After going a decade without a new “Star Wars” film, fans of the Force are about to enter an era where they’ll be able to enjoy a new tale from a galaxy far, far away on the big screen every year. But with so much new “Star Wars” content on the horizon, it’s important to not lose sight of just how influential the original “Star Wars” trilogy truly was. In fact, it’s safe to say that “Star Wars” not only changed cinema, it also changed the very fabric of science fiction.
And yes, some would argue that “Star Wars” is in fact science fantasy because it strayed so far from the deeply held tenants of classic sci-fi. Whatever label you put on “Star Wars,” there can be no doubt that certain moments from the original trilogy will forever resound throughout fandom. These are the moments that made fans fall in love with George Lucas’ galaxy.
The First Shot of the Star Destroyer
Try to think back to the first time you saw that immense Star Destroyer that followed that opening crawl in 1977’s “Star Wars.” If you’re of a certain age, you remember sitting in a darkened theater, popcorn in hand, and having your little mind blown by the biggest honkin’ ship you ever saw on a movie screen. For decades, sci-fi had largely been relegated to the realm of the B-movie, with special effects amounting to little more than pie plates and haphazard miniatures. But that initial shot of the Star Destroyer above Tatooine marked the turning of the page.
The Cantina Sequence
When Ben Kenobi and Luke Skywalker strolled into that wretched hive of scum and villainy, the Mos Eisley Cantina, audiences were introduced to a galaxy not only populated by humans and droids and Jawas and Tusken Raiders, but by a wide array of truly alien species of all shapes and sizes. Even now, watching the original “Star Wars” for the umpteenth time, many fans find something new in that dark, seedy center for criminal activity. Until “Star Wars,” most sci-fi films had a singular alien presence, if they had any at all. However, the cantina was filled with a menagerie of creatures the likes of which we’d never seen before. And, of course, who can forget that music?
“Into the Garbage Shoot, Flyboy”
Before the introduction of Princess Leia Organa in “Star Wars,” female characters got short thrift in mainstream science fiction. They were either relegated to the roles of damsels in distress (Dale Arden in “Flash Gordon”) or boxed into more passive service rules (Uhura in “Star Trek”). At times these women had their chance to shine, but those moments were not the norm. That all changed when Leia snatched a blaster away from her rescuer and began firing away. With that, we were introduced to a woman who didn’t wait around for men to save the day. Leia continued the charge of sci-fi equality when she led the escape from Bespin in “The Empire Strikes Back” and was front and center in the middle of the Battle of Endor in “Return of the Jedi.” But it was that first moment fans saw Leia in action, right after she was freed from her Death Star cell, that showed the world that sci-fi gender roles had changed.
The Battle of Hoth
“The Empire Strikes Back” is considered by many to be the saga’s finest hour, but imagine how difficult it must have been to try and top the original “Star Wars.” If “Empire” failed, then “Star Wars” would have been a one-hit wonder. That’s why it was so daring that the filmmakers decided to place the biggest action set piece, the Battle of Hoth, at the end of act one. That painstaking stop-motion and green-screen extravaganza still holds up in this modern age of CGI. The Battle of Hoth had everything: a seemingly unstoppable foe in the AT-AT Walkers, a display of Luke Skywalker’s new Jedi skills, the Empire in all its terrible glory, and — defying expectations — the heroes running away. This battle in the snow demonstrated the Empire’s might and, more importantly, established that this sequel would be more intense than its predecessor.
Yoda, one of the most beloved characters in the original trilogy, could have been a disaster. However, the blend of traditional puppetry and cutting-edge filmmaking not only worked, but the Yoda scenes in “The Empire Strikes Back” became some of the most gripping in the saga. Frank Oz and the fine folks at the Jim Henson creature shop breathed so much life into Yoda, paving the way for many genre films that followed to utilize puppets as central characters.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is in theaters now.