“A long time ago….”: The Persistence and Longevity of ‘Star Wars’ at 45

Peer reviewed article published in Senses of Cinema 103 (October 2022)

Article Introduction

This year Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) commemorated its 45th anniversary. This anniversary recognises the passage of time since its theatrical premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles on Wednesday 25 May 1977. Such milestones are often associated with historical distance or cultural nostalgia that offer an opportunity to reflect on aesthetic and cultural impact from changing historical perspectives. This anniversary also recognises the cinematic persistence and currency of ‘Star Wars’ as a franchise phenomenon. For this reflection on ‘Star Wars’ at 45, there must be a distinction between the anniversal celebrations of Star Wars and ‘Star Wars’. Star Wars is a singular cinematic event that defined an historical moment with significant creative and industrial influence; this anniversary is about looking back to a cinema event in a specific historical context. ‘Star Wars’ is a franchise phenomenon represented by the iconic trademarked logo (Figure 1); this means it is constituted by the multiplatform adaptation, expansion, and multiplication of creative form over time and is facilitated and shaped by the industrial affordances and conditions associated with intellectual property law. The longevity and persistence of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise is the outcome of complex creative and industrial dynamics that reflect continuities and variations in ownership agreements and production structures, creative strategy, narrative form and style, and cultures of reception. Writing for The Guardian, Lauren Pinnington asks “are anniversaries for films, albums or TV even necessary when we have seemingly daily reminders of them? It is easy to become complacent about pop-culture milestones when historic entertainment is in our orbit at all times.”2 Such a question can certainly be directed at the anniversary of Star Wars since its persistence as a blockbuster franchise permeates popular culture. There is value to anniversaries of franchises in active development and production since they tell us something about the mechanisms and conventions that facilitate longevity in the franchise mode. 

Luke Skywalker looks out to the Binary sunset of Tatooine in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977).

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