It's been more than 30 years since "Star Wars" first exploded into theaters,
but the swash buckling sci-fi films from writer-director George Lucas have left
a legacy no other blockbuster has surpassed.
Increasingly, the impact of "Star Wars" is not limited to pop culture or even world politics. As science and technology advance, the world is little by little growing more and more like that galaxy far, far away.
A taste of the science fiction franchise's impact is landing in Orlando, Fla., this week, where devotees from around the world are expected to congregate for the Star Wars Celebration V convention.
The cultural influence of the nine "Star Wars" films, plus the novels, comics, television shows, games, toys, spoofs and documentaries linked with "Star Wars," is such that, in the 2001 United Kingdom census, some 390,000 people stated their religion as Jedi, making it the fourth largest religion surveyed. Just last month, members of the performance art group ImprovEverywhere filmed themselves re-enacting Princess Leia's capture by Darth Vaderon the New York subway, and the automotive navigation systems company TomTom recently made "StarWars" voicesan option for its GPS devices.
"Star Wars" also has had more-subtle influences on Hollywood. It pioneered the modern special effects blockbuster as well as the modern movie trilogy, leading the way for "Lord of the Rings" and "The Matrix," among others. It also showed that merchandising can make evenmore money than the movies do? the deal that "Star Wars" creator George Lucas made with Pepsi Cola over merchandising rights for the prequel films was estimated to be worth roughly $2 billion.
New Age thinking
In the year "Return of the Jedi" first came out, "Star Wars" unexpectedly became drafted into a high-tech controversy in a real and different kind of war? the Cold War.
The Strategic Defense Initiative, created by Ronald Reagan in 1983, aimed to use ground-and space-based lasers, missiles and other weapons to help protect the United States from attack by nuclear missiles. Critics derisively referred to it as "Star Wars". Reagan himself may have drawn upon "Star Wars" for inspiration when he dubbed the Soviet Union "the Evil Empire", echoing the use of "evil Galactic Empire" in the opening crawl for the first film six years earlier.
The United States Space Force (USSF) is the space service branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, and is one of the eight U.S. uniformed services. Initially formed as Air Force Space Command on 1 September 1982, the Space Force was established as an independent military branch on 20 December 2019, with the signing of the United States Space Force Act, part of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2020.
Astranger link to "Star Wars" lay in the New Age ideas that U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jim Channon had for a "First Earth Battalion." As detailed in the book "The Men Who Stare at Goats" and fictionalized in the film of the same name, the U.S. military researched the idea of super-soldiersthey called "Jedi warriors," who could, among other abilities, adopt cloaks of invisibility, pass through walls, precognitively sense knowledge of the future and, yes, kill goats and others just by staring at them.
As out landish as those notions were, the advance of science and technology are increasingly producing inventions that, intentionally or not, recall the films.
During election night in 2008, CNN famously? or infamously? presented correspondentand musician will.i.am as"holograms" much like in scenes from "Star Wars", complete with partial translucence and a glowing blue haze around them. CNN political correspondent Jessica Yellin even noted, "It's like I follow in the tradition of Princess Leia." (In reality, these were "tomo-grams", made by capturing images of a person from all sides, reconstructing them with computers and displaying them on screen.)
One more serious note, bionic hands like the ones sported by heroes and villainsin "Star Wars" are now finding use by amputees. Indeed, during an NPR interview earlier this month concerning a man with a bionic hand, his daughternoted: "Darth Vader just pops into my head. And so does Luke Skywalker, cause they both have robotic hands."
Weapons and robots from "Star Wars" are making their wayinto real life, as well. A Hong Kong company recently made an ultra-powerful handheld laser that lookslike a lightsaber. Walking robots resembling the giant AT-ATs that Imperial forces used to attack rebels are being developed for the military to carry equipment where conventional vehicles can't go. The U.S. Army's Future Soldier Initiative went as far as to draft plans for armor that looked much like what Imperial storm troopers wore, although in light of the probable cost, they face an uncertain future.
Eventhe Death Star is beginning to appear, albeit in far miniaturized form. Atthis year's Technology, Entertainment and Design conference in February, Nathan Myhrvold, former chief technology officer for Microsoft, demonstrated a"Death Star" bug-zapper designed to use lasers to shoot down mosquitoes in flight. The hope there is not to crush microscopic rebels, but to help prevent malaria. This means if all goes well, a future influenced by "StarWars" could go on to save millions of lives. May the Force be with it.