How Star Wars Impacted Cinema and Pop Culture Forever

By Aylin Montoya

The lightsaber was the weapon used by the Jedi and introduced to the world in the cultural phenomenon Star Wars. The Original Star Wars trilogy premiered on May 25th, 1977, with the episode A New Hope. A New Hope was fantastic with the viewers going on a journey as Luke Skywalker goes on a mission to save Princess Leia from captivity and is then put on a mission to help destroy the Death Star, the Empire’s greatest weapon that could blow up entire planets.

Since then, Star Wars’ popularity has only grown with a controversial sequel trilogy, that is distributed by Disney and continues the Skywalker Saga. At conventions like San Diego and New York Comic-Con as well as Star Wars Celebration, thousands of fans celebrate the story that took place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. People dress up as beloved characters such as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and more while playing games and attending panels with the cast of the films. It’s a huge opportunity for Star Wars fans around the world to unite and celebrate the universe and characters they care so much about. This, of course, would not have happened without A New Hope’s release in 1977. Not only did A New Hope introduce Luke Skywalkers and his journey to fight the empire, but its release changed cinema forever. 

Before A New Hope, cinema portrayed science fiction in a specific and narrow way. The plots of mainstream science fiction films often involved aliens and were set in the future. A New Hope was different in that it was set in a past universe and time, taking place “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” In comparison to the perfect societies aliens lived in, the characters in Star Wars faced greater dilemmas that explored real-life issues that can occur on any planet. Luke Skywalker’s journey of wanting to leave his planet of Tatooine illustrated what it feels like to grow up and yearn for change or adventure. The Rebellion’s struggle against the Empire’s plans to rule the galaxy is a problem that people around the world face: having to fight against tyrannical rulers who want to take away freedom and rights.  

Alongside it’s themes, A New Hope also helped change the way films were made. A New Hope was so visually appealing that it inspired other filmmakers to find ways to improve film visuals. But before that happened, Star Wars creator George Lucas found ways to improve visual effects for A New Hope itself. The Dystralex was the first motion control photography camera system, created by John Dykstra, used specifically for the visuals and effects in A New Hope. The Dystraflex was different as the camera moved while the object or model stayed stationary. Each spaceship was filmed individually before combining the shots to form one shot of a space battle or chase. Although visual effects have improved immensely since then, in 1977 the Dystraflex was legendary as it helped create better illusions of moving objects. That’s why the iconic opening scene looked so real when the Imperial Star Destroyer chased the Tantive IV, which carried Princess Leia who had the Rebellion’s plans. It was that space chase that started it all, so a great innovation that improved camera technology was crucial to make Star Wars what it is today. Acknowledged for their spectacular  visual effects, Star Wars won best visual effects at the 1978 Academy Awards, leading others to follow in improving visuals for the film industry. 

In addition to affecting how films were made, the release of A New Hope revolutionized pop culture. One of the biggest impacts of Star Wars: A New Hope was how toys were seen. In 1977, when A New Hope premiered it was an instant hit. Children all over the United States and the world were lining up in front of stores to buy Star Wars merchandise, or toys. These toys and action figures became so popular that adults started lining up to buy them as well. Historian Sharon Scott discusses this in her book Toys and American Culture: An Encyclopedia where she states: “When vintage Star Wars toys in good condition became quite expensive, consumers began to realize that other toys in good condition might be valuable over time as well.” Starting in the ’80s, toys weren’t just seen as something kids played with for entertainment, but also something that could be collected for fun or be sold in the future.  

A New Hope not only marked a new era for film, but it brought people together. Millions of people waited for hours in order to see Luke Skywalker destroy the Death Star. After its release, Star Wars became a large part of many kids’ childhood. Since its premiere, the Star Wars enterprise  continues to grow with its fans who  remember the original trilogy and follow  the saga’s legacy. Star Wars isn’t just a movie franchise. To fans, Star Wars is a way of life and learning about this universe means a lot to them and me.