Vocal fans and critics have railed against George Lucas, with spurious and often conceited personal attacks. Many a fanboy has been heard whining that ‘Greedo shot first’ (OK, that includes me), or churlishly exclaiming that ‘George Lucas raped my childhood’.
So popular was that last phrase that it has spawned T-shirts, a documentary and a terrible song (just search YouTube if you’re desperate to hear it).
But the legacy of the original trilogy is not that it made loads of money, or that it spawned a host of imitators. It’s not even that it re-defined optical effects technology.
Did you know that prior to Star Wars, there was only one Science Fiction film that was the highest grossing movie of its year? That movie was Frankenstein, released in 1931, and which could equally be classified as a Horror movie.
Sure, there were successful Science Fiction movies prior to Star Wars. The awesome Planet of the Apes in 1968 made a lot of money and was in the top 5 highest grossing movies of that year. But Star Wars literally changed the face of cinema, with Close Encounters of The Third Kind, Superman and the god-awful Moonraker all succeeding in the wake of Star Wars’ epic success.
Star Wars gave the genre of Science Fiction the economic and cultural legitimacy that would see Science Fiction movies gain a stronghold at the cinema that continues to this day. Last year, the highest grossing films were; The Avengers, The Dark Night Rises and The Hunger Games (all SF movies).
Those hardcore SF fans, you know the type, the ones who pour scorn on the Star franchises (Star Wars, Trek and Gate) and who argue that Star Wars is for children miss the point.
Without Star Wars, you wouldn’t have the funding for the less commercial (but equally good) Science Fiction. The Studios might not have taken a punt on The Matrix, District 9, Inception or Looper. And let us not forget that without Star Wars, the great Star Trek would likely not have been reborn in 1979.
All Science Fiction fans owe Lucas a debt of gratitude, even as we shake our heads in collective dismay over his recent output. One thing is in-arguable, he had a vision and for better or worse, he was able to acheive it. It seems to me that whilst he may have become a business man, he started out as an independent visionary film maker. Just pretend those prequels didn’t happen.