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Star Wars Legacy: How A Little Sci-Fi Flick Became a Global Phenomenon

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First Posted: Feb 09, 2014 04:16 PM EST
The Original Cast of Star Wars
(Photo : Lucasfilm Publicity Photo)

By now, much of Star Wars history has been a matter of public record, and has entered into the pop culture lexicon. But how did a small-time sci-fi flick become a global phenomenon?

To understand the popularity of Star Wars, you have to strip it down to the bare essentials: creator George Lucas took the "hero's journey" first seen in Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces, and combined it with the most basic of mythical archetypes. And, because this can be applied broadly across various cultures, belief systems, and ideas, "Star Wars" has a universal appeal.

According to The New York Times, Star Wars is all about Luke Skywalker on a quest, and at its core, it can help children differentiate between "right" and "wrong." Moreover, because a child's parents are likely to have enjoyed Star Wars and speak of it in positive tomes, children by default tend to like it as well.

George Lucas' multi-film Star Wars saga has had a significant impact on modern American popular culture. Star Wars references are deeply embedded in popular culture; references to the main characters and themes of Star Wars are casually made in many English-speaking countries with the assumption that others will understand the reference. Darth Vader has become an iconic villain. Phrases like "evil empire" and "May the Force be with you" have become part of the popular lexicon. The first Star Wars film in 1977 was a cultural unifier, enjoyed by a wide spectrum of people.

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Science fiction since the original 1977 Star Wars, particularly in film, has often been influenced by and compared to Star Wars. Sounds, visuals, and even the music from the films have become part of the tapestry of American society. The film also helped launch the science fiction boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and made science fiction films a blockbuster genre. It has also been parodied in films and short videos, such as Spaceballs.

Star Wars fundamentally changed the aesthetics and narratives of Hollywood films, switching the focus of Hollywood-made films from deep, meaningful stories based on dramatic conflict, themes and irony to sprawling special-effects-laden blockbusters, as well as changing the Hollywood film industry in fundamental ways.

Before Star Wars, special effects in films had not appreciably advanced since the 1950s. Star Wars was also important in the movement towards the use of computer initiated imagery in films. The commercial success of Star Wars created a boom in state-of-the-art special effects in the late 1970s. There was increased investment in special effects. Companies like Industrial Light & Magic and Digital Productions were created to provide them. The 1977 Star Wars pioneered the genre pastiche, where several classic film genres are combined in one film. In Star Wars, the genres were science fiction, the Western, the war film, and the quasi-mystical epic.

Along with Jaws, Star Wars started the tradition of the summer blockbuster film in the entertainment industry, where films open on many screens at the same time and profitable franchises are important. It created the model for the major film trilogy and showed that merchandising rights on a film could generate more money than the film itself did.

The holographic video effect associated with Star Wars served as a technological tool for CNN during its 2008 Election Night coverage. CNN reporter Jessica Yellin and musician will.i.am looked as though they were in the network's New York City studios talking face-to-face with hosts Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer when, in reality, they were in Chicago at Barack Obama's rally. The process involved Yellin and will.i.am standing in front of a blue screen in a special tent, while being shot by 35 HD cameras.

Furthermore, whole films have now been dedicated to the legends, such as Family Guy's tribute-spoof season premiere episode called "Blue Harvest," in dedication the saga's 30th anniversary. A sequel to the episode as a parody to The Empire Strikes Back, titled "Something, Something, Something, Dark Side," aired in the eighth season and another parody," It's a Trap!," aired in the ninth season. It has also been revealed that The Cleveland Show will make spoofs of the three prequels. In the film Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) decided to make a pornographic film called Star Whores in order to get them out of debt. 

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