The Star Wars series was released in the Blu-ray format last Friday, and with that came another chance for George Lucas to fiddle with his creations, and — as a side benefit, one supposes — enrage longtime fans yet again by messing with their memories.
But this is not yet another article with a nerd stomping his feet about yet another example of George Lucas being George Lucas. Rather, I come not to whine about Star Wars but to praise it. Geeks and nerds and Star Wars fans can get so wrapped up in the series that occasionally it’s hard to remember just how much the movie changed the landscape not only of science fiction but of film.
So let’s ask ourselves: What would the world be like if, after finishing American Graffiti, George Lucas had gone hiking in the hills beyond San Francisco … and never come out?
Well, it would be more like what wouldn’t have happened. Here are some things we wouldn’t have without Star Wars.
1. No Star Wars sequels (or prequels). I mean, obviously. Now, you may think, That means the world has been spared Jar Jar Binks. Yes, that would be a good thing. But we’d also lose Yoda, and Lando, “I am your father,” Imperial Walkers, Han encased in carbonite, Boba Fett, the sarlaac, and let’s us not forget the thing that launched millions of nerd puberties into hyperdrive: Leia’s metal bikini. You’d miss all that, folks. You’d miss it bad.
2. No Indiana Jones. Lucas had been noodling around with the idea of an adventure movie featuring the Ark of the Covenant prior to Star Wars, but it wasn’t until he took a Hawaiian vacation with his friend Steven Spielberg in 1977 that Indiana Jones himself came into being. Even with the success of Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark was a tough sell — it was rejected all over Hollywood. Without Star Wars in his pocket (and to be fair, Spielberg’s success with Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), it’s likely the film wouldn’t have been made at all. Which also means…
3. No Harrison Ford. At least, not as we know him. Ford’s two signature roles are Han Solo and Indiana Jones. The roles made him a star and allowed him to branch out into more serious dramatic roles — allowing him to garner his first Oscar nomination for Witness in 1984 — and made him into one of Hollywood’s most reliable leading men in the 1990s. Without Han and Indy, Ford might have gone back into carpentry.
4. No Pixar. Pixar is currently owned by Disney and before that was famously owned by Steve Jobs, who fiddled about with it during his exile from Apple. But it started in 1979 as the Graphics Group, part of the computer division of Lucasfilm. Without Pixar, there’s no Toy Story or WALL-E or The Incredibles or any other of the dozen films and innumerable characters that have made Pixar the great animation success story of the 21st century.
5. No Battlestar Galactica. Glen Larson, the producer of the original Battlestar Galactica series, had the idea for the show from the 1960s, but it was the massive success of Star Wars that prompted Universal to give the series a green light. The original series was similar enough to Star Wars that 20th Century Fox sued Universal Pictures over it. The first series was cancelled after one season, but the universe was resurrected for the successful reboot in the 2000s.
6. No summer blockbusters. In 1975, Spielberg’s Jaws challenged the Hollywood notion that summer was a dead time in theaters and that films should be rolled out slowly, a few theaters at a time; Star Wars was the film that confirmed the new “summer blockbuster” paradigm and changed the industry to what it is today, when an opening weekend can gross up to a third of a popular film’s eventual box office. Film purists will debate whether this is a good thing.
7. No modern movie theater experience. George Lucas may enrage fans with his fiddling, but one place where the man is a genuine unsung hero is in his efforts to improve the experience of sitting in a movie theater, most notably through his THX standard for audio and visual reproduction — originally created to assure that filmgoers could hear Return of the Jedi the way Lucas meant it to be heard. Yes, he was fiddly even then, but in that case, it was all to the good. When you sit in your awesome modern movie theater of today, raise your popcorn to Lucas.