May The Fourth Be With You - Happy Star Wars Day!
On May 25, 1977, director/writer George Lucas re-invented the movies with a risky new film he created called Star Wars.
The film's success spawned two sequels (The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi), three prequels (Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith), a TV show (Star Wars: The Clone Wars), and a myriad of "Expanded Universe" stories - from novels to comic books to video games.
Star Wars was originally based on the old Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s, where weekly installments moved the story forward and tended to end in some sort of cliffhanger each week, creating anticipation for each subsequent episode. Lucas wanted to bring back that form of storytelling, wanting to remake Flash Gordon (which ultimately got a 1980 cheese-tastic remake starring Max Von Sydow and a bunch of nobodies) but unable to get the license - so he set out to create his own sci-fi fantasy world.
The final product, Star Wars, was released 35 years ago this month, and combined influences that ranged from Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Princess of Mars" series (which this year's flop John Carter was adapted from) to the original Buck Rogers comic strip (1929) and Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress, among others.
The film almost never was as all the major studios balked on it, saying Lucas' script was something people wouldn't want take any interest in and go to see. But after all the other studios said no, 20th Century Fox took a chance on it. Lucas even sweetened the deal by taking a minimal directorial salary in exchange for the rights to the film's merchandising - something Fox thought wouldn't be profitable. Boy, were they wrong - since 1977 the saga has pulled in over an estimated $20 billion from merchandising.
But when it came time for release, less than 40 movie theaters were willing to show the film. The studio's solution was to blackmail theaters into showing is - telling them if they wouldn't show Star Wars then they wouldn't be allowed to screen the studio's upcoming "The Other Side Of Midnight" which was heavily hyped and on track to be a huge hit. Midnight would ultimately gross $24 million while Star Wars went on to pull in over $260 million and remain in theaters for well over a year.
At the heart of the story lies the mythical "Force" - a binding energy throughout the galaxy that can be wielded for good by the Jedi Knights, or for evil by the Sith Lords.
The series' popular phrase, "May the force be with you" - said mainly by the members of the Jedi Order - spawned a play on words with today's date by Star Wars fans across the globe, leading millions of fans (and non-fans) to recognize May 4th as Star Wars Day.
On May 25, 2007 - the film's 30th anniversary, The Los Angeles City Council declared the day to be the "official" Star Wars Day but since that's just one city and the day is already reserved as official "Geek Pride Day" (named as such to commemorate the original release date of Star Wars but to encompass all of geekdom), the saga's fans officially recognize today as Star Wars day - simpley because it makes more sense and because it just sounds better:
May the fourth be with you.
To celebrate the day, the official Star Wars website is marking the occasion with several features, like a new online game, Facebook backgrounds and E-cards and showing all 22 episodes of Cartoon Network's hit show Star Wars: The Clone Wars on the site for the whole weekend. Several other retailers are marking the occasion with specials as well - like Amazon.com (offering up the Star Wars: The Complete Saga blu-ray set at a huge discount), Hasbro, Hot Topic, Williams-Sonoma, Dark Horse comics and more. Go here to see all the May the Fourth deals.
And over at Lego.com they're making the largest Lego STar Wars mosaic and asking fans to upload photos of their Lego Star Wars creations to be added to the image. They'll be showing the final product tomorrow - on the day they're dubbing "Revenge of the 5th".
Check out some classic shots (from the Original Trilogy - Han shot first!) in the slideshow below:
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