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Star Wars has been an insanely popular franchise since literally the first day the first movie hit theaters. The passion for the galaxy far, far, away has only grown in that time, just as Star Wars itself has grown, to include more films, and live-action and animated television series. The popularity of Star Wars was a shock to pretty much everybody when it happened. Even George Lucas can't explain it, but he does have some theories.
The man who made Star Wars sat down with the official Star Wars website to talk about his franchise on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. When asked why he thought it has been so enduing, he admitted he didn't have an answer, but thought it might have something to do with his attempt to take classically popular characters and make them relatable to the modern audience. According to Lucas...
Well I don’t know. Even though it’s an homage to ‘40s movies and a space opera — where the characters are pretty cardboard — I worked very hard to create the characters that would be iconic in their own way, and still be true to the classic adventure cinema. … Their motives were driven based on psychological motifs that had been around for thousands of years in mythology.
The connection between Star Wars and Joseph Campbell's concept of the Hero's Journey has been discussed at length in the decades since Star Wars. There are some archetype characters and stories that seem to transcend time and culture and the heroes of the Star Wars universe very much fall into that category. So the idea is that there is something about them that people naturally gravitate towards.
There's a timelessness to the way the characters and stories of Star Wars work that makes them potentially exciting in any era, which may explain why the films have continued to inspire for decades.
George Lucas does think he did a few things that were new, however, which may have also helped Star Wars be successful. One was the idea of portraying space aliens in the same way that human characters were, so that they weren't seen as monsters or particularly other worldly. They were characters in the story just like everybody else. Lucas goes on...
I mean, it’s also from Episode IV, which is the first time you treated aliens as humans, as if there was nothing special about them, they just look funny. They were unique but they weren’t monsters. They weren’t crazy aliens. They were just characters. And I don’t think anybody had seen that before and I think they liked it.
There are a lot of different reasons that Star Wars was successful. Some intentional, others much more random. It certainly all worked out, however. And the galaxy far, far away just keeps expanding and finding new fans.