 1977, Star Wars opened at the Mann’s Chinese Theatre. Its initial run was a mere two weeks before it was replaced by another film whose title was lost to time. Two weeks later, Star Wars was back at Mann’s, and the cultural phenomenon was sweeping the nation. In four decades of sequels, prequels, comics, novels, cartoons, video games, and a veritable mountain of collectibles and toys, George Lucas’ space opera has earned over $30 billion.
How did this commercial juggernaut come to be? George Lucas drew inspiration from the film serials of the 1920s and ‘30s, like Buck Rogers, as well as the works of legendary director Akira Kurosawa. He crafted a story using the classical theme of a young hero learning from older, wiser mentors, combined mystical powers in a world of incredible machines, and a ‘used universe’ of dings, dents, and rust which was heretofore never considered by science fiction films.
It made stars of the main cast: the late Carrie Fisher, who became an accomplished script doctor and author as well as a passionate advocate for mental health; Harrison Ford, who would go on to lead in Lucas’ other epic series Indiana Jones and become one of Hollywood’s biggest paid stars; and Mark Hamill, who turned his talents from screen to sound booth, becoming the voice of the Joker to a generation of Batman fans.
It also launched an entire series of books dedicated to telling further tales of characters known and new. While several books were written during the decade-and-a-half after Star Wars premiered, the first steps of a connected series of stories began in 1991 with author Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire. It became a huge hit, topping the New York Times Bestseller list. Other novels soon followed, with authors such as Michael Stackpole, Karen Traviss, and the late Aaron Allston all contributing tales to an Expanded Universe that spanned decades after the end of Return of the Jedi.
In 1999, Lucas returned to the big screen with The Phantom Menace, a prequel taking place more than 30 years before the events of Star Wars. Menace, along with Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, revealed the history behind Anakin Skywalker. Young Skywalker, irritated by the strict rules of the Jedi, was easily manipulated into giving into his anger and fear, ultimately destroying the Jedi and becoming Darth Vader. An over reliance on CGI (computer generated imagery) instead of practical effects, much criticized dialogue, and the nearly universally-panned character Jar Jar Binks riled fans of the saga.
Star Wars also hit the small screen with the acclaimed 2008 cartoon series Clone Wars, which took place between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Its handling of classic characters, such as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin, were well regarded, as were new characters Ahsoka Tano and the tragic villain Asajj Ventress. It was followed up in 2014 by the even more highly-touted Rebels, whose stories began five years before the events of Star Wars.
The Walt Disney Company acquired the rights to Star Wars in 2012 and in a controversial move re-branded all the Expanded Universe stories that took place after Return of the Jedi as Legends. This retroactive continuity change would give Disney a free hand with telling its own stories on the page, and its planned sequels on the screen. New books have already begun to appear, such Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath and Empire’s End, and Claudia Gray’s works Lost Stars and Bloodline.
Disney’s first foray into the Star Wars film saga, The Force Awakens, was a smash hit, earning over $2 billion worldwide. It was followed a year later with another gamble, a tale that barely involved known characters from the films. Rogue One: a Star Wars Story proved fans would come out for such films, earning more than $1 billion.
Fans now eagerly await The Last Jedi, the next film due to arrive this December. In the meantime, there are a galaxy of stories to choose from available at BCLS, from the tiniest youngling, to the 900-year-old Jedi Master.