In 1977, Star Wars was a movie few people believed would be successful. George Lucas faced many challenges in getting any studio to agree to let him make the film, and then the actual filming of it brought many of its own challenges. The story itself was a little difficult to take seriously at first glance. It was a movie that probably should have been quickly forgotten by the few people who would likely see it. Even Lucas believed the movie would be a failure.
But Star Wars wasn’t a failure. In fact, the story of a lonely farmboy being swept into a galaxy-wide adventure to save the universe from tyranny resonated with so many people that it quickly became one of the highest-grossing movies of all time and revolutionized the film industry from then on. Star Wars’ impact on the film industry can be seen in how movies are made today and in the experiences of the audience both leading up to and actually seeing a film.
Innovative special effects
To make the elaborate world in which Star Wars takes place, George Lucas couldn’t rely on the film technology of the time because it wasn’t adequate for what he had in mind. Instead, Lucas created the special effects company Industrial Light and Magic, which developed new filming and special effects technology to bring Lucas’ vision to life. From the many droids in the film to the bright blades of the lightsabers to the X-Wings racing through the trench of the Death Star, these and all of the other effects that made Star Wars and its galaxy far, far away seem real were produced using the technology created by ILM. Star Wars changed the way special effects were created for future filmmakers, and filmmakers have continued to innovate the way visual effects are made.
Elevated sound design
Star Wars also elevated the role of sound in film. Before Star Wars, no film relied so heavily on audio effects. From the humming of the lightsabers to the screeching of the TIE fighters to the beeps and boops of R2-D2, watching Star Wars was just as much of an aural experience as it was a visual one. And then, of course, there is the auditory-enchanting experience of John Williams’ score for Star Wars, which demonstrated perhaps more than ever the way music can enhance the storytelling aspect of a film.
Exploring complex issues
Beyond just the making of the film, Star Wars demonstrated that a film largely made for children could explore complex thematic issues, such as governmental tyranny, compassion, heroism, hope, mentorship, and justice. And that’s just in the first film. Films before Star Wars certainly explored complex issues, but Star Wars showed that a film could be a powerful vehicle for thought-provoking themes that could change the world.
An experience that begins before the movie theater
Star Wars also changed movie-viewing from just the mere two hours of sitting in a movie theater to an experience that begins and transcends the actual viewing of the film. Before Star Wars, movie merchandising wasn’t a large part of the movie industry, but thanks to George Lucas’s unprecedented wisdom in licensing Star Wars to merchandisers, people could buy Star Wars toys, clothing, comic books, and more. Now, when a major blockbuster is gearing up for release, stories and fast-food restaurants often push movie-licensed merchandise, which gets people, children in particular, excited for the release of the film. It’s an intriguing and effective marketing strategy.
George Lucas may have thought Star Wars was going to be a flop, but Star Wars, as it stands today, is the most revolutionary film ever made, launching an entire franchise that continues to expand and evolve under the leadership of Lucasfilm and Disney.