A Long Time Ago: The Enduring Legend of Star Wars

Photo Credit: Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM
December 10th, 2012

A Long Time Ago: The Enduring Legend of Star Wars

-- Since the original "Star Wars" premiered in 1977, the film series has transcended pulp origins, becoming one of the most beloved sagas in film history. The six movies detailing the Skywalker family and their battle with the Dark Side of the Force have given birth to a full-fledged media empire, including books, cartoons, comics, and action figures. Creator George Lucas recently sold his company, Lucasfilm, to the Walt Disney Company, allowing for more installments of the series to be produced. The new films will introduce current generations to the battle between the Jedi and the Sith. Lucas kept "Star Wars" in the public eye for over 35 years by using new stories and mediums to consistently expand his audience and creating a universe fans want to learn more about.

The Original Trilogy

Since the release of "Star Wars," Lucas has kept fans hungry by promising new movies and series expansions. According to recent interviews, the count on Star Wars films could eventually be nine to twelve. What makes things more intriguing for fans is that the original film stood as the fourth episode in the galaxy-spanning saga. Even after "Star Wars" left theaters, rumors of a sequel kept moviegoers anticipating further adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. Toys, t-shirts, a Marvel Comics series, and a book titled "Splinter of the Mind's Eye" continued to whet the appetite of fans who longed to see their beloved heroes back on the big screen. Finally, in 1980, "The Empire Strikes Back" arrived.

The dark sequel to "Star Wars" expanded on the characters from the original film, while taking the series to new heights and turning it into a modern myth. The defining moment of the movie comes in the last act, when Darth Vader defeats Luke Skywalker in a lightsaber duel and reveals that he is Luke's father. By actively toying with audience expectations, being willing to harm characters, and delving into philosophical areas of morality, Lucas created a series that was fun enough for kids, but complex enough for adults.

Between "Empire" and the final film, "Return of the Jedi," more merchandise was released. When "Jedi" was finally released in 1983, the film wrapped up loose ends, bringing an end to the saga. Though the story was over, fans still wanted to see more. Fans were frustrated when Lucas, who at one time promised up to twelve films, stepped away from the "Star Wars" universe for sixteen years.

The Prequels

While Lucas had moved on from the "Star Wars" films, the characters continued to live on. The cartoons "Droids" and "Ewoks" showcased several creatures and robots from the films, while Timothy Zahn's novel "Heir to the Empire" gave fans their first glimpse into the lives of the Skywalkers after the events of "Jedi." However, rumors of a prequel trilogy continued to persist.

In 1999, after years of speculation and constant coverage, Lucas wrote and directed "The Phantom Menace." Arguably the most anticipated film of all time, it heavily divided audiences while introducing a new generation to the worlds of "Star Wars." Following a young Anakin Skywalker, the prequel trilogy told the tale of Skywalker's Jedi training before he turned to the Dark Side and became Darth Vader.

The sequels "Attack of the Clones" (2002) and "Revenge of the Sith" (2005), focused on Anakin while as well as providing a backstory for the characters of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Senator Palpatine. For the first time, Lucas drew substantial criticism for his story choices. Nevertheless, he continued on his story path, authorizing a whole new line of merchandise, books, and comics for kids and adults to immerse themselves in.

After "Revenge of the Sith" was released, Lucas retreated from Star Wars, focusing on other projects, including "Red Tails." On the Cartoon Network, the animated series "The Clone Wars" continued Star Wars traditions of exciting kids while offering stories that could be enjoyed by adults.

The Future

Very few expected Lucas to sell his company, let alone allow a continuation of his space opera to be made. When the announcement was made that Lucasfilm had been sold to Disney and a sequel trilogy was authorized, fan speculation went into overdrive. Rumors abound about casting and plotlines and speculation continues about whether the story will be based on the Expanded Universe novels.

It's a testament to Lucas and his vision that the "Star Wars" saga endures despite mixed adult reaction to the prequel trilogy. One reason the films have staying power is because they can be appreciated by every age group. By delivering his own ideas and no one else's, Lucas has created a series that spans generations and will continue to enthrall and entertain people of every demographic for years to come.