The success of the Star Wars franchise is legendary. The original 1977 sci-fi film cost $11 million to make, before growing into a $70 billion global brand today.
Back in May 1977, Lucasfilm Ltd, launched by George Lucas, released Star Wars to great critical acclaim. The film was famously set “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away”. The action takes place in a world where humans, different species of aliens from all over the universe and robots co-exist.
Hyperspace technology makes travelling at the speed of light between planets commonplace, with the spaceships ranging from small fighter crafts to huge space stations as big as a planet – like the Death Star, which can destroy a whole planet with its super-laser beam.
Communication methods include holographic projections and two-way audio and visual screens. Considering this was 1977, the script had almost predicted video conferencing technology, such as Zoom!
Power of The Force
The ongoing theme running through the whole Star Wars franchise is a mystical power known as “The Force”, described in the original film as an “energy field” that “binds the galaxy together”. Individuals for whom The Force was strong could learn how to harness its great power through meditation and training; unlocking superpowers such as telepathy, telekinesis, and the ability to manipulate physical energy. The Force is at the centre of the conflict between two orders of knights.
The Jedi are the peacekeepers of the galaxy, who wield The Force for good. The Sith use the dark side of The Force to manipulate people using aggression and fear.
Bounty hunters are prevalent across the galaxy. Employed by both governments and criminals, their illicit activities include widescale smuggling.
The first Star Wars film introduced some of the main characters in the franchise. In particular, the audience met Luke Skywalker for the first time. He was living as a young farmer on the planet of Tatooine with his uncle and aunt.
Luke soon becomes a central figure in the Rebel Alliance’s battle against the evil Galactic Empire. He learns he is the son of the Jedi knight, Anakin Skywalker. His late mother, Padmé Amidala, died soon after giving birth to Luke and his twin sister, Leia.
The siblings did not meet until they both fought the Galactic Empire as young adults. As Luke trained to become a Jedi knight, learning how to master The Force, his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi told him his father had died at the hands of the evil Darth Vader.
When Obi-Wan told Luke that Anakin had been a great Jedi, the young man developed a huge respect for his father. At the same time, he developed a hatred towards Vader.
The Empire Strikes Back
The second in the trilogy of original Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back was released in 1980. Luke is now 23 years old and has joined forces with Leia and her love interest, the mercenary-turned-freedom-fighter Han Solo, to battle the Empire.
One of the biggest twists of the plot occurs when Luke Skywalker meets Darth Vader in person. Luke is filled with hatred for Vader, whom he believes has killed his father. The conversation soon turns to Anakin Skywalker. Vader asks Luke whether Obi-Wan has ever told him about his father’s fate.
An angry Luke responds, “He told me you killed him,” but is unprepared for what happens next. When Luke learns Vader is his father in The Empire Strikes Back, it shakes everything he believes to the core.
He had been unaware, until this moment, that Anakin and Vader were the same person. Luke doesn’t believe him at first. Vader cruelly severs Luke’s right hand in an effort to make him angry and turn to the dark side of The Force.
However, Luke refuses and instead drops into an air shaft, clinging on to an antenna outside Vader’s massive floating city. He uses the Force to contact Leia by telepathy and she and Han Solo rescue him in the Falcon spacecraft.
Return of the Jedi
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi was released in 1983. Luke’s hatred towards Vader has subsided. He believes there is still some good left in his father that can be redeemed.
Luke and Vader have a final encounter, when Vader reads his son’s mind and tries to use Leia against him. Vader suggests he may turn Leia to the dark side, causing Luke to temporarily lose control. He attacks his father, but then feels remorseful for his actions.
Good prevails in the end when Sheev Palpatine, the Dark Lord of the Sith, captures Luke and uses The Force to try and kill him. Luke calls out to Anakin, who kills Palpatine to save his son’s life, but is mortally wounded in the process. Father and son make their peace before Anakin dies.
Luke developed a respect for his late father due to his final actions and gave him a Jedi funeral.
For many Star Wars fans, the first three films from the 1970s and 1980s were the best. However, between 1999 and 2005, a second trilogy of films was released. Known as the Star Wars prequel trilogy, it depicted events before Luke was born, going back to Anakin Skywalker’s youth.
The new films were called Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (Episode I) released in 1999; Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (Episode II) in 2002; and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (Episode III) in 2005.
The original three films were renamed to fit in the timeline with the prequel trilogy. They became known as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope; Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back; and Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
Then, in 2012, Disney purchased the Star Wars franchise for a reported $4.05 billion from Lucasfilm. Once in Disney’s ownership, another trilogy opened in cinemas in 2015 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Episode VII) in 2015; Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Episode VIII) in 2017 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Episode IX) in 2019.
There are reportedly more Star Wars films and spin-offs in the pipeline; including a series, Obi-Wan Kenobi; a live action film, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, planned for 2023; and other series on the Disney Plus channel.
Star Wars’ astounding success has made the brand one of the most successful in the world. Although it’s difficult to quantify the exact reasons for its continued success and enduring appeal after 44 years, the one common element that runs through all the films is the battle of good versus evil.
A classic tale of conflict, it contains many in-depth studies of individual characters within each action-packed episode. It has also spawned perhaps one of the most famous lines in any film: “May The Force be with you!”