The year was 1977, a year of monumental firsts. The first Apple II computer debuted, the Concord flew its first commercial flight, and NASA tested the first space shuttle. It should be no surprise then, in a world of expanding technology, including special effects in cinema, that 1977 was also the year the first Star Wars movie opened in theaters.
Earning $775 million globally that year, Star Wars surpassed Jaws (1975) to become the highest-grossing film of all time. The movie’s colossal sales were later eclipsed by other films, but in 2013 the numbers were adjusted for inflation and the movie moved became the third-highest-grossing film in the world.
Fast forward at warp speed 38 years to a galaxy far, far away, even longer ago, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh in the franchise, just this week passed Jurassic World with $1.73 billion in sales globally to win the honor of becoming the third-highest-grossing film in the world.
With a cast of characters any author would envy, the Star Wars saga has benefited from its gifted writers, film-makers and actors. But, when the newest edition opened in China recently, the film did not perform the way Walt Disney Studios had hoped, even with the mega talent of J.J. Abrams as its director, co-writer and co-producer. It appears the Star Wars franchise does not hold the same appeal in China as it does in the US. Perhaps part of the problem lies with the fact that there were few cinemas in China when the first film debuted.
Yet, writers’ worldwide should be curious. I ask you, would this film, with its iconic characters representing many of our favorite archetypes, have produced such epic sales results domestically without our memories of the talismans from the original movie?
When I sat in a sold-out 3D theater (not available in 1977) over the holidays with my favorite movie snacks in hand with another 500 fans ready to be entertained, I hoped I’d be greeted by the cheesy infinity stars background and the opening words receding into the middle of the universe. Surely, cinematography had come a long way, but I wanted something familiar, pieces of the original movie sprinkled generously into the new film.
(Spoiler alert) I almost cheered out loud when my wish was granted and the movie began with the same John William’s score performed by the London Symphony orchestra that had vibrated through my bones as I sat and watched the first film.
As the opening graphics set the stage, I was drawn into the time-tested plot-line of good versus evil. Hans Solo returns as the galaxy’s rebel. Princess Leia leads the resistance as their commanding general, but her heroic brother, Luke, the last known Jedi, is missing. Once the Empire’s storm troopers threaten a new young heroine and an aging Millennium Falcon resurfaces, I am hooked.
When writing, we should be inspired by great storytelling and remember insight comes from many entertainment forms. Lucas has said that his work was influenced by numerous sources like the Old English epic poem Beowulf and the folklore of King Arthur, which he used for research on the origins of myth. He’s also spoken of the impact of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, as well as action, sci-fi series like Flash Gordon on his character creation. And it should be no surprise that influential films for Lucas have included the iconic Laurence of Arabia, Casablanca and the Wizard of Oz.
With access to a wealth of exceptional storytelling resources like these at our fingers, as writers, our unique voices should only improve with inspiration from film, stage, or novel.
Exposure to narratives of great works will help us create characters that the world will love like Hans, Leia and Luke. And equally as important, villains to hate like Darth Vader.
Winning seven Academy Awards, including best picture, the first Star Wars installment is regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. And if commercial sales are any indication, this seventh story in the series will surpass it. I highly recommend buying a ticket. Consider it a good tax write off or research money well spent.