This Saturday, “Star Wars VI: Return Of The Jedi,” the capstone of George Lucas’ original trilogy, turns 30. Not only does this mean you’re old, it means it’s time to consider precisely 30 things Lucas and his wildly successful franchise introduced into the world. Some (incest kiss) aren’t too popular; others are downright magical. But they’re all here thanks to one man and his crazy, mad expensive, dream. Time to scroll, like those revolutionary opening credits.
1. Crowd pleasing science-fiction. Big budget sci-fi movies before “Star Wars” tended to be apocalyptic, along the lines of “Planet of the Apes,” or “Soylent Green”. Lucas didn’t eradicate that genre entirely, but he made room for a new one. In a matter of a few years after “Star Wars,” we got not only “Alien” and “Blade Runner,” but the significantly kinder world of “E.T.”
2. A “used future.” Film scholars credit George Lucas for pioneering the concept (made famous again in later sci-fi movies like “Alien”) — with spaceships that are dingy rather than shiny, furnished with a hodgepodge aesthetic.
3. An unknown cast, but not for lack of trying. Luckily, Sissy Spacek, Jodie Foster, Al Pacino, and James Caan effectively turned Lucas down, and we landed up with Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, Mark Hamill as young Luke Skywalker, and Harrison Ford, in his first starring role, as Han Solo.
4. Which brings us to number four: Harrison Ford! We may think of Ford as an eternally dashing (and scowly) leading man, but before “Star Wars,” he was better known as “Airport Worker,” “Irate Motorist,” and “Bellhop,” in his earliest roles.
Blink and you’ll miss him: a young Harrison Ford plays an airport employee in Michael Antonioni’s “Zabriskie Point” (originally in English).
5. Lucas actually realized while developing his first trilogy that he was writing the middle of a series. We’re still waiting for someone else to release a movie franchise intentionally out of order.
Portrait of the franchise-ist as a young man: George Lucas in his “American Graffiti” days.
6. In that vein, “Star Wars” is also the first ever franchise to be conceived as a nine-picture series, a precedent that paved the way for ambitious studio undertakings like “Lord Of The Rings.”
7. The idea of springing a lineage between characters isn’t a new one (see Jane Austen’s multiple grandparent-grandchild reveals in a single page of her 1790 work, “Love And Friendship”). But Lucas gave us a way to refer to the trope neatly.
8. Self-evident it may be, but it’s still sort of mind blowing. No one ever said: “May the Force be with you,” until “Star Wars” gave us the catchall blessing.
9. Lightsabers are another needed-them-before-we-got-them gift from the famous franchise. Just try to imagine the world — or just YouTube — without glowing laser staffs.
10. Now-classic movies like “The Labyrinth” followed the lead set by “Star Wars” in offering us both puppet and human cast members to care about, for the first time.
11. Before Lucas, no one thought to wrangle references to Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian “2001: A Space Odyssey” into a release aimed at kids.
This YouTube recut splices the “Star Wars” trailer with that of “2001: A Space Odyssey” to show how greatly Lucas was inspired by the latter.
12. In fact, no one really thought to aim a big-budget movie at kids at all. Lucas somewhat infamously changed Hollywood’s favorite demographic nearly overnight — from adults to preteen boys — some say dooming us to an endless hell of “Transformers” movies.
13. Before Lucas, no one — not even CNN — imagined what a holographic telepresence might look like.
CNN covers “important politics”…with a hologram analyst, of course.
14. Same goes for a planet with two suns, until Tattoine, Luke Skywalker’s home planet. Which is why, when scientists discovered a planet orbiting and being orbited by multiple suns last year, it was, of course, instantly coined the “‘Star Wars’ planet.”
An image of Kepler-16b, the most “Tattoine-like” planet yet found in our galaxy, according to the AP.
15. We’re still recovering from this one. “Star Wars” is the first (and only, by our count) all-ages movie with an incestuous brother-sister kiss.
Always known, Leia? Then WHY DID YOU DO THIS, HUH?
16. Today, the “monomyth” narrative arc, or “hero’s journey” conceived of by Joseph Campbell, is Hollywood’s bread and butter (witness every quest story from “The Matrix” to “The Princess Bride”). But Lucas’ open adoption of the structure for “Star Wars” is what got it to the hills in the first place.
17. Not exactly an achievement: no other franchise was re-released years later with widely-reviled CGI changes. You know which change we mean.
Let the Rifftrax guys explain.
18 .You can thank Lucas for “Fast 6.” Before “Star Wars,” Hollywood really hadn’t discovered the power of the sequel.
19. “Star Wars” remains the first (but not last!) sensation to get an awful holiday special. This one somehow starred some original cast members.
Bad move, newly famous Ford.
20. Lucas’ special effects master John Dykstra spearheaded a new era of computerized motion photography, which meant the movie’s miniatures and models looked more realistic than ever before.
21. The opening crawl! It had been done before, but never so smoothly. We now know that’s because it was filmed painstakingly, an effort that paid off in a legion of future imitators.
22. Thank Lucas when you zone out in a cool theater this August: “Jaws” may have been the first “summer event film,” but historians point to “Star Wars” as the instigator for studios to definitively shift Hollywood’s favorite big-budget season from Christmas to summer.
Yep. These are all movies you’ll probably see this season.
23. “Star Wars” introduced the notion of what film scholars call the “nostalgic blockbuster,” meaning it copies older versions of its genre (“Flash Gordon,” most famously) on a bigger scale. A later example: “Pirates Of The Caribbean,” which riffs on early 20th century pirate movies.
Compare and contrast: the “Star Wars” crawl vs. the opener to the 1940 Lucas favorite, “Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe.”
24. Surround sound…ound….ound. Theaters were required to have Dolby Stereo, a new technology at the time, to show “Star Wars.” As the first film climbed to record box office highs, every cineplex worth its popcorn salt rushed to install the audio technology.
Hear that? That’s the sound of your brain replicating the hum of a light saber.
25. Sound designer Ben Burtt was innovative in other ways too. Burtt experimented with lo-fi sound-making (according to Time, he actually just taped himself for R2D2’s chirps and whistles), an approach that was unheard of in big budget moviemaking.
26. Fox thought Lucas was crazy to accept lower pay in return for merchandising rights. Of course, given his epic returns, and the fact that “Star Wars” actually earned more in products than it ever did at the box office, Lucas’ was the first and last of those contracts.
27. Lucas’ top-notch team of tinkerers basically gave us modern special effects. Before R2D2 and co., “there was no special-effects industry,” as critic Leonard Maltin once put it.
28.The game-changing success of “Star Wars IV: A New Hope,” made multiplexes a reality. For the first time, theaters built with the expectation that they could actually sell out multiple screens.
29. Video game designers also owe a debt to Lucas, whose creation of a special effects industry gave rise to more sophisticated games than just Pong. (WARNING: the video below features violence.)
You can’t ping pong like this in Pong. Yikes.
30. Before “Star Wars,” the only way to see pastiche in film, meaning stories and imagery knitted from several different genres, was by watching a Bollywood movie. Today, we have Baz Luhrmann.
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