The Rebel Alliance are the last stronghold against the Empire that control the galaxy with an iron fist, but now they are in trouble because the details of the Rebel base's location are about to be uncovered by their enemy. To make matters worse, the Empire have recently completed work on their greatest weapon, known as The Death Star, a planet-sized spacecraft that is capable of destroying whole worlds. The world that the base is situated on will be next if high-ranking Imperialist Darth Vader (David Prowse and James Earl Jones) has his way: he has already captured Rebel leader Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), but there is a new hope: two important droids escape her embattled ship in a pod, headed for the nearest planet...
There's a character in Barry Levinson's film Diner whose dialogue consists entirely of lines from another film, Sweet Smell of Success in that case, but I'll bet after 1977 there would be plenty of people who could fill up conversations with dialogue from writer and director George Lucas' brainchild, Star Wars. It's easy to be blasé about it now, but this film really did change the world, from its merchandising to its seismic effect on pop culture. Such was its welcome worldwide that even to this day Hollywood seeks to replicate the affection this, and its sequels have achieved; when Lucas tried to do so himself with the prequels, he largely failed.
Those prequels may have cleaned up at the box office for their years of release, but they felt like indulgent pandering to the fans, something the original never did as any followers of science fiction cinema at the time looked to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey as the apex of the medium. What this was instead was a throwback to the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials of the thirties and forties, only with a renewed sense of purpose: this was deadly serious, looked great, and as with a child's game created a whole world of play that shut out reality for two hours. It was escapism at its finest, and perhaps most cynically calculated from this distance.
For not everyone was keen on the way Star Wars took the emphasis of cinema away from character and onto spectacle, but audiences who wanted the lower key kind of film rarely went to, say, the disaster movies that came earlier in the decade. "Keep your arthouse," said this film, "let's remember cinema has to be popular to survive." But if the highbrow were to venture to see this, they might enjoy the references to other films they would recognise, everything from Fritz Lang to Akira Kurosawa. In some respects, it's this rich heritage of the medium that was displayed in Star Wars that made it come across as so significant to audiences, even those - like the children - who had no idea of Lucas's influences.
But this was no retread of Flash Gordon, as you wouldn't have seen Buster Crabbe behaving as sarcastically as Harrison Ford's opportunist trader Han Solo does here. There was a more modern sensibility at work, where characters would lose their tempers, be stressed and could even act petty, all in the face of galaxy-straddling evil. The plot sees young farmer Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) become a man when his home is destroyed by Imperial forces looking for the two droids he has bought, droids he then takes to see a nearby recluse, Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness, another inspired casting choice) as the smaller robot, R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), has a message for him. From there it a trip into space when they hitch a lift with Solo and a confrontation with the denizens of The Death Star await. Considering the state of America, of the world for that matter, at the time this film exploded into the consciousness, you can see why something so uncomplicated by moral shadings would be taken to the hearts of so many, and continues to be a consuming obsession for the select few. Music by John Williams.