May the Fourth: 4 decades of Star Wars

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Junior Clair Sapilewski and her mother proudly wear their Star Wars gear to celebrate May 4 and the legacy of the franchise.

Star Wars is a classic, a movie staple, a film series that has been endeared by fans for many years. A New Hope hit the theaters over four decades ago and shocked the world. It was originally titled simply Star Wars, as nobody, not even the creator himself, envisioned the impact the space saga would have on audiences 44 years later.

I watched my first Star Wars movie when I was just seven years old, the same age that my mom was when she walked out of a New Jersey movie theater in 1977 after watching her first Star Wars film. Before that, it took her several months of convincing to persuade her parents to take their second grade daughter to a movie with “war” in the title. Their caution may have been justified, for she never looked back and has been an avid Star Wars fan ever since.

Star Wars was an instant success because of the lovable characters, special effects, and plot that captured viewers. It was unique, and it was for everyone. The film also came at a time when space travel and general speculation about the universe was on the minds of millions. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made their famous trip to the moon in 1969, less than a decade before the first Star Wars movie was released.

Fast forward to the 1980s. After the success of A New Hope, Lucasfilm released the second installment: “The Empire Strikes Back”. Although sequels are often charged with not measuring up to their original counterparts, episode 5 did considerably well and is still considered by many fans to be a better movie than “A New Hope”. Three years later, “Return of The Jedi” debuted. Episode 6 and the third installment in the franchise, the movie did incredibly well and showed fans across the globe that Star Wars was here to stay.

But Lucasfilm did more than make great movies, they devised great ways to make great amounts of money. There were Star Wars toys, books, posters, and every kind of collectable a movie lover could dream of. My mom still has numerous Luke and Leia action figures from the 1980s, and I often lay my head down on a Star Wars pillowcase at night. Star Wars inserted itself into pop-culture, and by doing so, made an incredibly strong fan base, a fan base that would stand by their beloved movies even through the rocky years that Star Wars faced.

A new century came along, and with it, new movies. These, however, didn’t quite hit the high bar that the original trilogy set. “The Phantom Menace”, “Attack of the Clones”, and “Revenge of The Sith” follow Luke’s father, Annakin, and his path to the dark side. Worthwhile to see, but not worth the time to re-watch, these movies disappointed many fans. However, they made the creators determined to make Star Wars what it once was.

10 years later,”The Force Awakens” was released. As the first Star Wars movie I viewed in theaters, the film had a substantial impact on me. I finally understood what it felt like to see a Star Wars film with the rest of the world, to hold my breath during lightsaber battles, to pump my fist in the air when Chewbacca walks onto screen. “The Force Awakens”, “The Last Jedi”, and “The Rise of Skywalker” may not have outshined the first three Star Wars movies, but they were well done and a pleasure to watch.

The franchise’s 11 movies have left their mark. My mom spent elementary school dreaming about otherworldly monsters and adventures through hyperspace. She now works as an aerospace engineer, designing space telescopes and searching for life on other planets. My brother and I are well trained Star Wars fans and spent much of our childhoods having lightsaber duels in the backyard, trying to perfect Obi Wan Kenobi’s signature spin. From the very moment my mother discovered her love for space adventure in that movie theater to my whole family sitting on the coach and watching little Grogu and the Mandalorian march across foreign planets, Star Wars has brought us together.

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