The Influence Of Star Wars: A New Hope On The Film Industry And Society

Upon its release, Star Wars: A New Hope, had an immediate impact on society and aspects of this film are still embedded into popular culture today. This film is considered to be the pioneer of visual effects. These new-found visuals led the public to believe it was the inspiration for the United States Department of Defense to create a missile protection system during the Cold War.

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May 25th, 1977, Star Wars: A New Hope, was released in 32 cinemas, accumulating $307,263,857 within its initial, 18-month, run. The film was taken out of theaters, on July 20th, 1978; however, the film was re-released the following day due to its immense popularity. This release lasted until November 7th, 1978, adding another $33,908,317 to its gross receipts. Following its re-release, this blockbuster was put back in theaters four more times. Finally, on January 31st, 1997, Star Wars: Special Edition, was released and held the number 1 position for three weeks. All of these releases contributed to the final domestic earnings of $460,998,007 and a worldwide total of $775,398,007.

Filmed in the country of Tunisia, Star Wars: A New Hope, tells the story of a revolt against the Galactic Empire. It begins with Luke Skywalker, a young man who lives with his foster aunt and uncle on a farm on Tatooine. Skywalker is eventually sent away by his Uncle, to find a man by the name of Obi-Wan Kenobi, who also possesses the gift of the force. However, many other obstacles become apparent during his journey. The Imperial Forces, led by the cruel, Darth Vader, hold Princess Leia hostage in efforts to put an end to this rebellion. The captain of the starship, the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, work together to rescue the princess. With the companionable droid duo, R2-D2 and C-3PO, Luke and Han are able to successfully rescue the princess, help the Rebel Alliance, and restore justice and freedom to the Galaxy.

Long before George Lucas began his four year process of developing Star Wars: A New Hope, he attended and graduated from the University of Southern California. He, then, began his career as a director by directing the science-fiction film THX 1138, a more elaborate version of an award winning feature film he created while studying at USC. Lucas went on to co-write and direct the exceedingly popular film, American Graffiti, and followed this project by his work and development of Star Wars: A New Hope.

George Lucas was fully invested when it came to this production, all the way down to the extra aliens for his cantina scene. Here, he called upon makeup master, Rick Baker, to use reinvented versions of off-the shelf monster masks to fill the crowd. Lucas based the fictitious framework of this movie around the writings and theories of Joseph Campbell. While pitching the film, Lucas used a series of 21 drawings he acquired from famed illustrator, Ralph McQuarrie. These images included scenes of Luke Skywalker colliding with Darth Vader, while the Millennium Falcon is parked in Docking Bay 94. The colossal amount of effort poured into this film resulted in the earning of various Academy Awards, including Best Art Direction, Best Costume Designs, Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Best Original Score, and Best Visual Effects.

Lucas had a crystal clear aesthetic in mind when it came to this film, relying heavily on attempting to blur the line between reality and fantasy. However, Lucas wasn’t so clear on how to produce these visuals, due to the inadequate technology available at the time. With computer generated imagery still in its infancy, it was difficult for Lucas’s storyboards, full of intricate creatures and immaculate spaceships, to be brought to life. Once these obstacles were revealed, the discovery was made that this universe would need to be, principally, built by hand. However, nearly two decades after the Death Star was destroyed by Dykstra, using merely a cardboard box, Lucas abandoned animatronics in favour of expanding his immaculate universe digitally in the prequel Episodes I, II, and III, released in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In order to relay this aesthetic onto the screen, George called upon the help of Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), a company devoted to modernizing special effects and industry techniques used in the making of films.

Industrial Light and Magic is now considered a reference for many other filmmakers. During the construction of Star Wars, this company sent a group of young engineers and students to work day and night in a warehouse north of Los Angeles, letting their imaginations run wild. This movie conjured a lot of firsts for the film industry, including gathering the people involved in all the visual effects departments under one roof to create the film. The cohesive environment generated by these remarkably talented cinematographers, engineers, and artists provoked a film that helped evolved the world of visual effects. Lucas also declared another first by becoming the first filmmaker to utilize the Vista Vision camera for visual effects, making crisper composites a possibility. Also, ILM introduced the use of motion-controlled cameras that could be programmed by computer. This process was used to give immobile models the illusion of movement, stimulating the film’s exhilarating dogfights.

Along with the man-made creation of this universe came the development of many visual effects. While the majority of these visuals had been used before, none were used to the extent that this film portrays. Through his application of classic Hollywood techniques, mixed with the recent technological advancements of the time, George Lucas was able to generate a more extensive version of many visual effects, such as digital matte painting, stop-motion animation, puppetry, and other techniques. Without the amount of energy poured into the visuals created for this project, the film would have struggled to portray the image Lucas wanted. While some visuals seemed miniscule compared to other immaculate spectacles, no less blood, sweat, and tears were put into them.

One of the most impressive visual effects created for this film was the costume for C-3PO, a futuristic droid, played by the actor, Anthony Daniels. Over Daniel’s black body suit was a metal suit consisting of aluminum, brass, and plastic. With the mix of unbreathable costuming and a film set located in various parts of California’s Death Valley, one can imagine the discomfort brought upon this actor, by the vision the director so badly wanted to produce. Unlike the other characters, one of the most beloved characters in Star Wars, Jabba the Hut, cannot be credited to one sole actor, but three. The visual effects supervisor, Phil Tippett, is credited for coming up with the initial idea for this complex character.

During a short documentary, Life Inside Jabba the Hutt, co-puppeteer, Toby Philpott, discussed the amount of physical effort and inventiveness that went into manipulating Jabba. Toby Philpott and partners, Dave Barclay and Mike Edmonds, were responsible for various parts of this massive puppet. Jabba’s right arm and mouth were operated by Barclay and the left arm, slime-encrusted tongue, and pivoting head were operated by Philpott. While that seems difficult enough on its own, all of this was accomplished while enclosed in the Hutt’s limited cranium space. Edmonds was accountable for utilizing a system of pedals and control levers found inside the tail. Intrinsically, while driving blind, the team struggled with operating this character; however, with the help of individual monitors, displaying each member’s actions, it was easier for the group to stay in unison. Along with the evolution of many convoluted costumes came the development of a variation of stop motion photography Tippett named, “go motion. ” This technique, inspired by a previous process, created by Vladislav Starevich, added a motion blur to every frame. Go motion smoothed and helped avoid the rigidity effect prevalent in many stop motion films. This innovative process generated a sense of supposed realism for the film; however, it was such a tedious process, animators would spend an over an hour capturing around 20 frames that, all together, composed a mere second of footage.

In order to help avoid miscalculations and potential reshoots, a unique stage with hatches was developed to allow the animation team to better manipulate the models. With the development of these visuals came the loss of production time. A contributor to this issue was the cooperation of the Bantha’s, or lack thereof. Bantha’s are the woolly mammoth-bighorn sheep hybrid played by 25 year old elephant, Mardji. Just like C3PO, this actor was placed in very uncomfortable circumstances with both costume and location. Also placed in uncomfortable circumstances were the fictional ewoks. These actors’ costumes weren’t far from suffocating with their fur cover exteriors. Lucas and his crew developed many unique techniques to help compose this blockbuster film. These included using footage, caught on vintage newsreel, of actual dogfights during World War II to help choreograph his battles in space. Another unique outcome Lucas and his team dreamed up was the distinct growl of Chewbacca. After some time of experimentation, they agreed on a mix of bear, lion, badger, and walrus vocalizations. Given time, Industrial Light & Magic was able to develop a process of building entire environments digitally, then, making it possible to insert them into the original shots. This opened up a multitude of opportunities for filmmakers and art directors. Suddenly, the impracticalities of having to build every aspect of a scene from scratch were no longer a constraint. You could alter the laws of physics in order to make shots more formidable. However, there were cons to this new practice, including a weightlessness the images possessed.

Cinematographers found this computer imagery made it harder to connect with the film. Jar Jar Binks, a potent character in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, is the best example of this; the character was considered to be both annoying and at odds with his environment by audiences and was widely ridiculed. However, in the next few years, Gollum was introduced to audiences in The Lord of the Rings films, and he quickly became one of the most popular characters of the franchise, despite the fact he was created almost entirely through computer generated imagery (CGI). Once these visuals were brought to the screen, they inspired more than just other filmmakers. These visual effects were so impactful they caught the attention of our president, Ronald Reagan, as well as the United States Department of Defense. This influenced them to develop a missile system during the Cold War.

Launched on March 23, 1983, by President, Ronald Reagan, The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), also known as Star Wars, was introduced. The intention of this program was to create a world-wide, anti-ballistic missile system, to avert missile attacks from the Soviet Union and various other countries. With tensions emerging, brought about by the Cold War, Star Wars (SDI) was the United States’ reply to possible nuclear attacks. Even though the program appeared to have no opposing consequences, there were concerns conjured up about the program “violating” the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks during previous years. For this reason, and issues with budgetary restrictions, the Strategic Defense Initiative, in the end, was disregarded.

The nickname “Star Wars” was believed to be attached to the program due to some of its conceptual and farfetched ideas, such as the use of lasers. Furthermore, the formerly released science fiction film titled, “Star Wars,” prompted the public to equate this program with the new and inventive technologies. The weapons were comprised of subatomic particle beams, space and nuclear X-ray lasers, and computer-guided projectiles powered by electromagnetic rail guns. All of these weapons were under the general control of a supercomputer system. By putting these systems into action, the United States strived to formulate a way to obstruct intercontinental ballistic missiles, as they were elevated high above the Earth, thus, reducing their effects.

The power requirements for these weapons were so extensive that nuclear power was the chosen method. Therefore, as the actuality of creating numerous nuclear plants subsided, so did the futuristic designs. Nearing the end of Star Wars (SDI), the primary concern of the weapons design group was concentrated on land based kinetic energy weapons (essentially guided missile projectiles). By the end of the Strategic Defense Initiative, nearly thirty billion dollars had been expended into the program, with no laser or mirror system ever used on land or in space.

Star Wars (SDI) was eventually deserted; and after a few years, it was simply no more than another brief lesson in history courses. With daring intentions, the Star Wars program was a potential revolutionary defense system – one the creators said it would be close to impenetrable. However, because of political pressure, as well as budgetary restraints, the Strategic Defense Initiative was headed for failure from the beginning.

The primary factor behind these international pressures was the presumed fear of Soviet retaliation caused by contravention in the ABM treaty. Yet, another argument brought to light by United States legislators and congressmen was the argument that construction of a large anti-ballistic missile system would cause apprehension between the two nations and give rise and to a potential conflict. With both nations on edge, it was determined that any SDI project would potentially jeopardize the world’s balance of power.

After the release of Star Wars: A New Hope, the narratives and aesthetics of Hollywood films were fundamentally changed. The focal point of Hollywood-made films switched from intense, relevant stories, based on dramatic conflict, to sprawling special-effects-driven blockbusters. While a correlation appeared between the Department of Defense’s missile projection system and the film, the results were mostly society driven. Whether intentional or unintentional, Star Wars: A New Hope supplied various positive influences on the film industry, society at large, the world of politics, and many other aspects of our culture; many which are still relevant today.

31 October 2020

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