A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
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. 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, and was retroactively made the fourth episode in the nine-part ‘Skywalker saga‘ (albeit being the first released).
Lucas had the idea for a science-fiction film in the vein of Flash Gordon around the time he completed his first film, THX 1138 (1971), and began working on a treatment after the release of American Graffiti (1973). Star Wars focuses on the journey of Luke Skywalker (Hamill), who along with Han Solo (Ford) and the wizened Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Guinness), attempt to free Princess Leia (Fisher) from the clutches of the Galactic Empire and the Sith Lord Darth Vader (Prowse, voiced by Jones). The heroes, in league with the Rebel Alliance, attempt to destroy the Empire’s planet-destroying space station, the Death Star.
Star Wars was released in a limited number of theaters in the United States on May 25, 1977, and quickly became a blockbuster hit, leading to it being expanded to a much wider release. The film opened to critical acclaim, most notably for its groundbreaking visual effects. It earned a total of $775 million, surpassing Jaws (1975) to become the highest-grossing film at the time until the release of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). When adjusted for inflation, Star Wars is the second-highest-grossing film in North America (behind Gone with the Wind), and the fourth-highest-grossing film in the world. It received ten Oscar nominations (including Best Picture), winning seven. In 1989, it became one of the first films to be selected as part of the U.S. Library of Congress‘s National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” At the time, it was the most recent film in the registry and the only one chosen from the 1970s. In 2004, its soundtrack was added to the U.S. National Recording Registry. Today, it is regarded as one of the most important films in the history of motion pictures.
The film has been reissued multiple times at Lucas’s behest—most significantly with its 20th-anniversary theatrical “Special Edition”—incorporating many changes including modified computer-generated effects, altered dialogue, re-edited shots, remixed soundtracks and added scenes. It launched an industry of tie-in products, including novels, comics, video games, amusement park attractions, and merchandise including toys, games, clothing and many other spin-off works. The film’s success led to two critically and commercially successful sequels, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), and later to a prequel trilogy, a sequel trilogy, two anthology films and various spin-off TV series.