Under The Influence: Star Wars



No, I'm not going to call it "A New Hope". That was added AFTER I saw the movie; at the time, Star Wars was just that, with no implication that it was part of anything else.


Of all the singular cultural events in my lifetime (as opposed to political events, like 9/11 or Vietnam), I don’t think any of them has  had or will ever have the impact of this single summer movie, made for thirteen million dollars (not a terribly large sum even in 1977). It didn't even have the advertising buzz one would expect; I found out about it more by accident than anything else and we went to see it on opening day (at least opening day in our region – I'm not sure if it was, technically, the FIRST day of release because I think it had a somewhat limited initial distribution before the truth of its impact became clear. I don't think there's any way to find out for sure.


I still cannot see the 20th Century Fox logo and hear that quick fanfare without IMMEDIATELY expecting to see the screen go black and the words appear: "A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…", followed by one of the most uplifting opening scores ever composed. The initial music and opening blew me away… and then came THAT scene, the scene with what looked like a pretty big ship flying overhead, with blasts of energy passing it… and then a MONSTROUS vessel going by, going by, STILL GOING, giving you a stunned idea of the SCALE of this thing before it finally finished going by, and you realized you were in for the ride of your life.


Star Wars had it all – the young naïve hero who makes good, the beautiful yet tough princess, the rogue with a heart of gold, the wise old wizard-mentor, and the towering black-clad villain. All old elements, but Star Wars put a laser-polished shiny coating of new paint on them and made them blaze like a new-born star. I went to see that movie … I don't know how many times. Fifteen? Sixteen? Twenty? And each time I saw some little detail I'd missed, heard a line I hadn't quite understood, and every one of them reaffirmed my lifelong desire to be able to MAKE something like that. Maybe I wouldn't make movies, but that sense of wonder, THAT I wanted to make.


And the impact kept on GOING. For the younger people reading this, it may be hard to GRASP what the change was like. When I was young, reading anything SF/F/Horror was considered STRANGE, something for freaks, losers, or at best isolated nerds who had nothing else to do. More than once I had books taken away from me, and at least once they were deliberately destroyed in front of me. Science fiction and fantasy were very, VERY marginal. Fanfiction existed… in what amounted to secret societies, groups of people who met at SF conventions and then kept in contact by writing (paper!) letters, distributing badly-mimeographed copies of their fanzines via mail. The image of someone who watched or read much SF was that of the stereotypical Trekkie. At best.


Star Wars changed all of that. Suddenly it was THE movie icon. EVERYONE knew who Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader were. It wasn't a mark of shame to know it. And unlike prior momentary SF successes, Star Wars didn't stop. It didn't have coattails, it had an entire FREIGHT TRAIN behind it, and that train carried a wave of new books, new shows, new movies – most of them bad, of course, but still BIG. It let Star Trek be reborn, and in its own sequels built a mythology that refused to die. Science Fiction suddenly had, if not respect, at least acceptance, something it hadn't ever achieved before (except for a very brief period during and after World War II, when Science seemed to be poised on the verge of solving all problems). The new RPGs, Dungeons and Dragons and its descendants, suddenly had new exposure and distribution.


And it entered the general consciousness. Even people who have never seen Star Wars know "Turn to the Dark Side", have heard of a lightsaber, recognize "The Force" and know what it is.


For me, it was a symbol. THIS is what adventure stories could be like – bright, shining, exciting, ten times bigger than life and a thousand times more fun. It was possible to write a story that wouldn't just touch two, or ten, or a dozen people, but a HUNDRED MILLION, not by founding a religion or writing something stark and frightening, but by writing a story that made the world a brighter place while you were watching it, while you were living alongside those heroes.


Despite the prequels, despite the stumbling of its own creator, despite all the charges – sometimes justified – of its juvenile and trivial nature, it's STILL that same symbol.


May the Force be with you. Always.



  1. melchar says:

    Well said. I remember looking forward to it because I was stuck in an elevator with Mark Hamill. It was Eastercon 1977 [which was supposed to be an Equicon, until they cancelled it suddenly in January]. Someone had screwed up the Marriott elevators and they were taking -forever- to get anywhere. Before knowing this, I got on one – with this guy [Hamill] – my arms full of D&D stuff, since I was going to be refereeing upstairs. Stuck in the elevator, he asked about the books and I gave a quick synopsis of the game. Then he told me to make sure and see the ‘Star Wars’ promotion in the main ballroom that evening; that he was in it. I wished him great success – saw the promo & OMG the crowd went nuts. We demanded it be shown a 2nd time. And went insane again.
    Back in the ‘real world’ I wrote for my Jr College newspaper & the editor got movie promo stuff. -He- was holding his breath for ‘Close Encounters’ & rapsodizing about that. He got the press kit for ‘Star Wars’ and thought it would be drek – and gave the kit to me. Squee! ‘Star Wars’ is still my go to movie for the genre – and I love ‘Empire Strike Back’. Would that the other 4 Lucas ‘products’ has equalled them … and not just been ‘products’.

    • I liked RotJ better than ESB, and all three of them better than any of the prequels by a long shot.

      • melchar says:

        ‘Return’ was pre-spoiled for me when I heard they changed the title from ‘Revenge of the Jedi’ to ‘Return’. Plus ewoks were annoying marketing ploys – and their culture didn’t make much sense IMO. That plus the cop-out of making the many- years-older Leia [well-known reformer, princess AND senator, mind you] – suddenly into Luke’s -twin?!?- sister? Now that kinda squicked me.
        Now if they’d stuck baby-Luke in cryo for a few years, maybe. One sentence of dialogue explanation and then … maybe. … If Luke hadn’t started off as a tow-head. If it didn’t push the suspension of disbelief for fraternal twins over the edge in a flaming landspeeder with Greedo [who never shot 1st]. More believable to have made Leia & Han fraternal twins.
        But then, I would have preferred an explanation where Ben Kenobi isn’t a bare-faced liar. Like that Vader was the clone of Luke’s father. Then Ben wouldn’t have needed to be a liar & Vader could have claimed genetic fatherhood.

        • The change to “Return” made sense; Lucas changed it when he thought about it and said “Jedi do not seek revenge”; this is pretty consistent with his general outlook — one of the few things he IS fairly consistent on, actually.

          I *liked* the Ewoks.

          The Luke-Vader-Leia thing, yeah, that was annoying.

          But we got the Vader bit in ESB, and ESB was darker and couldn’t resolve plot threads (obviously, since it was mid-trilogy), so it got a serious downcheck from me.

        • John Cowan says:

          Rumor has it that the Ewoks were intended to be the Wookiees (say it backwards) but were changed because some suit thought Wookiee plush toys wouldn’t sell enough.

          • Not a rumor but a known fact that Lucas originally intended RotJ to take place on the Wookiee homeworld. He changed his mind for three reasons. (A) Wookiees were a known species, using technology, not primitives, even if they were subject to prejudice, (B) no one would believe that the imperials would be so blase’ about the presence of hundreds or thousands of seven-foot tall warriors willing and able to rip arms off, and (C) in the era before CGI, making an army of thousands of seven-foot plus furry warriors would be a MAJOR challenge. Making an army of hundreds of miniature warriors was MUCH easier as you could use children or little people for the shots as you needed.

            The marketing was just icing on the cake.

  2. I was in the Navy, attending Air Conditioning and Refrigeration School in Norfolk Virginia. Ate dinner with friends and treated them to their choice of movies, which was “Network.” Saw the previews/trailers for “Star Wars” and knew I was in love. That was a heck of a summer. Next came “Superman” and I really believed a man could fly.

  3. jturfitt says:

    I was in the Air Force in 1977 when it came out. At the time, I was TDY in Hawaii. You bought your ticket for three shows later then when you purchased the ticket and the line was 5 blocks long.

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