What About Star Wars History? How Did It All Begin?

Star Wars Wiki | Find out details about the history of the Star Wars saga and how George Lucas created a cult that lasted for generations.

Luke, Leia and Han Solo in The New Hope Film

A long time ago, in a far, far, far away cinematic galaxy, a man named George Lucas created a cult film that has lasted for generations, changed the society and is one of the most profitable, influential and interactive franchise on the planet.

Whether you like it or not, it’s impossible not to give it the importance it deserves, let alone the audacity to ignore it. Whether you are a film buff or not, you can’t escape the passage of the “Force”.

The Story Behind the First Movie

George Lucas with his camera at Star Wars footage

It was during the post-production of American Graffiti that Lucas began writing the first lines of a tale “too complex to be understood”. It was called The Journal of the Whils. It took him nine months to write and was 40 pages long.

To write this short story, Lucas was inspired by such distinct works as Flash Gordon or The Hidden Fortress (1958), Akira Kurosawa’s cult film.

The character list included General Luke Skywalker, two workers named C-3PO and R2-D2, who were not robots, General Vader, Han Solo, Prince Wookie Chewbacca, and merchant Bail Antilles. There was also a list of planets: Yavin, a forest world, Ophuchi, covered in clouds, Alderaan, a city-covered globe and the Aquilae desert.

The script had several versions. The characters we know today were totally different. Han Solo, for one, was a green-skinned alien.

Han Solo as a green man alien

In the fourth version of the manuscript, Darth Vader, the Stormtroopers and Rebel Alliance were created and the story we know today became a reality.

Just like the phrase: “Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away...”, which Lucas chose to make clear that everything was happening in an invented universe.

The script was huge, inspired by the archetypes described by Joseph Campbell, whose books on religion and mythology such as “The Power of Myth” were successful in the United States.  In one of his most influential works, “The Hero of a Thousand Faces,” Campbell describes the “hero’s journey” as one of the most powerful myths in human culture. It is about a man’s transformation, and how he receives a call to go out into the world, faces challenges and magnifies himself as a person. It is this archetype that inspires the character Luke Skywalker, the innocent boy who answers the princess’s call.

Lucas chose to cut it into three separate parts and produce only the first act, which turned out to be the first film of Star Wars’ original trilogy – A New Hope.

Selling the project was very challenging. At the time, war films were not popular, science fiction was considered the worst genre of the moment, and children’s films – which would be the main audience for Star Wars – did not attract any interest from Hollywood executives.  After the end of the hippie dream, cinema seemed more interested in portraying reality and uncertainty than betting on an idealistic fantasy.

Universal and Warner rejected the film. It was finally accepted by Alan Ladd Jr., executive director of 20th Century Fox, who did not for a second doubt the potential of young George Lucas. Years later, Lucas would make a point of saying that – Ladd “didn’t invest in the film, he invested in me“.

With Fox’s green light, Lucas started another battle: to convince the studio to release the necessary funds to visually realize the universe he imagined, with its countless peoples, planets, spacecraft and galactic battles. Of the original budget proposal of US$ 18 million, the studio guaranteed him US$ 7.5 million.

The terms of the agreement became famous: Lucas kept the rights for a sequence (which nobody believed would happen) and also secured ownership of all the merchandising that could be derived from his creation.

With the raised money, Lucas began the herculean work of making up what could not be created. With the crisis of science fiction films, all the special effects studios had gone bankrupt.

With no one to appeal to, Lucas put together a team of talents and created his own studio: ILM – Industrial Light And Magic, now known for its unbelievable visual effects creations.

Without famous stars in the cast, much of the money went to the special effects. Made long before the computer graphics’ advance, the work was thorough. Many of the ships that look huge on the screen were small plastic models. The challenge was to offer a convincing visualization through an exhaustive work of light and photography.

Production came up against all possible problems – a studio unhappy about the cast, sandstorms in Tunisia, delays in film footage, unbearable heat and settings and costumes that did not work properly.

The budget was broken, and Fox was threatening to cancel the entire production. It also didn’t help that a good part of the team thought everything that was being shot was totally ridiculous.

george lucas with Luke and Obi Wan Kenobi in a footage of a scene from The New Hope

The film’s premiere was scheduled for Christmas 1976. However, delays in production forced the date to be postponed until the summer of 1977. At Century Fox, everyone expected the film’s failure, which was already on a budget of about 11 million dollars (the extra money came from Lucas’ pocket). At a certain point, the project became so demanding that Lucas was diagnosed with exhaustion and hypertension and advised to reduce his stress levels.

Star Wars’ promotion was made by Lucas himself, which managed to convince Del Rey publishing house to release an official film’s novelization almost six months before its release. The book From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker sold an impressive 500,000 copies, which created great expectations among viewers.

You can find it in here:

And Finally... The Success

Star wars premiere in 1977

Finally, on May 25, 1977, Star Wars (still without the subtitle A New Hope) was released in just 32 movie theaters in the United States. The success was overwhelming and even though Fox did not invest much in advertising, all the theaters had record audiences.

In just five weeks, Star Wars regained its initial investment, clearing the way for sequences and ensuring 10 nominations for the 1978 Oscars.

The iconic characters also piqued the public’s interest in acquiring collectibles, figures and other products, starting the merchandising licensing that Lucas anticipated in his contract with Fox.

It was the first movie in history to make money on toys from a movie. Characters, ships, uniforms, sets, weapons… Everything was new and could easily become a toy. The production was not easy – there was simply no film toy precedent, and nobody wanted to risk it. But in the months that followed the release of the first film, it became clear that there was something special happening and an investment decision was made for the Christmas season.

Without enough time to produce all the toy figures until Christmas, what was initially on the market was a carton card. Later, who had the card could then exchange it for 4 toys. Result: the best seller at the end of 1977 was a piece of cardboard!!

In 1985 (long before the second trilogy was released or the first one was remastered, or even before The Force Awakens and Rogue One, which generated more products than all the others added), there were more Star Wars toy figures in the world than people in the United States.

By 2015, 20 billion products related to the brand had been sold in history.

The Original Trilogy

George Lukas, Leia, Luke and Han Solo behind the Scenes

George Lucas could now begin preparing the other two films of the saga, now fully financed by a bank, without any intervention from the studio. It was a new era in Hollywood, with a filmmaker having total control over his creation.

Lucas started working on his second film a few months after the first one was released. A risky adventure: at the time sequels were not common, and those that existed used to be a disaster.

But Lucas had an unusual way to cultivate interest for the upcoming film: a spoiler. Not just any spoiler, but none other than the main point of the entire plot (which is not even considered spoiler anymore): Luke is Darth Vader’s son. And the main story of Star Wars was drawn: good vs. evil. Vader vs Skywalker. Jedi vs Sith.

The Empire Strikes Back, released on May 21, 1980, was considered the best film in the series by the critics and the public, due to its balance between dark and dramatic moments. The trilogy was closed by Return of the Jedi, released on May 25, 1983, which despite the commercial success received criticism for its light tone. 

After the release of The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars (1977) won the subtitle “Episode IV: A New Hope“. This occurred because at the time George Lucas had announced the “prequel trilogy”, released in the late 90’s, and the original trilogy would be chapters 4, 5 and 6 of the saga.

Changes were made in the original films in 1997 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Star Wars, motivated by the advancement of special effects’ technology, which had allowed the creation of scenes impossible to be made at the time of the original filming.

George Lucas continued to change the original trilogy in later releases, such as the release of the first DVD on September 21, 2004. The acceptance of these special editions was mixed, with fans creating their own petitions and editions to restore copies of the original trilogy.

Luke and Han disguised as stormtroopers with George Lucas

The Making of Star Wars

In this amazing tribute, best-selling author J. W. Rinzler reveals the intense drama and fantastic magic behind the scenes of “A New Hope” – the spectacular success episode, which is the favorite of thousands of fans of the Star Wars saga.

All about script creation, pre-production, casting, wardrobe, settings, filming, post-production and the premiere of Star Wars’ first blockbuster film.

Based on lost interviews from Lucasfilm’s official archives, it has exclusive and unpublished material, such as interviews with the main actors, director and producer, as well as technical information and revelations of what went wrong.

The Making of The Empire Strikes Back

In this book the reader will find all of The Empire Strikes Back’s details . J. W. Rinzler takes advantage of unlimited access to the Lucasfilm’s archives, and their hidden and never published treasures: interviews, photos, art and production memories.

The result it’s a comprehensive, close and personal look behind the scenes, dangers and risks, inspiration and imagination of this cinematic masterpiece.

And also the rare interviews made during the filming of the main actors: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher…

The Making of Return of the Jedi

J. W. Rinzler uses his unprecedented access to the Lucasfilm Archives and his collection of previously unpublished photos, design sketches, paintings, production notes and script drafts to reveal unprecedented behind-the-scenes facts.

The writer reviewed a number of documents and conducted several interviews, setting up the portrait of a George Lucas who suffered to find a good ending to his heroic and ambitious saga.

This third behind-the-scenes adventure is as fun and fascinating as his two previous books and the film itself.

The Prequel Trilogy

Natalie Portman (Queen Amidala) and Ewan Mcgregor (Obi-Wan-Kenobi) listen George Lucas' directions on set of Episode III - The Revenge of The Sith

For 16 years, Lucas refused to look at his prodigal son. Exhausted from making the first three films, in 1983 he admitted that he was going to take a vacation from the saga, leaving the prequels on stand by.

And when no one expected to see those yellow lyrics on the movie screen again, an article in Variety magazine announced that George Lucas was returning to the “Star Wars”.

More than a decade had passed and in that period much had changed. In the movies, the stop-motion and the miniature spaceships, hung from the sky by nylon wires, had given way to computer-generated images; outside it, Star Wars had gained a new popularity with the Dark Horse Comics . This allowed George Lucas to overcome many of the obstacles that had arisen during the shooting of the original saga in the 1970s and 1980s.

For those who had grown up during the 1980s, the new films were a unique opportunity. They could finally feel the Star Wars fever again. However, for the vast majority, the prequels were disappointing

Despite the negative reaction from the fans, the three films – The Phantom Menace (1999), The Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005) – yielded $2.5 billion in box-office revenues. Not bad for the three “worst” Star Wars movies.

The Sequel Trilogy

Seven years after announcing Star Wars’ end, Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney for US$4.05 billion.

The acquisition of the film production company was announced on 30 October 2012. On the same day, the news of a new trilogy was released, to be launched between 2015 and 2019.

Episode VII – The Force Awakens came in 2015, three years after the sale. It showed the original trilogy sequel. It beat, at the time, the record for best opening, and raised US$ 529 billion on the first weekend, and took just 12 days to get US$ 1 billion, placing it among the three best positions by 2015.

Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, 2017, followed a similar path: US$ 450.8 million on the first weekend.

And in 2019, the saga made by Lucas so many years ago finally comes to an end. Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker completes the third Star Wars trilogy and closes the Skywalkers’ plot for good.

But with at least five movies pending, George Lucas’ work won’t be gone anytime soon. And let there be more Star Wars!

The Star Wars Archives

Star Wars exploded onto our cinema screens in 1977, and the world has not been the same since. In this XXL-sized tome, George Lucas guides us through the original trilogy like never before, recounting the inspirations, experiences, and stories that created a modern monomyth. 

Complete with script pages, concept art, storyboards, on-set photography, and more.

Star Wars: Frames 1st Edition

It’s a book set featuring individual frames selected by George Lucas himself from all six Star Wars films.

We wanted to make it as big as possible because we really want people to see the images as if they were fine photographs, almost as if we were shifting from cinema to photography.”
―Executive Editor J. W. Rinzler


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