Updated: Jul 15
George Lucas comes up with an era-defining cinematic smash, followed by a fantastic sequel and then, er, Return of the Jedi.
Culture-shifting, money-making, audience-astounding franchise changes the cinematic experience for a generation (and then some). From its first big-screen debut, Star Wars is a sensation, after which the world is never quite the same again.
A space opera with groundbreaking special effects, a cascade of iconic imagery, resonant characters and (Oh no!) Ewoks, the original Star Wars trilogy also goes on to make its creator, George Lucas, a very wealthy man indeed and a toy franchise kingpin in the process.
Before he almost destroys the magic years later by tinkering with, re-editing, and generally messing up the pacing of his original movies in an attempt to bring them in line with his infuriating and infinitely inferior prequels.
So, let’s begin the original Star Wars journey in a galaxy far, far away…
THAT TRANSLATES INTO?
Star Wars (Episode IV - A New Hope) (1977)
Big, brash and showy from the very first frame, Star Wars is a cinematic phenomenon that arrives apparently out of nowhere to prompt the dropping of jaws around the world.
George Lucas labours for years to bring his creative vision to the big screen, but when he finally does so (and proves his critics wrong in the process), Oh boy, is it loud, spectacular and audience-pleasing.
Those critics (particularly on the movie's original release) are more sniffy, but who cares about them when cinema-goers are queueing around the block to get in?
Taking the audience across a universe in a battle essentially between space Nazi and the Rebel Alliance, Star Wars is all shoot em’ up and glowing, fast-paced sci-fi visuals, matched perfectly to John Williams’ thumping orchestral soundtrack.
Guess which side wins (and how)?
Now such a central part of pop culture, it is difficult to believe it is this movie that introduces the world to Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, RD-D2 and C-3PEO.
All of which would have sounded like gibberish before 1977, when Star Wars was first projected onto a cinema screen, but afterwards these characters would become much loved as pop icons in their own right.
The highest-grossing movie from the original trilogy at $775 million.*
"The force is strong with this one," etc.
The Empire strikes back (Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back) (1980)
Sleeker and more sophisticated than its predecessor, The Empire Strikes Back has such an attention-grabbing opener in the battle on the ice planet Hoth, that it is easy to overlook its faults.
Stronger in terms of character development and plotting than Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back also feels, frustratingly, like a movie that is back to front. The first act is indeed breathtaking, but what follows is mechanistic and disappointing, as the movie bridges the original Star Wars franchise.
Charming muppet character Yoda makes his first appearance, there’s more texture to the whole "force" thing and the movie is skillfully written, holding the audience's attention through the exposition-heavy middle section. It also ends with one of the genre’s great dramatic moments, when Darth Vader takes centre stage to reveal who Luke’s father is.
The Empire Strikes Back is a pleaser, all right and, after an emotional and visual rollercoaster like this, hopes were inevitably high on the part of cinema-goers around the world for what would come next.
Takes in a studio-pleasing $550 million from punters.*
"Control, control, you must learn control!"
Return of the Jedi (Episode VI - Return of the Jedi) (1983)
One of the great disappointments in 80s commercial cinema.
Flashy, splashy and creatively exhausted, Return of the Jedi recycles the Star Wars Death Star (only this time bigger and worse than before) and returns Han Solo to the fold. Otherwise, the movie's visually flat and, thanks to the entrance of the (in no way annoying) Ewoks, a hugely dispiriting conclusion to the original trilogy.
Gone is the visceral energy of Star Wars or the sleek sci-fi romanticism of its sequel. In their place, Return of the Jedi offers the loyal fanbase some comedic teddy bears in a forest.
Harrison Ford looks embarrassed and bored, Carrie Fisher like she wants to be elsewhere (apart from when she’s wearing THAT bikini) and Mark Hamill weary.
Return of the Jedi also features the worst and almost shoddy (not so) special effects of the first three movies. Depressing.
Still manages to trouser $475 million from weary movie-goers.*
"What I told you was true, from a certain point of view."
THE BEST OF THE LOT IS?
A generation of boys and girls (though mainly boys) would be thrilled and their parents baffled by a new lexicon that came out of nowhere in 1977, and all because of Star Wars.
Quite simply, cinema, product franchising and the world of science fiction would never be the same after this movie.
"May the force be with you."
AND, OH DEAR, THE WORST?
The Return of the Jedi.
Tired, lazy and uninspiring (and not just because of the Ewoks, though they don't exactly help).
The force is weak with this one.
*At the time of writing.