Last week we looked at the cultural influences that impacted Star Wars in its inception. This week we are going to focus on the impact Star Wars has had on the entertainment industry and American culture.
At the end of last week’s article we were talking about Lucas’ desire to have WWII style dogfights in Star Wars. The norm for space battles pre-Star Wars was two stationary ships firing tiny lasers until one disappeared, but Lucas wanted the ships to be racing around in space and firing on each other.
While making the film Lucas ran into some problems; the technology needed to do many of the special effects, including the space dogfight, did not exist. To solve this problem Lucas brought together a group of special effects engineers who were later dubbed Industrial Light and Magic (ILM).
During this time period if a director wanted a shot of a ship flying through space he would have to combine a variety of pieces of film, all shot separately. Star Wars had about 350 shots that all had seven to eight different film elements. This was impossible to do with the time frame and complexity of the shots that Lucas wanted. Lucas made it known to the fledgling ILM that the status quo of space battles weren’t going to fly (pun intended). To bring Lucas’ vision of ships diving and weaving to fruition, the team built their own camera system called the motion-control camera.
ILM is by far one of the most prominent companies created by Lucas. Throughout the years the company has made huge leaps in technology and has helped changed the way special effects and films are made. As mentioned before, in 1977 ILM revolutionized special effects for Star Wars. In 1978 Lucas set up a Computer Division that would explore new ways to use computers in editing and digital imaging. Lucas sold the rights to the part of the Computer Division that specialized in rendering software to Steve Jobs in 1986; this group became the basis of Pixar Animation.
They are also responsible for the first computer generated sequence in Star Trek II, the first computer generated character in Young Sherlock Holmes, and the first computer graphics main character in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Other ILM achievements include its breakthrough work on the movie Forrest Gump where they manipulated archival footage so that Forrest Gump would interact seamlessly with historical figures. Altogether ILM has done work on more than 300 films, including the Hunger Games, the Avengers, and the Star Trek reboot, since its inception and has won countless awards.
While ILM specializes in special effects, Skywalker Sound specializes in sound effects. It also came out of the development of Star Wars and has changed the industry. It has also changed how we watch (and hear) films. Skywalker Sound won two Academy Awards for its sound effects in Saving Private Ryan. The first sequence in Saving Private Ryan is said to have set an incredibly high standard for sound design in film. Besides films, Skywalker Sound has also been a part of video games and other entertainment avenues. Overall Skywalker Sound has been credited on almost 700 movies, and video games including Wall-e, and the Indiana Jones series.
THX was also developed by Lucas. You are probably most familiar with their Bwwwaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh sound effect that plays in the movie theater before your high expectations are mercilessly shattered (not to be confused with the soundtrack to almost every Michael Bay movie, but the end result is the same).
Lucas believed that the movie theaters of the time did not have the sound technology to be able to fully realize the filmmaker’s vision, so he started THX as a type of quality control standard so the theaters would deliver a consistent level of performance. THX developed a standard for how theaters should be designed, and how sound quality should be delivered to the audience.
Star Wars has also affected the world of literature. There have been well over 250 books written about the Star Wars universe. While not all of these are official canon, most of them are. These books take place in the Extended Universe (EU). The EU extends well beyond the timeline of the movie. Some stories go back thousands of years in books like Darth Bane: Path of Destruction, while others tell what was happening in between the films. Shadows of the Empire, for instance, explains some plot points that happened in between Empire Strikes Back (ESB) and Return of the Jedi (RotJ). These books even continue the stories of the heroes for decades, even centuries past the events in the movies. Hundreds of writers have contributed to the series, and newer books even follow a timeline similar to ours. This timeline is separated into two parts BBY (Before Battle of Yavin) and ABY (After Battle of Yavin).
The companies Lucas started to complete his vision have been powerhouses in the entertainment industry. But the house that Lucas built has not only affected the entertainment realm, but also pop-culture in general.
If you follow Star Wars at all, you have probably heard of the 501st Legion. The 501st (Vader’s Fist) is one of the premiere costuming groups in the world. The 501st Legion, which was founded in 1997, is also a nonprofit organization. You can request them to come to promotions or events. They will not receive payment, however, if you wish to give money to them they encourage you to give a donation in the name of the Legion to charities such as the Make-a-Wish Foundation. One of the interesting things about the Legion is its inclusion in official canon. The 501st was made official canon in the book Survivor’s Quest and also in the novelization of RotS (Revenge of the Sith) as the group assigned to Anakin Skywalker during the destruction of the Jedi temple. The group was even given its own story in the LucasArts game (and my personal favorite) Star Wars Battlefront II.
The 501st is pretty well known, but have you ever heard of the Temple of the Jedi Order? The Temple of the Jedi Order is an actual religion that follows Jediism. The Force, the mystical energy (or blood disorder), in the Star Wars universe is considered the Force of Living Creation in Jediism. Jediism, to its followers, is not the same as the Jedi in the films or EU. Instead, it is considered to be a living, breathing religion that can be seen at work throughout history. The Temple of the Jedi Order even has a charter as a religious institution in Texas.
According to their website, “Jediism is an interfaith initiative and a syncretistic religion – a faith involving elements from two or more religions including Taoism, Shintoism, Buddhism, Christianity, Mysticism, and many other religions’ universal truths, a combination of martial arts and the Code of Chivalry.” Jediists claim to be more about these religions than the actual films. Also they say that Jediism is just another name for the ancient religions and that Jedi have been around for 5,000 years under many names including Buddha, Jesus, Martin Luther King, etc.
They believe that a real Jedi can be a part of any religion, and they have 5 Rites or Traditions: The Jedi Rite, which is only Jediism, the Judeo-Christian Rite, the Buddhist Rite, the Pagan Rite, the Spiritual Humanist Rite. Jedi believe in the inherent worth of every person, in a culture that is free of discrimination, the sanctity of the human person, and in a just society among other things. They believe that since these things are inherently good that one could be a Jedi and a part of another faith. The Jedi Creed, which is their statement of belief, is an adaptation of St. Francis of Assisi’s Prayer. Their three central tenets are Knowledge, Focus, and Wisdom.
Lucas has created a saga that has combined myth, westerns, soap operas, science fiction, and fantasy. The companies he created to make Star Wars have left a huge mark on the entertainment industry, and have made some of the most important improvements in technology for filmmaking. Religions and fan clubs have been formed out his ideas, and his influence on American culture is immeasurable. Even if you hate the movies and anything else Star Wars you cannot deny the power it has over the minds of people of all ages.
It will be interesting to see what the future holds now that the rights to this juggernaut of a franchise rest in the hands of Disney. Next week we will look at the speculation surrounding the upcoming sequels, TV shows, and video games, as Star Wars is gearing up to make another pass at our cultural conscience.