A long time ago…
The first film, initially entitled just Star Wars is released. It is an unexpectedly big hit, easily beating its nearest rivals Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Smokey and the Bandit to become the biggest US film of 1977. Taking inflation into account, as of 2021, it is the second biggest grossing film of all time, after Gone With The Wind. None of the younger members of the cast are well known at the time of the film’s release. Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia)j is the daughter of actors Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. Harrison Ford (Han Solo), an ex-carpenter had appeared in director George Lucas’s second film American Graffiti and was due to be in the then unreleased, much delayed Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now (1979). Mark Hamill plays Luke Skywalker, a character Lucas once envisaged being called “Luke Starkiller”.
Star Wars is nominated for the Best Picture Oscar but loses to Woody Allen’s acclaimed comedy, Annie Hall. No other Star Wars films have been nominated for Best Picture his in the years since. In fact, no science fiction film has ever won the Best Picture Oscar (although James Cameron’s Avatar appears to have come close in 2010).
The first toys and novelisations of the saga appear. Some of the books contradict things which occur later in the films. Some feature Luke and Leia marrying, for example.
The famously terrible Star Wars Holiday Special is broadcast on US TV.
Star Wars Episode V The Empire Strikes Back is released. The first film is now dubbed, Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope (in 1981) and prequels are clearly planned for the future. The Empire Strikes Back is directed not by George Lucas but by Irvin Kershner. New characters include Yoda, Lando Calrissian and Boba Fett. Debate continues to rage as to whether A New Hope or Empire is the better film.
Hamill also appears in Sam Fuller’s World War II drama The Big Red One this year, in a largely futile bid to escape typecasting.
Star Trek II changes its name from The Vengeance of Khan to The Wrath of Khan, to avoid any confusion with the forthcoming Star Wars film which is expected to be called, Revenge of the Jedi. In the end, the Star Wars sequel’s name is itself changed to Return of the Jedi anyway.
Episode VI Return of the Jedi directed by Welshman Richard Marquand is released. It is fondly remembered for the Ewoks and for Jabba the Hutt but is usually considered narrowly the worst of the original trilogy. It is still a smash hit though. There will be no more official Star Wars films for another 16 years. Indeed, at this point, Lucas seems less keen on the idea of ever producing episodes I-III at any point at all.
President Reagan, a Star Wars fan, calls his new ambitious (and ultimately unworkable) Strategic Defence Initiative, “Star Wars”.
TV movie Caravan Of Courage: An Ewok Adventure is released. A follow up Ewoks: The Battle For Endor is released in 1985.
The Ewoks, an animated series aimed at younger children, runs for two series.
Animated series, Droids starring C3P0 and R2D2 runs for one series, with Anthony Daniels reprising his role as C3PO. It is set somewhere before A New Hope but after the three as yet unmade prequels.
Ten years on from Star Wars, George Lucas seems to have abandoned plans for any Star Wars prequels and is distracted by Indiana Jones and Star Wars related projects as well as the aftermath of his divorce.
Star Wars has also trigged a sci-fi boom at the movies since 1977.
Carrie Fisher begins a career as a successful novelist with her semi-autobiographical novel, Postcards From The Edge. Despite a troubled personal life, she enjoys smallish roles in The Blues Brothers, Hannah and Her Sisters and When Harry Met Sally during the decade. Harrison Ford is now one of the biggest stars in Hollywood thanks more to Indiana Jones and well-received roles in the likes of Witness and Blade Runner than specifically due to Star Wars itself. Hamill, stung after being rejected for Tom Hulce’s role in Amadeus (1984) has taken a break from acting.
Mel Brooks releases his rather belated Star Wars spoof Spaceballs. Featuring Pizza the Hutt and the catchphrase “the Schwartz be with you,” it receives mixed reviews.
Jedi director Richard Marquand dies suddenly, age 49.
Now in his forties, Mark Hamill begins voicing The Joker, for Batman The Animated Series. It proves to be probably his most successful non-Star Wars role and leads to lots of other voice work.
Lucas announces plans to make three films set before the 1977-83 trilogy, after all.
Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin) dies, aged 81.
To mark the franchise’s 20th birthday Special Editions of all three films are all released. Although many fans are keen to see the films on the big screen, many are annoyed by the sometimes intrusive changes Lucas inserts into these and later new editions.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is released. It is directed by George Lucas and is his first film as director since 1977’s Star Wars. He also directs the two subsequent sequels Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The cast (with the exception of newcomer Jake Lloyd who plays young Anakin) are, unlike the 1977 film, mostly quite well known already: Ewan McGregor , Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson.
The Phantom Menace makes more money than any of the first six Star Wars films (ignoring inflation).
The film disappoints many however, criticism (now often on the newly established internet) largely centring on, the racial stereotyping evident in the character of some of the alien species, the character of Jar Jar Binks and the apparent overuse of CGI (and many other things). The character of Darth Maul proves popular, however.
Sir Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi) dies age 86. He did not enjoy the production of Star Wars (Harrison Ford dubbed him “Mother Superior” on set) but liked the finished product when he saw it. The role did make him very rich but he disliked the fact that he was soon better known for it than anything else in his forty years on screen.
Episode II Attack of the Clones is released with Hayden Christiansen (then largely unknown) joins the cast as the older Anakin. A light sabre fight featuring Yoda proves popular and generally the film is slightly better received than Phantom (although does much less business).
Genndy Tartakovsky produces Clone Wars, an acclaimed animated series set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
Episode III Revenge of the Sith, the third and final prequel is released. It is much more popular than either Phantom or Clones with fans and is the second highest grossing SW film thus far (ignoring inflation). Most fans prefer the 1977-83 trilogy, however. There are to be no more proper Star Wars films for another decade.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars, an animated film is released. It is panned by the critics and flops at the box office. Despite this, a new Star Wars: Clone Wars TV series begins. Tartakovsky, who was behind the first Clone Wars series is not involved.
Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner dies aged 86.
Disney buys the Star Wars franchise off Lucas for $4.05 billion or £2.5 billion. Plans for a new trilogy, the first directed by J.J Abrams, then at the helm of the two recent Star Trek films.
Clone Wars is cancelled as focus shifts towards the new films.
Star Wars Rebels, a 3D CGI animated series set between Revenge of the Sith but before A New Hope begins.
Rogue One, a spin off Star Wars film is due for release in 2016, followed by another spin-off film based around Han Solo’s early years.
Ford, scheduled to feature in The Force Awakens is slightly injured in a light aircraft crash. His 73rd birthday is in July.
Christopher Lee (Count Dooku in the prequels, though better known for many other roles) dies aged 93.
The Force Awakens is released in July.