The force is stronger than ever

‘Star Wars’ franchise celebrates 40 years

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Cat Frink / The Torch

On May 25, 1977, filmmaker George Lucas released his third feature film, “Star Wars,” to only about 32 theaters nationwide. The film would go on to play in over one thousand theaters in its prime and gross over $300 million at the box office in its original theatrical run. “Star Wars” became the highest grossing film of all time until the release of Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” The film later received ten Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and won six awards for its technical achievements.

Forty years later, “Star Wars” has become more than a film franchise, but a cultural phenomenon that’s spawned many novels, videogames and countless other merchandising products. It’s easy to think that “Star Wars” was destined for greatness, but the story about the making of the original film isn’t so glamorous.

Lucas and his producer Gary Kurtz had a difficult time getting funding for the film until they met Alan Ladd Jr., the head of creative affairs at 20th Century Fox, who was a fan of Lucas’s previous film “American Graffiti.” Ladd convinced 20th Century Fox to greenlight the project with a budget of $8.25 million. Even with the backing of a major studio, filming proved to be challenging. Mechanical props malfunctioned and nasty weather conditions pushed filming past its original schedule and budget.

Upon completing the film, Lucas had planned a trip to Hawaii fearing that “Star Wars” was going to be a flop. One day, he was having lunch near a movie theater and saw that there was a long line of people. He went over to ask what movie they were waiting to see. The answer was “Star Wars.”

After the massive success of the film, Lucas earned an enormous profit, since he waived his director’s fee in favor of distribution and merchandising rights. He used his earnings to help finance “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.”

The impact of “Star Wars” went larger than what Lucas, or anyone involved in the production, could’ve expected. The franchise would inspire many generations of children to pursue careers in science, such as Holly Griffith, a Flight Controller at NASA. There have even been a few organisms named after characters and creatures from “Star Wars,” such as a species of moth called the Wockia chewbacca.

The future of the franchise shows no signs of slowing down. After Lucasfilm was purchased by the Walt Disney Company in 2012 for $4.06 billion, it was announced that not only was there going to be a new trilogy, but that there would also be spin-off films to satisfy Disney’s goal of releasing a new film every year. These new films will be made by filmmakers who were inspired by the franchise. After the success of “Episode VII: The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” the next film, “Episode VIII: The Last Jedi,” will be released on December 15 of this year.

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