It’s Star Wars Day, much to the delight of many and to the groans of people not impressed with puns. There’s so much that has already been said about the franchise, so I’m going to talk about Star Wars by… not talking about Star Wars, and instead talking about its cultural influence. Of course, there has been a lot that’s been said of that as well, but as the title suggests, Star Wars had its impact on the industry as well, for many reasons. Most of them having to do with Lucasfilm. The following films would not exist as we know them today without Star Wars, and some might not exist at all. The franchise’s impact on the industry is, of course, far wider reaching than what I am going to cover here. From groundbreaking effects (that still hold up, by the way), to some iconic imagery, to the simple act of putting the credits at the end (leading to the ever popular Post Credits scene), so much was different after that Wednesday in late May of 1977. Here are six films that would not exist without Star Wars.
And I am talking about the Original Trilogy… we’ll get to the prequels later.
7. Jurassic Park (1993)
(Jurassic Park is distributed by Universal Pictures)
I could, theoretically, make this a list of movies done by Steven Spielberg that were released after 1980. Lucas and Spielberg in the 80’s were an unrivaled team, with the Indiana Jones franchise, their help in starting Don Bluth’s post-Disney career, and their work together with many of Lucasfilm’s projects. But this film, and the two films on this list after it, could not have been possible without some of the most ubiquitous initials in the business: ILM, or Industrial Light and Magic. What started out as a couple of guys in half a warehouse trying to make spaceships out of model planes turned into the driving force behind CGI up until another movie that I’m going to talk about in a bit. Of course, much like the Original Trilogy, there was generous use of practical effects for many of the dinosaurs especially if they were going to be interacted with. This means that a lot of the effects still hold up even 20 years after the movie was released. And even though the CGI is a bit obvious compared to what we can do today, it still has the same emotional impact that it did in 1993 (in part thanks to a beautiful John Williams score), and really that’s the most important part of any Spielberg film, or really any film at all.
6. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
(Star Trek is distributed by Paramount)
Another pick for ILM, but one that seems almost symbiotic with the Star Wars franchise as a whole. However, a misconception is held about the movies of this franchise: The Motionless Picture was not put into production because of Star Wars. Close Encounters of the Third Kind deserves that honor. However, after the first movie bombed, Wrath of Khan was given a shoe-string budget and saw series creator Gene Roddenberry “kicked upstairs” by Paramount. ILM did many of the effects, including the epic space battle that was reminiscent of a submarine fight. Of course, one of the most impressive effects from the movie was done by Lucasfilm’s Computer Graphics division, and that is the creation of the Genesis planet. We’ll get to those guys in a second. The odd fascination with the Star Wars/Star Trek duality in geekdom is something I’ve always been puzzled by, considering how different the two franchises really are. But certainly Wrath of Khan would not be the same movie without ILM’s fantastic work, and thus owes partial debt to Star Wars.
5. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
(Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is distributed by Buena Vista)
Last pick for ILM, because really this list would be far too easy to make if it was all movies that ILM had a hand in making. ILM did the Post-Production for this movie, a half Live Action, half Animated piece of brilliance that made an entire generation a little more afraid of Doc Brown. Something you need to realize about Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is that the animation was done by hand. I highly recommend watching the clip before moving on. The animation was done by hand to match the movement of the camera and to make sure that the characters were where they were supposed to be, but it’s not like the animators painted directly onto the film itself. What ILM did was take the animations and take the live-action footage and put them together, so that they would work with each other organically, and what they really focused on was the lighting. In the clip I have here, there is a single light source that is moving around in a circle because it was hit earlier in the scene. While that’s easy to show in live action, they took the time to make certain that it affected Roger as well. Much like with Jurassic Park, you understand that the actors don’t actually see a cartoon bunny on set, but because of the extraordinary work done by ILM, you believe that he is there.
4. Toy Story (1995) and, by extension, every PIXAR movie ever
(Toy Story is distributed by Disney/PIXAR)
Remember that Computer Graphics group I mentioned? Well, eventually Lucas had to sell that and it ended up with Steve Jobs and well… this happened. Toy Story changed everything, much to the same effect that Star Wars did almost 20 years previous. Suddenly, CGI wasn’t just that new toy that all the directors wanted, it was a medium unto itself. Plus, it also used the Star Wars Formula(TM) of taking a story that has proven itself time and time again (in this case, the Epic of Gilgamesh) and use it as a vehicle to try something that no one has done before. It also dealt with some of the cultural tensions that came because of the Space Race (which was part of what produced Star Trek and Star Wars to begin with), and that was the shift from Wagon Train to Wagon Train to the Stars. This is obviously covered more blatantly in the sequel, but it is some heavy subtext in this film. And in any case, it’s resolved by both Buzz and Woody accepting each other, leading to the phenomenon known as Firefly.
Also, “Emperor Zurg is constructing a weapon with the power to annihilate an entire planet”? More subtle than the second movie’s Zurg for sure, but really? And Buzz has the plans that reveal its only weakness? At the very least you should have left them with XR before you tried to escape Zurg’s forces.
(Buzz Lightyear: Star Command, anyone?)
3. Alien (1979)
No clip for this one, because apparently the “Game over, man, game over!” scene is from Aliens and definitely because not everyone is ready to watch the chestburster scene.
Yeah, I’m a bad nerd in that I haven’t really seen this franchise. I’m not one for horror, especially not the gory kind and there are some pretty intense bits of gore in these movies. However, I am a fan of H.R. Geiger, and so I know a bit about the design of the movie. I also know that the Art Directer, one Roger Christian, also worked on a little fantasy film called Star Wars. Before Star Wars, the basic aestetic of the future was very much patterned after 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even Star Wars and Star Trek: The Motion Picture took its cues from Kubrick in some respects. However, much of Star Wars presented the idea of an advanced society that was lived-in and worn. The idea of a “used future” became the norm in science fiction for everything except Star Trek after that, and even Star Trek dipped into that a little with the designs of the Borg. But Alien took that concept and distilled it into a tequila shot of claustrophobia and suffocation. I absolutly love the designs of Alien, and I wish I could sit through it in one showing. I am weak.
2. Highlander (1986)
(Highlander is distributed by 20th Century Fox)
Highlander is one of a slew of movies released in the 80’s and 90’s that tried to revitalize the big-budget fantasy film after the success of Star Wars. To many, that statement doesn’t seem to make sense, but remember, Star Wars is at its core fantasy, not science fiction. It was kind of like today and post-apocalyptic YA fiction adaptations. There was one gigantic success (The Hunger Games), and Hollywood all at once decided to churn out movie after movie based on the same pattern, regardless of quality. It is from this era that we get such “classics” as Willow, Dragonslayer, and Legend. Highlander is considered today to be a cult classic, much like its peers Labyrinth and Big Trouble in Little China. Highlander also took some story cues from Star Wars as well: swords as the main weapons, a mentor figure played by a pedigreed British actor that gets killed by the Big Bad, and in later movies, aliens. Cause that made sense. But to be fair, much of what Highlander is remembered for is the fantastic cinematography and the kickass soundtrack by Queen.
And speaking of Queen soundtracks…
1. Flash Gordon (1980)
(Flash Gordon is distributed by Universal)
After American Graffiti, Lucas tried to get the rights to a little serial called Flash Gordon so that he could make it into a movie. He never did get the rights, and so he decided to move on to another project.
That project, of course, was Star Wars.
With this, we have come full circle. It’s another cult film, and one that is about on the same level as everything I mentioned in the Highlander section. It’s a goofy little film, but it really is fascinating that they only decide to make it after the hugely successful movie inspired by the source material. And the fact that Lucas wanted to make it initially? Maybe I’m reading into it too much.
Like I said, there are many more films than the ones I’ve mentioned that are indebted to the Star Wars franchise. What did I miss? Let me know in the comments.