Star Wars is an American epic space-opera multimedia franchise created by George Lucas, which began with the eponymous 1977 film and quickly became a worldwide pop-culture phenomenon.
Lucas’s success as a writer and director with American Graffiti (1973) gained him the backing of 20th Century Fox, which put up $9.5 million for the production of the first Star Wars film.
The film, directed by Lucas, was in production for four years, with scenes shot in Tunisia and Death Valley, California, and on soundstages in England. When it was released on May 25, 1977, Star Wars (later retitled Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope) met with runaway success.
A space opera set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” the film centers on Luke Skywalker (played by the then relatively unknown Mark Hamill), a young man who finds himself embroiled in an interplanetary war between an authoritarian empire and rebel forces.
Skywalker and the opportunistic smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) are tasked with saving Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) from captivity on a massive space station commanded by the menacing Darth Vader, whose deep mechanically augmented voice (contributed by James Earl Jones) became instantly iconic.
At the core of the film and the series it initiated are the Jedi Knights—a group of either benevolent or malevolent warriors who harness and manipulate the Force, an all-pervasive spiritual essence that holds in balance the forces of good and evil—and Skywalker’s quest to join their ranks.