Why Star Wars is forever popular

On 17th December, the long awaited seventh movie in the Star Wars franchise, The Force Awakens, was screened for the first time in the UK, much to the delight of many millions of fans. Even before release, the film had sold more advance tickets than any movie in history.

The first film in the franchise, A New Hope, was screened in 1977. Within only a few minutes of viewing, the audience was faced with an entire galaxy full of new planets, civilisations, aliens, and technology. With its dirty, rugged aesthetic, this new, ultra modern cinematic experience saw a massive shift away from the Utopian future Earth scenarios that had dominated many science fiction films in the past.

Both fairy tale and action adventure, with a princess and evil villain, a vast array of henchmen, and ingrained with pesudo-elder wisdom (or Jedi in this case), the films captured the imagination of a generation like never before. The scripts used humour, pathos and the emotion of fear with expert skill to hook and enchant the viewer. They even created their own catchphrase, “May the force be with you.” A New Hope suddenly and unexpectedly became the decade’s biggest blockbuster, grossing $100 million in three months, which at the time made it the most successful sci-fi film ever made.

As with the Harry Potter films, Star Wars fans grew up with the first three movies, A New Hope (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and The Return of the Jedi (1983). Then, in 1999, the “first three” movies in the Star Wars story were made. These three prequels, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith (2005) introduced Star Wars to a whole new generation, many of whom were the children of those who had loved Star Wars the first time around. It was not to be the introduction that many had been anticipating, however.

These three prequels followed the progress of the young Anakin Skywalker as he grew up to become the evil Darth Vader. While financially successful, they didn’t capture the world’s imagination in the same way as the latest installment, The Force Awakens has. Not only has this new installment got the appeal of a new story, but it brings a welcome return of some of the favourite characters from the initial three films, including Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leah, and Harrison’s Ford, Hans Solo. And unlike those of the prequel episodes, reviews have so far been hugely positive.

Be it thanks to their pure cinematic spectacle, their essential narrative simplicity, or the appeal of seeing how some of their original characters have developed, there can be no doubt that George Lucas’s Star Wars films have and will continue to stand the test of time.

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Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.

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