A Tour de Force: How Star Wars changed the Film Industry

On May 25th 1977, a modest independent movie directed by George Lucas was released upon the world, pushing all aspects of filmmaking to new heights in a way that had more significant consequences than people today even realise.


When Star Wars Episode IV was first conceptualized, Lucas recognised that Ralph McQuarrie’s original concept art would require special effects and a technical prowess that was unavailable at the time. In Lucas’ own words in a 2015 Wired Magazine Interview, regarding the final Death Star battle sequence “I knew it was going to move very fast, with lots of pans and this giant space battle at the end. Only in those days, you couldn’t do that. I thought, “We’d better figure it out.” It was destined to be my undoing”.

Lucas set up his own Special FX Company “Industrial Light and Magic”, but knowing what was needed to be created for the effects to be believable, he told his team “Forget the Industrial and the Light—this is going to have to be Magic.” 

I don’t have to tell you that he was successful in his endeavour. Upon the movie’s release, audiences were spellbound by what ILM had been able to accomplish. By 1980, with the release of the follow-up colossal hit “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”, they had cemented themselves as titans of the industry, making audiences fall in love with a little green Jedi Master on the Swamp planet of Dagobah. Lucas, who handed off directing duties to his film mentor Irvin Kershner for the second instalment of the franchise, stated “The big challenge on Empire was Yoda. We knew how to fly spaceships; the thing we didn’t know how to do was have a 2-foot creature make you believe that it was a real live thing and not just a Muppet”.

ILM was then hired on films outside of Lucas’ Star Wars trilogy, responsible for some of the most important visual effects shots in cinematic history. Some of these include some of the first ever completely 3D computer generated characters, such as in James Cameron’s “The Abyss”, and even the first fully synthetic speaking computer generated character, everyone’s favourite friendly ghost “Casper” in 1995. What most people are not aware of, is that Industrial Light and Magic are responsible for the creation of a little animation studio called “Pixar”. For those unfamiliar with what Pixar has been credited with, let me scratch that childhood nostalgia itch with such classics as Toy Story, Monsters, Inc, The Incredibles, Cars, WALL-E and countless more that you had been taken to see by your parents, or been dragged on a Saturday morning by your kids to watch.  `

Beyond the technical feats that ILM managed to achieve, the cultural impact they’ve had has been far-reaching and undeniable. In the 2001 UK Census, over 390,000 people entered their religion as Jedi. Jediism then became a real religion, following a modified version of the Jedi Code. Followers in Turkey even tried to have a Jedi Temple built within their University, which garnered international attention. The list of celebrities who have attributed Star Wars as influences growing up is staggering, including Trey Parker and Matt Stone of “South Park”, actors such as Simon Pegg and Bill Hader, and Seth McFarlane of Family Guy, who went on to create three animated parody films of the original Star Wars trilogy.

All of these classic movies, technological breakthroughs, cultural impacts and my love of everything Star Wars would not have been possible had it not had been for one man’s vision of a story about a farm boy, a princess and a dashing smuggler in a galaxy far, far away.

- Written by James Raper

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