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The Rise of Star Wars in the 1970’s
The year was 1977, and a then-unknown George Lucas triumphed in releasing the first of his film series Star Wars (later renamed to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope). The film became the highest-grossing film in 1977 until 1982 when it lost to E.T., The Extra Terrestrial. It also started a revolution in visual effects in movie-making, with Lucas having started Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), a visual effects company that proved a driving force for the subsequent Star Wars sequels and prequels. Benefiting the genre of science fiction, the film also inspired other works from filmmakers James Cameron, Peter Jackson and Ridley Scott. When Cameron watched Star Wars he quit his job as a truck driver to be a filmmaker.
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The film also developed a huge cult-following, and formed a group of enthusiasts from all walks of life which resulted in an international community of avid fans. It made an impact on younger generations, who continued to be in awe of the merchandise years later on to their adulthood, as the sequels were released. This continued support helped the film gain a steady and faithful audience to the very last installment of the series.
The success of the film became common knowledge even to non-enthusiasts. However, before this stellar success was the struggle of a new idea in a skeptic Hollywood world. The 70’s was a decade of hippies, world peace and self-expression. Droids and a monkey-like character in a movie sounded extraordinarily bizarre to anyone of that age. When George Lucas started production, he had the challenges of difficult locations, an uninspired crew and a hesitant cast. Harrison Ford was later said to having admitted that he thought the film was very strange and that the script was not doable for an actor.
What’s more daunting was the fact that the project was turned down by United Artists and Universal for a potentially huge production cost. 20th Century Fox picked it up but the script had to be rewritten several times before finally releasing a budget of $8,250,000. Lucas also did not see eye to eye with then cinematographer Gilbert Taylor due to Lucas’ hands-on take on film making, which Taylor was not accustomed to. Furthermore, when shooting was a week delayed studio head Alan Ladd, Jr. told Lucas that he had to finish production on schedule or he will be forced to shut it down. This led to Lucas dividing the crew into three and, by the end of the week, was able to meet the deadline.
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George Lucas’ relationships with the cast and crew also suffered due to the intense pressure – he only had a few words to say to them in between takes. The cast made a feeble attempt to humor the depressed director by making casual jokes, to no avail. At one point the stress manifested in his health when he developed hypertension, and was told to reduce his workload. To add insult to injury, Mark Hamill who played Luke Skywalker, got in a car accident that injured his face, delaying re-shoots.
This proved to be all worth it, now that the film is considered a pioneer of the science fiction genre and was a strong influence in creative film making.
One seemingly selfless move Lucas did when starting production for Star Wars 33 years ago was to waive off his up-front director’s fee and demanded to own the licensing rights of the film – which at the time the studio considered worthless. It later proved to be a wise move, as he continues to profit from all merchandise related to the film.
Star Wars was a brilliant innovation and rebirth of the cinema in a decade where people least expected it. It was ahead of its time, as all works of genius usually are.