On 25 May 1977, a small budget science fiction movie by a promising director premiered on less than 50 screens across the United States and immediately became a cultural phenomenon. Star Wars, George Lucas’ space opera depicting the galactic struggle between an evil Empire and a scrappy group of rebels, became the highest-grossing movie of the year and changed the course of movie history and American pop culture.
On a budget of $11 million, Star Wars garnered 10 Academy Award nominations (winning 6 plus a Special Achievement Oscar), changed how films were marketed and merchandized, revolutionized special effects, and spawned a franchise of movies – an original trilogy, a prequel trilogy, and a sequel trilogy/series of spinoff films currently in progress – that altogether have grossed over $7 billion. For many, Star Wars is the epitome of the science fiction genre, appealing to diehard fans and mainstream audiences alike, and its characters, music, and quotes have entered the collective pop cultural zeitgeist. To celebrate one of the most influential and beloved movies in history, we’ve assembled some fascinating Star Wars facts:
1. Star Wars was among the first 25 films to be inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 1989.
2. Peter Cushing (who played the calculating Grand Moff Tarkin) wore carpet slippers in most of his scenes as his boots were too small, a fact that puts his dastardly act of ordering the destruction of Alderaan in a new light.
3. Star Wars’ most famous phrase, “May the Force be with you,” became a police recruiting slogan in 1970s’ England.
4. Ronald Reagan’s “Strategic Defense Initiative” was nicknamed Star Wars, as it was planned as a defense against a hypothetical Soviet missile attack from the vantage point of space. It was scrapped in 1993 due to the end of the Cold War, after costing the US government $30 million.
5. Leigh Brackett, famed screenwriter of the Howard Hawks noir film The Big Sleep, wrote an early draft of the first Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, which drew upon her science fiction novels such as The Sword of Rhiannon. She died in 1978 and never saw the completed, re-written film, which premiered in 1980.
7. Acclaimed Academy Award-winner Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi) once made a small boy cry when he traded an autograph for a promise that the young fan would never see Star Wars again. Guinness was embarrassed that he was famous for what he believed to be a banal reason.
8. George Lucas drew on the Westerns of John Ford and the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa for the themes and aesthetics of his film, especially Kurosawa’s 1958 classic, The Hidden Fortress. The theories and works of mythologist Joseph Campbell also served as a major influence, which were later presented to the general public in a seminal 6-part television series with Bill Moyers titled The Power of Myth.
9. In 1970, only 5% of all films were science fiction, but by 1980, this figure reached 35%, in large part due to the success of Star Wars and contemporary films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
10. The hologram message of Princess Leia that R2D2 plays for Luke (”Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”) was the first-well known instance of using a 3-D projection for communication in a film. Most previous science fiction movies and television shows like Star Trek had used communication devices that resembled telephones or televisions. Forbidden Planet from 1956 was an early example that used holograms.
11. Fittingly, with Lucas’ affinity for myth and allegory, the names of many of the main Star Wars characters have symbolic meaning. Darth Vader evokes “death invader” but actually means “dark father,” whereas Luke Skywalker’s name comes from the Greek “leukos,” meaning light. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s name has Japanese influence, and rogue Han Solo’s name confirms that he is a loner.
12. The action figure was popularized by Star Wars in the late 1970s and the toy industry never looked back. The Star Wars franchise itself has grossed billions of dollars in themed merchandise since the first film’s premiere.
Featured Image credit: model of R2D2 at Star Wars Exhibitition Argentina, FAIL, July 2009. Roger Schultz, CC BY 2.0 via flickr.