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Star Wars: The Rise of Science Fiction in Cinematography

The Catalyst of Science Fiction Films

By Zachary FedarkoPublished 6 years ago 15 min read
Star Wars: A New Hope for the Frontier of Science Fiction Film

As the United States entered an election year in 1976, Americans found little reason for optimism. In this era, Americans had lost lives and whom to believe in following the Cold War. Andrew Gordon argues that George Lucas created "a myth for our times," Star Wars was this generation's new hope (Gordon 1978). At the start of production, Star Wars was expected to be a one time movie, not a multitude of episodes. Lucas anticipated originally making one Star Wars film, and it would only be called Star Wars not Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope due to the ominous fact that popular science fiction films were scarce on the silver screen. He was afraid Star Wars would not succeed. Now, however, Star Wars: A New Hope holds the second highest record for theatre attendance in the United States (Munafo). This one movie out of a soon to be trilogy had impacted not only the production science fiction's films, but also the film industry itself.

The film that was considered to be the first science fiction movie was Voyage a La Lune 1902 (A Trip to the Moon). This silent film was beyond its time due to its cinematics which kindled its popularity. Voyage a La Lune was at the genesis of cinematography in the early 1900's. As cinematography progressed Frankenstein (1910) was born and combined the science fiction and horror genres. And in 1916, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was created, a full length science fiction movie no longer viewable under 20 minutes. Because there were not many popular science fiction films in the early 1900's, let alone many films in general, popular science fiction movies were next seen in the 1930's, during the Great Depression. The science fiction films of the 1930's were widely influenced by the Great Depression. It was here that audiences were in pursuit of escapism due to the harsh times in which they lived. There were many science fiction films that came out before Star Wars, especially in the 1950’s. Godzilla, although not originally a U.S. film, had accumulated such a vast audience, revealing that there were popular science fiction films even two decades before Star Wars. However even after Godzilla had been created in 1954 by the Japanese, and remade by Americans following Star Wars' sequel trilogy first in 1998, and a second remake in 2014 following the second Star Wars prequel trilogy, and moreover, a year and a half before Star Wars Episode VII came out. Godzilla, like Star Wars, was a film before its time with high tech.

The next science fiction film that truly garnered attention was War of the Worlds in 1953, which truly characterized the 1950's, containing, "nuclearized animal monsters, pod-people, and saucer-men emblematizing late 1940s and '50s atomic/Cold War angst"(Greenberg 2002). Nevertheless, it was eventually remade following the second Star Wars trilogy in 2005. While although there were many popular science fiction literature and TV shows like Star Trek, there were not many popular science fiction films. Even though Star Trek was a very popular series and a one of a kind for its time, it did not necessarily spark any film production of the science fiction genre as Star Wars did, "The phenomenal success of Star Wars (1977) has created new possibilities for contemporary cinema" (Roth 1985). Even more so, Star Trek created its own films following Star Wars in an attempt to parallel it in popularity. In the ten best sci-fi movies of all time by Joe Pappalardo, Fantastic Voyages (1966) was before Star Wars and it garnered a large audience. Similarly, Space Odyssey in 1968 came out around the same time as the Star Trek television show series, and it too is still a popular science fiction film in contemporary society even though it came out before Star Wars. While although echoes of the science fiction films before Star Wars are still prevalent movies today none of them were able to spark as much popularity in science fiction as Star Wars. The remembrance and popularity of science fiction films before Star Wars, were very few and far in between, this is why it stands that Star Wars today still has its shadow cast over science fiction film production, "The spectacular rise of science fiction film since 1977" proves that Star Wars was truly an acting catalyst (Roth 1985).

Star Wars. It happened a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. However, the impact of Star Wars on the science fiction genre in film continues to grow faster than Han Solo's jumps to lightspeed. At the end of World War II, there were two events that acted as catalysts to boost the science fiction genre. The first was the red scare that implemented the fear of communism rising into the hearts of many Americans. Furthermore, this epoch witnessed the development of the atom bomb, followed by the hydrogen bomb, leading to a spike in science fiction movies sustaining through the 1950's. However, back in 1960's and 1970's, when science fiction was widely regarded by mainstream critics as little more than a, "mere thud and blunder", no other film served to spearhead the genre's development as did Star Wars (Hoppenstand 2005). Not only were there wars going on around the world being fought by the U.S., but internally too, the U.S. was becoming a melting pot of races and the meshing of cultures together emitted friction. The people in this time period found little solace and peace.

Through the trials of this era, Star Wars transpired. "In an era when Americans had lost heroes in whom to believe, Lucas created a myth for our times" (Gordon 1978). When George Lucas created his first trilogy, it was in an attempt to, "present positive values to the audience" (Lev 1998). Star Wars proved that it was the equivalent to the 1930's film, The Wizard of Oz, in that it was aware of the time period it was born in and was able to resonate with the people profoundly. Just as Star Wars was created following the dark times and tensions of the Cold War, The Wizard of Oz was made during the great depression forty years previously. Star Wars acted as a fantasy, an escape that transcended time creating a new hope Star Wars was, "This generation's Wizard of Oz" (Gordon 1978). At the time the popular sci-fi film was "released in a period when the heroes had been cast down through such national catastrophes as Vietnam and Watergate" when lines between good and evil became blurred, Star Wars emerged, sharpening them (Gordon 1978). Science fiction is often an escapism type film, it is able to for two hours to get people to "somewhat remove[d] from everyday reality"(Lev 1998). Science fiction since 1977 has continued to rise logistically, post Star Wars were some of the most famous films of their genre, these films included Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982), "All three are key movements in the renaissance of science fiction film stretching from the late 1970's to the present" (Lev 1998). It is almost as if it is up to each generation to create its own heroes or even recreate those heroes that are in the past, in December of 2015 that is exactly what happened.

Finally, a new installment of the fabled trilogy had come, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The Seventh episode of the most well known series on the entire planet was in the limelight. The original Star Wars trilogy even provoked more episodes of its' series to be created. This new generation of the trilogies acted as a unifier, welding the age gap between the old and the young creating a common ground and reigniting the science fiction flame. Star Wars has always united worlds, back when the first Star Wars film in 1977 was created, it was a cultural unifier, bringing in a broad spectrum audience that was beyond the "norm". Star Wars was, and still is enjoyed by many. In the 1980's Ronald Reagan proposed an anti-missile weapon system, that he soon coined it as, "Star Wars", in order for the U.S. to no longer feel overshadowed by the politics of the Soviet Union Empire. "It is no accident that the original Star Wars came to be associated with the dialectic of the Cold War" (Scaliger 2016). The historical allusions created by this film are no coincidence, when Ronald Reagan would call the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire," Americans knew exactly where he had extracted that term from and agreed. Star Wars represents victory over dark times proceeding the war, it represents American ambition, Star Wars is a, "triumph of American ingenuity and resourcefulness, demonstrating how the old may be made new again" (Gordon 1978). While Star Wars may have taken place in a galaxy far far away, its' influence on the science fiction genre in film in our galaxy is tremendous. Star Wars expanded the universe.

Lightsabers, and Tie Fighters and Banthas oh my! From the opening screen crawl to the stunning binary sunset viewable from the planet of Tatooine, George Lucas' most famous film trilogy was unlike anything ever seen before in the limelight. Star Wars was a game changer for the film industry. Before Star Wars, special effects in films had never taken such huge strides to advance, thus it was also important in the movement towards the use of computer generated images in films. Star Wars: A New Hope is, "generally considered to have been the first movie ever to use what now is called CGI" (Scaliger 2016). Moreover this popular science fiction film presented new ideas, and a new genre combination; Star Wars is coupled with fantasy and science fiction as two primary genres differentiating itself from other science fiction films of the 1950's and 1960's subsequently increasing its popularity and igniting the flame for science fiction films to arise. In the 1950's, popular science fiction movies introduced alien take overs, abductions, and mass murders as seen in the movie, War of the Worlds. Following the second Star Wars trilogy War of the Worlds was recreated. The 1960's progressed from this to the exploration of new planets with humans encountering aliens but not necessarily yet cohabitating with them peacefully, but rather making alliances with them, as seen in the hit television series Star Trek. Finally in the 1970's Star Wars presents this idea of cohabiting with aliens, and integrates them and artificial life as a mundane things to people in the movies. The first Star Wars film had done something that had never been executed, even in Hollywood's prime with western films, "It reintroduced Americans to the stark contrast between good and evil" (Scaliger 2016). Created in a time when Americans were pessimistic and aspects of good and evil seemed to almost be nuances, Star Wars provided Americans good guys who fought for freedom and an enemy of the galaxy who wore black. By paralleling the tribulations of its' time, Star wars was also able to garner its' popularity. The trendy film can be said to be the causation of science fiction's rise in popularity following the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Science fiction films proceeding this era are resultant of Star Wars ushering in a smash hit genre. 20th Century Fox, going into the summer of 1977 placed its' science fiction films into the pre-memorial day release slot in hopes of garnering a little money before the huge summer movie came out, "That other movie was Star Wars" (Murray). Similarly, the two most enduring science fiction films of 1976 arrived almost exactly one year before Star Wars, those movies were The Man Who Fell to Earth and Logan's Run. Many of the efforts that were put into the science fiction genre in film back in the seventies still clearly in contemporary society are influenced by and inspired from the first Star Wars trilogy, "Lucas is not trying to preserve a history, he is trying to create a history" (Johnson 2005). Not only was the trend of the science fiction genre extracted from Star Wars into other movies, but the idea of creating a massive media franchise has too. When Star Wars came out, many comic books, action figures, clothes and other merchandise were created further increasing the fan base of the film and also inspiring other films to do the same and come out with their own merchandise regarding the movie. Another thing that was directly extracted from star wars was the idea of the trilogy, before Star Wars there weren't any popular movie series that came out in installments of three. Even after creating the original three Lucas still pursued to begin on the prequel and ultimately finish the star wars storyline, "Lucas: you know I said three's fine. And then I came up with an idea I thought was brilliant, so I told the other guys [Steven Spielberg, a fellow director and Harrison Ford, a main character in the Star Wars series], and they kind of flipped out" (A Look Back in Wonder 2005). Spielberg flipped out on the idea of a trilogy because this means that he could continue with his story of Indiana Jones, thus expanding his audience and creating a more in depth series. Not only was Spielberg inspired by the idea of a trilogy but also was inspired by Lucas to create science fiction films, particularly, E.T.. E.T. was wildly popular and is a good example of how Star Wars sparked the rise in popularity of science fiction film production. Spielberg even tried to merchandise E.T. just like Lucas did. Movies had sold toys before star wars, however no movie was able to sell toys on the same scale that Star Wars did. E.T. had created mini figurines of the characters within the movie, however it was soon clear that this movie was no Star Wars, "Star Wars has generated more collectable paraphernalia than any other movie franchise on the planet"(Taylor 2016), and thus many of E.T. film merchandise collected dust on the shelves they were sitting on. George Lucas copied the idea of merchandising items outside of the movie through the film Lucas had enjoyed growing up, the story of Daniel Boone. Coonskin hats were popular hair wear proceeding the movie, and the profits of the movie increased when merchandise was sold. Lucas copied this idea of merchandising in in order to garner more money and deepen the Star Wars fandom. Star Wars, throughout its near two decade absence from 1983 to 1999, had still managed to keep itself within the eye of the world, also sparking more ideas for cinematographers to create long periods of wait time between each edition or new "episode" they would add to their storyline. Another reason why Star Wars was able to reap such a wide crowd was because it had many characters that weren't static characters, and they deepened the story line and gave Star Wars an extended the entirety of the storyline, allowing it to also branch of in different directions and gave arise to a new fan basis of a different generation, "Even before the December release of The Force Awakens, the Star Wars franchise pulled in an estimated $42 billion total in box office" (Taylor 2016). Through its' prominence, and its ability to ignite new ideas, star wars was able to spark the rise in popularity of science fiction films.

Star Wars in itself is a myth, a legend, a legacy that needed to be carried on, which is what makes it so special, because myths are "the primary language of historical memory" (Geraghty 2005). Star Wars pioneered the modern movie trilogy idea, paving a path for Lord of the Rings and The Matrix among others Lucas even conveys that he, "expected this to be one movie" but then Star Wars turned into a trilogy (A Look Back in Wonder 2005). Star Wars even illuminated that merchandising can reel in even more money than the actual film does, "Before Star Wars no one had ever made money out of toy merchandising associated with a movie" (Taylor 2016). In the 10 best science fiction movies chosen by experts, six of the nine films, besides Star Wars, all were a resultant of the famous film, with little bits and pieces of Star Wars found within them. "Many new space-opera-type SF television programs or motion pictures cannot seem to escape the influence of either Star Trek or Star Wars" (Hoppenstand 2005). In The Matrix (1999), Neo's world is a "virtual construct set up by hostile robots" (top 10 best sci fi movies) similar to Star Wars with some of our most favorite characters being robotic artificial life such as C3PO and R2D2. In Brazil 1985 the film has "dramatic landscapes" similar to those of Star Wars, as experienced in the first scene of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back on the planet Hoth. In WALL-E (2008) "humans have relocated to space stations" (10 best), similar to those who have relocated to life on the Death Star. Science fiction movies "hold mirrors up to our conceptualization of self, and then distort what we see"(10 best), which is what makes science fiction still important and prominent in modern days, because peaceful times can make humanity blind and these sci-fi movies can present chaos that could become reality. Science fiction as a genre has been able to transcend time because of the values it presents, "In WALL-E do you feel closer to robot or to the humans?"(10 best), because in modern day society many people are glued to their phone so it is easy to feel closer to electronical things. Star Wars was an inspiration to science fiction genre because it was able to stay within the public eye during its' absence, "Revenge of the Sith is arguably the most anticipated film in history"(Rogers 2005). Lucas had a multitude of things going on through his life after the original grand trilogy. He waited to make his prequel movies because he did not believe that there was enough technology to create the worlds he wanted, because he wanted his prequel movies to be even grander than his first trilogy, however its hard to top any Star Wars movie, "I mean, A New Hope was a 1977 film! It was astonishing for 1977"(Johnson 2005). Lucas' loyal audience still kept a keen eye out for signs of the first three movies to be created, and waited for more news regarding the trilogy of the prequels because the understanding audience that Lucas accumulated knew that Sith happens. Stemming from Star Wars' blossoming, science fiction became one of the blockbuster genres. Growing from Star Wars in the late '70's and early 80's were any films the major studios could scramble to get in to production. Moreover, directly resulting from Star Wars awakening of a genre was the Star Trek Television series being reborn as a film franchise that continued throughout the1980's and 1990's.

Star Wars is responsible for the rise in popularity of science fiction films in the late 1970's and early 1980's, and this is revealed through the burst of science fiction films post Star Wars. Star Wars was aware of the time period it transpired in and it was able to resonate with the people dwelling during the dark times emerging from the Cold War. By serving as an escapism from reality, Star Wars provided Americans glimmers of hope following the dim time of the Cold War. Through Star Wars science fiction film awakening, science fiction is now a blockbuster genre that is constantly generating films that gather wide audiences and a large profit. Forever has Star Wars changed the film industry, and will have a perpetual influence on all science fiction films. The hit film continues to pioneer modern day movies and extends its tales into new generations.


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About the Creator

Zachary Fedarko

Academic writing

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