Way back when it first appeared on the pop culture landscape in 1977, Star Wars became my gateway drug for all things sci-fi. I was obsessed with it then, still obsessed with it now, and my brain is still reeling from the many announcements that were made at the recent Star Wars Celebration event a few weeks ago. The year-end release of Episode 7: The Force Awakens, James Earl Jones returning as the voice of Darth Vader for season two of Rebels, the next Star Wars Battlefront's connection to the next trilogy ... I don't think I've ever seen this franchise firing on all cylinders simultaneously before. Star Wars has never lacked for ambition; but with so many resources being devoted to keeping the saga alive and growing, I think that franchise fans are going to be in for plenty of wonderful surprises and thrills leading up to the release of Episode 7.
Star Wars didn't become a fan favorite overnight; it went through many, many growing pains to become the durable saga that it is today. Here are four reasons I've deduced as to why Star Wars is still standing in a media environment that's dominated by a handful of super-sized media conglomerates. Read on for why the Force has stayed with George Lucas and his pulpy rockets-robots-and-rayguns story for so long. Read on ...
4. Star Wars relies on extensive amounts of planning. Fans are still picking apart what might have been with Star Wars (e.g., whether George Lucas always planned for nine episodes, whether co-producer Gary Kurtz was the necessary influence to temper Lucas' eccentricities, whether Luke and Leia where always meant to be siblings, etc.). Yet regardless of how many key decisions were made from the beginning and how many were made on the fly, the saga always put its focal point on the Skywalker family and its relationship to the rise and fall of Darth Sidious' empire. Most of the tie-in comic books, novels, TV shows and video games tie back into this narrative in some way, expanding the cast of characters, creatures and worlds in ways that deepen and enhance--not wander away from--the saga's central story. Compare that to the countless movie franchises that release sequels, spin-offs and reboots with no future plan in mind; entertaining sequels still happen occasionally in spite of this, but so few consistently build upon original narratives in such engrossing ways.
The Star Wars master plan ... so far.
3. Star Wars engages the fans. The Star Wars franchise has frequently reached out to the fans in ways few other franchises do, even from the very beginning. Sure, it cranked out endless amounts of merchandising over the years (e.g., toys, clothing, bed spreads, underwear, wall paper, etc.), but the really significant tie-ins were those that allowed fans to learn how Lucas and his team brought the Star Wars saga to life. Long before special features and commentary tracks became available on many DVDs and Blu-rays of blockbuster movies, numerous books, magazines and documentaries provided in-depth analysis of the Star Wars movie production process, from conceptual art to special effect techniques. Even the Star Wars fan club newsletter, Bantha Tracks, gave fans a virtual backstage pass to understand the movie magic that made the saga possible. I suppose you could say that Star Wars copied the publicity strategy of Forrest "Uncle Forry" Ackerman, publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland; regardless, the strategy of inviting fans to witness the Star Wars saga during its creation worked and it's still paying off today.
A vintage issue of Bantha Tracks.
2. Star Wars invests in itself. Say what you will about the Star Wars movies, but you can't say that any of them look cheap. Compare this to other movie franchises where the production budget of each sequel is usually smaller than the film that came before it. (Case in point: the original Planet of the Apes franchise, which began with a production budget of $5.8 million for the first film and progressively shrank to $1.2 million by the fifth film.) Lucas and company didn't just create the Star Wars universe--they created their own company, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), to help create the Star Wars universe and many, many other fictional universes. Depending on how you look at it, Lucas and ILM did more for the Star Trek movies than Paramount itself.
1. Star Wars is a genuinely cinematic experience. Unlike most of the other popular franchises that set box office records these days, Star Wars is one of the very few that didn't originate in some other medium. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Hunger Games and even the Marvel and DC superhero movies are adaptations of something else (e.g., novels and comic books), which means that fans will always be comparing these films to the original source material to determine how "faithful" they are. In contrast, the Star Wars movies are the Star Wars universe as it was meant to be experienced. No matter how much it expands into other mediums, Star Wars will always have its roots in cinematic spectacle. For a franchise that wants to deliver thrilling and enthralling movie viewing experiences, that's an invaluable asset to have.
A long, long time ago at a Chinese movie theater far, far away ....