Set far in the past, the movie tells the story of a plot against an oppressive Galactic Empire by a group of freedom fighters known as the Rebel Alliance. Seeking to make their authority absolute the Empire has recently completed its ultimate weapon: the Death Star, a moon-sized battle station capable of destroying a planet. Even so, spies have managed to obtain schematic plans of the station in the hope of finding a weakness. Rebel Leader Princess Leia Organa is racing to transport these plans to the rebel base when her ship is attacked and she and the crew are captured by Imperial forces. In a desperate attempt to complete her mission, Leia hides the plans within one of her two servant androids and records a quick message to former military general and rebel sympathizer: Obi-Wan Kenobi. Explaining her circumstances she begs Kenobi see that the plans are delivered safely to the base. The androids are then launched, in an escape pod, to Obi-Wan's home planet of Tatooine, where they come into the possession of teenaged farmer, Luke Skywalker. The secret message is soon discovered and Skywalker sets off to locate Kenobi and find a way to help the Princess.
Inspired by films like the Flash Gordon serials and the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa, as well as such critical works as Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Lucas began work on Star Wars in 1974. Produced with a budget of US$11,000,000 and released on May 25, 1977, the film became one of the most successful of all time, earning $460 million in the United States and $337 million overseas, as well as receiving several film awards, including 10 Academy Award nominations. It was re-released several times, sometimes with significant changes; the most notable versions were the 1997 Special Edition and the 2004 DVD, which were modified with CGI effects and recreated scenes.
Story and Plot Point
An opening crawl reveals that the galaxy is in a state of civil war. The Rebel Alliance has stolen plans to the Galactic Empire's Death Star, a space station capable of annihilating a planet. Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan has possession of the plans, and before she is captured by the Empire, she hides them, along with a holographic recording, in a "droid" named R2-D2. The small droid escapes with his humanoid partner C-3PO to the surface of the desert planet Tatooine below. On Tatooine, the droids are captured by Jawas, who sell them to moisture farmer Owen Lars and his nephew, Luke Skywalker. While Luke cleans R2-D2, he accidentally triggers part of a holographic message, in which Princess Leia requests the help of "Obi-Wan Kenobi." The only Kenobi he knows is Ben Kenobi, a hermit who lives in the nearby hills, but Uncle Owen dismisses any connection.
Later, R2-D2 escapes, causing Luke and C-3PO to go out after him. Luke is attacked by Tusken Raiders. Along the way, they meet the "old wizard" Ben Kenobi, who reveals himself to be Obi-Wan. He takes them back to his hut and tells of his days as a Jedi Knight, and explains to Luke about a mysterious energy field called "the Force". He also tells Luke about his father, Anakin Skywalker, gives him his father's lightsaber, and tells him that Anakin had been "betrayed and murdered" by Obi-Wan's former pupil, Darth Vader. Obi-Wan then views Princess Leia's message, in which she begs him to take R2-D2 and the Death Star plans to Alderaan, where her father will be able to retrieve and analyze them. Obi-Wan asks Luke to accompany him to Alderaan and to learn the ways of the Force. After discovering that his home has been destroyed and his aunt and uncle killed by Imperial stormtroopers, Luke agrees to go with Obi-Wan to Alderaan, and to learn to become a Jedi like his father. At the seedy Mos Eisley Spaceport, the group finds a smuggler named Han Solo and his Wookie friend Chewbacca, who agree to transport them on their ship, the Millennium Falcon. Attacked by stormtroopers as they board the ship, they make a hasty escape and prepare for a hyperspace leap to Alderaan.
Meanwhile, Leia has been imprisoned on the Death Star and has resisted interrogation. Grand Moff Tarkin, the Death Star's commanding officer, destroys her home planet of Alderaan as a means of demonstrating the power of the Empire's new weapon. The planet's destruction is felt by Obi-Wan aboard the Millennium Falcon while he is instructing Luke about the Force. Arriving at the coordinates for the planet, they are bombarded instead by rubble from the explosion. Following a TIE Fighter toward what appears to be a small moon, they are captured by the Death Star's tractor beam. Using hidden compartments to surprise Imperial stormtroopers and donning their armor as disguises, Han and Luke escape to a command room to wait while Obi-Wan attempts to disable the tractor beam. While they are there, R2-D2 discovers that Princess Leia is scheduled for termination. Han and Luke stage a rescue on the cell block, but they are forced into a garbage chute when their escape route is cut off. Making their way back to the Millennium Falcon, their path is cleared by the spectacle of a lightsaber duel between Darth Vader and his former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Warning the dark lord that he will become "more powerful than you can possibly imagine," the old Jedi allows himself to be struck down as the others escape toward a hidden rebel base. A beacon hidden aboard the ship allows the Empire to track their route.
After landing on Yavin IV, the Death Star plans are analyzed by the Rebel Alliance and a potential weakness is found, one which will require the use of single-man fighters to slip past the Death Star's formidable defenses. Luke joins the assault team while Han collects his reward for the Princess' rescue. The attack proceeds as planned but suffers heavy losses without a successful torpedo hit in the small thermal exhaust port which would create a chain reaction. During Luke's run, Darth Vader engages the Rebels in ship-to-ship combat, but before he can destroy Luke, the Milennium Falcon appears and destroys one of Vader's wingmen while the other wingman shouts "Look out!" and attempts to veer away from the Falcon but instead veers into Vader's fighter and is destroyed crashing into the trench wall. Vader is last seen spinning out of control into outer space. Guided by the voice of Obi-Wan to "use the Force," Luke shuts off his targeting computer and fires the successful shot which destroys the Death Star seconds before it could attack the Rebel base. At a grand ceremony, Princess Leia awards medals to Luke and Han for their heroism in the battle.
Box office records
Charles Lippincott was hired by Lucas' production company, Lucasfilm Ltd., as marketing director for Star Wars. Because 20th Century Fox gave little support for marketing beyond licensing T-shirts and posters, Lippincott was forced to look elsewhere. He secured deals with Stan Lee, Roy Thomas and Marvel Comics for a comic book adaptation and with Del Rey Books for a novelization. Wary 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 Wednesday before Memorial Day: May 25, 1977. However, few theaters ordered the film to be shown. In response, 20th Century Fox demanded that theaters order Star Wars if they wanted an eagerly anticipated film based on a best-selling novel titled The Other Side of Midnight.
The film became an instant success; within three weeks of the film's release, 20th Century Fox's stock price doubled to a record high. Before 1977, 20th Century Fox's greatest annual profits were $37,000,000; in 1977, the company earned $79,000,000. Although the film's cultural neutrality helped it to gain international success, Ladd became anxious during the premiere in Japan. After the screening, the audience was silent, leading Ladd, Jr. to fear that the film would be unsuccessful. He was later told that, in Japan, silence was the greatest honor to a film. Meanwhile, thousands of people attended the ceremony at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, where C-3PO, R2-D2 and Darth Vader placed their footprints in the theater's forecourt. Although Star Wars merchandise was available to enthusiastic children upon release, only Kenner Toys—who believed that the film would be unsuccessful—had accepted Lippincott's licensing offers. Kenner responded to the sudden demand for toys by selling boxed vouchers in its "empty box" Christmas campaign; these vouchers could be redeemed for the toys in March 1978.
In 1978, at the height of the film's popularity, Smith-Hemion Productions approached Lucas with the idea of The Star Wars Holiday Special. The end result is often considered a failure; Lucas himself disowned it. Lucas entered into a wager with long-time friend Steven Spielberg during the production of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Lucas was sure Close Encounters would outperform the yet-to-be-released Star Wars at the box office and bet 2.5% of the proceeds of each film against each other. Lucas lost the bet, of course, and to this day Spielberg is still receiving proceeds from the first of the Star Wars movies.
The film was originally released as—and consequently often called—Star Wars, without Episode IV or the subtitle A New Hope. The 1980 sequel, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, featured an episode number and subtitle in the opening crawl. When the original film was re-released in 1981, Episode IV: A New Hope was added above the original opening crawl. Although Lucas claims that only six films were ever planned, representatives of Lucasfilm discussed plans for nine or 12 possible films in early interviews. The film was re-released theatrically in 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, and 1997.