Star Wars (retroactively titled Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope) is a 1977 American epic space-opera film written and directed by George Lucas, produced by Lucasfilm and distributed by 20th Century Fox. It stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker and Peter Mayhew. It is the first installment of the original Star Wars trilogy, the first of the franchise to be produced, and the fourth episode of the "Skywalker saga".

Plot

Amid a galactic civil war, Rebel Alliance spies have stolen plans to the Galactic Empire's Death Star, a massive space station capable of destroying an entire planet. Imperial Senator Princess Leia of Alderaan, secretly one of the Rebellion's leaders, has obtained its schematics, but her starship is intercepted by an Imperial Star Destroyer under the command of the ruthless Darth Vader. Before she is captured, Leia hides the plans in the memory of R2-D2, who flees in an escape pod to the desert planet Tatooine accompanied by C-3PO.

The droids are captured by Jawa traders, who sell them to moisture farmers Owen and Beru Lars and their nephew Luke Skywalker. While cleaning R2-D2, Luke accidentally triggers part of a holographic recording of Leia, in which she requests help from Obi-Wan Kenobi. Later, after Luke finds R2-D2 missing, he is attacked by scavenging Sand People while searching for him, but is rescued by elderly hermit "Old Ben" Kenobi, an acquaintance of Luke's, who reveals that "Obi-Wan" is his true name. Obi-Wan tells Luke of his days as one of the Jedi Knights, the former peacekeepers of the Galactic Republic who drew mystical abilities from a metaphysical energy field known as "the Force", but were ultimately hunted to near-extinction by the Empire. Luke learns that his father fought alongside Obi-Wan as a Jedi Knight during the Clone Wars until Vader, Obi-Wan's former pupil, turned to the dark side of the Force and murdered him. Obi-Wan presents Luke with his father's old Lightsaber, the signature weapon of Jedi Knights.

R2-D2 plays Leia's full message, in which she begs Obi-Wan to take the Death Star plans to her home planet of Alderaan and give them to her father, a fellow veteran, for analysis. Although Luke initially declines Obi-Wan's offer to accompany him to Alderaan and learn the ways of the Force, he is left with no choice after discovering that Imperial Stormtroopers have killed his aunt and uncle and destroyed their farm in their search for the droids. Traveling to a cantina in Mos Eisley to search for transport, Luke and Obi-Wan hire Han Solo, a smuggler with a price on his head due to his debt to local mobster Jabba the Hutt. Pursued by stormtroopers, Obi-Wan, Luke, R2-D2 and C-3PO flee Tatooine with Han and his Wookiee co-pilot Chewbacca on their ship the Millennium Falcon. As they reach the planet's orbit, two Star Destroyers try to intercept them, but Han is able to jump to hyperspace by reaching lightspeed.

Before the Falcon can reach Alderaan, Death Star commander Grand Moff Tarkin interrogates Leia about the location of the Rebels's secret base, with the threat of destroying her home planet, and, when she answers that the base is on Dantooine, he orders Alderaan destroyed simply as a show of force. As the group arrives in the astroid field that now stands in place of Alderaan, Han spots an Imperial TIE fighter and is taunted into chasing it and shooting it down, allowing the Falcon to be captured by the space station's tractor beam. Inside the Death Star, Obi-Wan attempts to disable the tractor beam, and Luke persuades Han and Chewbacca to help him rescue Leia after discovering that she is scheduled to be executed. After disabling the tractor beam, Obi-Wan sacrifices his life in a lightsaber duel with Vader, allowing the rest of the group to escape the Death Star with Leia. Using a tracking device, the Empire tracks the Falcon to the hidden Rebel base, actually located on Yavin IV.

Leia's schematics reveal a hidden weakness in the Death Star's thermal exhaust port, which could allow the Rebels to trigger a chain reaction in its main reactor with a precise torpedo strike. While Han abandons the Rebels after collecting his reward for rescuing Leia, Luke joins their starfighter squadron in a desperate attack against the approaching Death Star. In the ensuing battle, the Rebels suffer heavy losses as Vader leads a squadron of TIE fighters against them, but Han unexpectedly returns to aid them in the Falcon, narrowly managing to save Luke before Vader can shoot him down. Guided by the disembodied voice of Obi-Wan's spirit, Luke turns off his targeting computer and uses the Force to guide his torpedoes into the exhaust port, destroying the Death Star moments before it fires on the Rebel base. In a triumphant ceremony at the base, Leia awards Luke and Han medals for their heroism.

Cast

Production

Lucas had the idea for a space-fantasy film in 1971, after he completed directing his first full-length feature, THX 1138. Originally, Lucas wanted to adapt the Flash Gordon space adventure comics and serials into his own films, having been fascinated by them since he was young. He later said:

I especially loved the Flash Gordon serials ... Of course I realize now how crude and badly done they were ... loving them that much when they were so awful, I began to wonder what would happen if they were done really well.[1]

At the Cannes Film Festival following the completion of THX 1138, Lucas pushed towards buying the Flash Gordon rights, but they were already tied-up with Dino De Laurentiis. Lucas later recounted:

I wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie, with all the trimmings, but I couldn't obtain the rights to the characters. So I began researching and went right back and found where Alex Raymond (who had done the original Flash Gordon comic strips in newspapers) had got his idea from. I discovered that he'd got his inspiration from the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs (author of Tarzan) and especially from his John Carter of Mars series books. I read through that series, then found that what had sparked Burroughs off was a science fantasy called Gulliver on Mars, written by Edwin Arnold and published in 1905. That was the first story in this genre that I have been able to trace. Jules Verne had got pretty close, I suppose, but he never had a hero battling against space creatures or having adventures on another planet. A whole new genre developed from that idea.
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Director Francis Ford Coppola, who accompanied Lucas in trying to buy the Flash Gordon rights, recounted in 1999: "[George] was very depressed because he had just come back and they wouldn't sell him Flash Gordon. And he says, 'Well, I'll just invent my own. He secured a two-film development deal with United Artists; the two films were American Graffiti and a space opera, tentatively titled "The Star Wars" and inspired by Flash Gordon. Lucas would later claim that he had the idea for an original space opera long before 1971, and that he even tried to film it before American Grafitti.

Lucas went to United Artists and showed them the script for American Graffiti, but they passed on the film, which was then picked up by Universal Pictures.

Soundtrack

Main article: Star Wars (soundtrack)

Release

While initially being released only in a limited theatrical run, Star Wars was an unprecedented success for 20th Century-Fox, soon becoming a blockbuster hit and expanding to a much wider release. It would eventually see many theatrical and home video re-releases.

Premiere and initial release

Worried that Star Wars would be beaten out by other summer films, such as Smokey and the Bandit, 20th Century-Fox moved the release date to May 25, the Wednesday before Memorial Day. However, fewer than 40 theaters ordered the film to be shown. In response, the studio demanded that theaters order Star Wars if they wanted the eagerly anticipated The Other Side of Midnight based on Sidney Sheldon's 1973 novel by the same name.

Star Wars debuted on Wednesday, May 25, 1977, in fewer than 32 theaters, and eight more on Thursday and Friday. Kurtz said in 2002, "That would be laughable today." It immediately broke box office records, effectively becoming one of the first blockbuster films, and Fox accelerated plans to broaden its release. Lucas himself was not able to predict how successful Star Wars would be. After visiting the set of the Steven Spielberg film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Lucas was sure Close Encounters would outperform the yet-to-be-released Star Wars at the box office. Spielberg disagreed, and believed Star Wars would be the bigger hit. Lucas proposed they trade 2.5% of the profit on each other's films; Spielberg took the trade, and still receives 2.5% of the profits from Star Wars.

Reception

Box office

Star Wars remains one of the most financially successful films of all time. The film opened on a Wednesday in 32 theaters expanding to 43 screens on the Friday and earning $2,556,418 in its first six days to the end of the Memorial Day weekend. It replaced Jaws as the highest-earning film in North America just six months into release, eventually earning over $220 million during its initial theatrical run. Star Wars entered international release towards the end of the year, and in 1978 added the worldwide record to its domestic one, earning $410 million in total.

On July 21, 1978 while still in current release in 38 theaters in the U.S., the film expanded into a 1,744 theater national saturation windup of release and set a new U.S. weekend record of $10,202,726. The gross prior to the expansion was $221,280,994. The expansion added a further $43,774,911 to take its gross to $265,055,905. Reissues in 1979 ($22,455,262), 1981 ($17,247,363), and 1982 ($17,981,612) brought its cumulative gross in the U.S and Canada to $323 million, and extended its global earnings to $530 million. The film remained the highest-grossing film of all time until E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial broke that record in 1983.

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