Saturday, December 16

Star Wars' Influence on Popular Culture

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Star Wars, the famous saga consisting of six films, was funded mostly by the director, George Lucas, himself, which made it become probably the only series of blockbuster films that were almost independent productions. This epic space opera franchise started with the release of Star Wars on May 25, 1977. The film would later be renamed Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope in order to make it easier to distinguish it from the other films in the franchise. It became so popular that Lucas immediately started working on a sequel and in 1980, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back was released, followed by Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi in 1983. While the production of the films had not been easy and Lucas had had to face any obstacles during the filming, the extremely enthusiastic reception of the films proved that the effort was not wasted. The three Star Wars films were and are a cultural phenomenon of a scale that few works of fiction can compete against. The so-called Original Trilogy was followed by three more episodes released in the years 1999 -2005. While not as well received as the first three films, the new episodes completed the tragic story of one of the most popular fictional characters ever created – Darth Vader. Star Wars are films everyone who has an access to television or the Internet has at least heard of. Most people are also familiar with at least two music themes from Star Wars and many films and TV shows are filled with Star Wars references.

The first films opened in only about 40 theatres because no one had predicted it would become so popular. The so-called blockbusters did not exist then and both science fiction and fantasy were not popular genres. But Star Wars became an instant hit and soon an expanded release was necessary. While films were considered pure entertainment by people in those days, Star Wars became something more and soon after the release of the first film, people’s lifestyles started to become influenced by the film. This became even more evident when the sequels hit the theatres. People dressed up as Star Wars characters, acted out scenes from the films, used quotes from Star Wars in everyday conversation.Today many people of all ages and both sexes, different social backgrounds, different interests, occupations, and religions have one thing in common – they love Star Wars. Lucas’ films make people in the whole world unite as fans of the franchise. While in the past there were mostly small fan communities, today the Internet allows fans from different countries to communicate using international forums and fan sites. The Star Wars fandom is so large and active that even people who have not seen the films, have at least heard about them. Nowadays, hardly anyone is surprised when they hear the famous “May the Force be with you!” line. People are also only mildly surprised when they find out that a local lawyer or company owner is a fan of Lucas’ space opera and often wears a Darth Vader or a Stormtrooper costume when they are not at work. Some people even consider Jedi Knight to be their religion! While there are many popular franchises, it is unlikely any will ever become as popular as Star Wars. The Star Wars’ Expanded Universe is constantly growing and apart from T-shirts, key chains, cups, posters, trading cards and other similar merchandise, one can buy Star Wars books and comic books, or watch fan videos set in the Star Wars universe. The fact that Star Wars action figures can be found in almost every large toy store in the world proves that Star Wars are still among the most prominent franchises ever and many children will most likely make sure that they are not forgotten in the future.

Star Wars also revolutionized the film industry. In the 1970s science fiction was not a popular genre. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in 1968, was considered to be so good by most filmmakers that they decided nothing as good or better could ever be made in the genre. They were afraid that if they made a science fiction film, it would be compared to Kubrick’s masterpiece. Furthermore, most also believed that they could not put their artistic vision on film because special effects were not advanced enough at the time. Science fiction was also not considered to be a genre appealing to everyone and it was usually aimed at a specific audience. But Lucas changed the situation of science fiction in Hollywood. While the films are not a perfect example of science fiction, Star Wars definitely made it easier for science fiction to stop being B-movie genre. Thanks to George Lucas, directors such as James Cameron or Ridley Scott could make successful science fiction films in the 1980s. Science fiction films suddenly did not look all clean and unrealistic anymore, the directors utilized Lucas’ dirty and aged view of spaceships, clothes, and planets. This and the use of advanced special effects helped get rid of the cheesiness so often present in the science fiction genre. Films such as Alien (1079), Blade Runner (1982), or The Terminator (1984) were inspired by Star Wars and their directors themselves have mentioned how Lucas’ saga influenced them.

A great advance in visual effects also started with the creation of Star Wars. Star Wars was the first film to have a camera move across a field of stars, earlier only a fixed camera was used in the filming of space sequences. The real revolution in the film industry, however, came with the establishing of Industrial Light & Magic in 1975. The company was established by Lucas specifically to provide special effects for his first Star Wars film and has ever since done special effects magic in many Hollywood productions. ILM was responsible for visual effects for such films as Jurassic Park (1993), Forrest Gump (1994), Men in Black (1997), or Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) and its sequels. It is the largest company producing visual effects in the world and it has won many Academy Awards.

Lucas had a considerable influence on the development of sound in film as well. He hired Ben Burtt for his first Star Wars film and that decision soon turned out to be one of his best. The sounds made by the spaceships, lightsabers, droids, and aliens in the film have been a great inspiration for many people working on sound in film. Lucas also established the Skywalker Sound Company that is responsible for sound in many films. Just as ILM is a prominent visual effects producer, Skywalker Sound makes sure that many high budget films have the best sound effects possible. The company worked on such films as Forrest Gump (1994), Titanic (1997), Saving Private Ryan (1998), or King Kong (2005). Lucas also founded THX Ltd. in 1983, which is a set of standards that are supposed to ensure the best possible quality of sound in theatres, home DVD sets, computer speakers, and some other devices that use audio. THX Ltd. is among Lucas’ creations that are supposed to make our watching experiences better. Had it not been for Star Wars, it is quite possible we would have had to wait much longer for such a significant improvement in sound quality in theatres and at homes.

George Lucas’ saga about the tragedy of Darth Vader has been influencing popular culture ever since Lucas started working on the first Star Wars film. The large impact it has had on the film industry and many cinemagoers is undeniable. Star Wars have changed the way films are made, they have raised people’s expectations regarding visual and sound effects, and they have led to the creation of a new prominent subculture – Star Wars fans. Since 1977, the world has been different, a lot has changed because of a certain director and his vision. Some believe the changes brought by Lucas have negatively influenced popular culture, some think otherwise, but the fact that they indeed have had an impact on popular culture is proof of their significance in itself. Star Wars are not only films, they are a cultural phenomenon on a worldwide scale.

If you liked this article, check out the article about Che Guevara in Popular Culture.

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