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.