In May of 1977, the science fiction adventure Star Wars was released in theaters, and May 24-28 in Los Angeles, tens of thousands of fans will celebrate the film and its 30-year legacy. Mike O'Sullivan reports, the movie became part of popular culture and changed the direction of Hollywood.
Star Wars was, in a way, a return to the simple action-adventures of Saturday movie matinees of the 1930s and '40s. But with the most advanced special effects of its day, it took the genre to a new level.
The man behind Star Wars, writer/director George Lucas, told a recent Hollywood forum that he used the latest effects to help him tell the story.
"Because science fiction is basically a literary medium, it is very hard to make it real," said George Lucas. "It is almost impossible. So I very carefully designed the movie within the range that I thought could be done."
Jonathan Rinzler, author of the book The Making of Star Wars, says Lucas had all the elements he needed for a successful movie.
"He was using all of the old movie serials and comic books and sci-fi novels and adventure and fun, and he just figured it was a no-brainer, and at that level, he was right," said Jonathan Rinzler. "He just did not realize how successful he was."
The head of fan relations for Lucasfilm, Steve Sansweet, says there was more to Star Wars than met the eye, and it resonated with viewers.
"Here you had a movie that on the surface was a summer popcorn movie," said Steve Sansweet. "It was an exciting action adventure. But since so many of the points and so many of the characters were based on archetypes that have been around for thousands and thousands of years in mythology and religion, it attracted us subliminally to that core."
It was a classic tale of good against evil, and the film's cast of characters, including Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, the beautiful Princess Leia, the evil Darth Vader and the venerable Yoda, became part of saga that would lead to five more films. Three would explore events that occurred before the original movie.
Fans lined up outside theaters for weeks, and a coordinated marketing effort made Star Wars a sensation, says Jonathan Taplin, a movie producer who teaches cinema at the University of Southern California.
"For the movie business, it was really the first completely blockbuster piece of entertainment that encompassed movies, merchandising, toys, everything that could be imagined, wrapped up in what we now think of as the blockbuster," noted Taplin. "It did not really exist before Star Wars."
George Lucas says his movies are meant to be entertain viewers.
"A primary thing is to entertain and let them have a couple of hours of enjoyment, but then hopefully behind that, there are other little truths that are stuck in there that allow you to see the world in a different way," he said.
Film professor Jonathan Taplin says Star Wars brought some unwelcome changes to Hollywood - an emphasis on films geared to a young male audience, film franchises such as Superman and Spider-Man with numerous sequels, and fewer original stories finding their way to the screen.
But for thousands of fans who will gather at an event called Star Wars Celebration Four, to be held in Los Angeles, Star Wars opened new vistas, and created a sense of community. Steve Sansweet of Lucasfilm says there will be no more Star War movies, but the legacy continues.
"This celebrates the first 30 years of Star Wars," he said. "We are only at the beginning. "
In early 2008, a new video game called The Force Unleashed will fill in gaps in the story. Lucasfilm is also working on two television programs - an animated series called The Clone Wars, to be released next year, and a live-action series, to be released late in the decade.
"The force will be with you, always."