Happy 45th birthday, 'Star Wars': The Force is still strong with George Lucas's little space opera that could

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope movie poster
On May 25, 1977 "Star Wars" premiered at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood and launched a global phenomenon. (Image credit: LucasFilm)

Whether you believe Han or Greedo shot first, we can all agree that director George Lucas's "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" created an iconic entertainment dynasty 45 years ago today that's been unsurpassed in nearly a half-century, filtering into every nook and cranny of popular culture with its timeless space opera charms.

"Star Wars" is the electrifying touchstone for generations and it's truly remarkable for its influence on not only the sci-fi genre in general, but how it ignited the imagination of countless artists, writers, musicians, sculptors, composers, and filmmakers around the globe. From comics and clothing to bedsheets and books, the original 1977 movie and its prequels, sequels, and spinoffs continue to entertain millions with its heroic tales from a galaxy far, far, away. In fact, you can see our picks for the best Star Wars deals, Star Wars books and the best Star Wars Lego sets available now.

To keep the party rolling, thousands of "Star Wars" fans will congregate this week for Star Wars Celebration 2022 at the Anaheim Convention Center, where the Disney-owned franchise will no doubt reveal future plans and exciting surprises for the franchise that all began with that risky cinematic venture from the mind of a young maverick moviemaker from Modesto, California.

For more geeky "Star Wars" goodness check out our guide to watching the Star Wars movies in order and complete list of the Star Wars movies, ranked best to worst.

On May 25, 1977 "Star Wars" premiered at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood to great fanfare, with lines snaking around the block to witness history in the making on the big screen.

Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness, and Carrie Fisher, this $11 million gamble produced by 20th Century Fox after being turned down all over town went on to become the year's biggest box office champion, eventually collecting over $775 million worldwide to date.

Inspired by classic Japanese samurai films like "The Hidden Fortress" and old-fashioned serials such as "Flash Gordon" and "Buck Rogers," "Star Wars" was the perfect cultural antidote to a society dealing with a hangover from the Vietnam War and a devastating winter cold wave.

Related: 'Star Wars'! 40 facts from a Galaxy Far, Far Away

A movie poster for George Lucas's original Star Wars film. (Image credit: LucasFilm)

It opened in just 32 theaters but was quickly expanded to 43 over the blockbuster debut weekend as fans camped out for hours for a chance to snag a coveted ticket to see cosmic heroes and villains clash on alien planets. By the peak mania for "Star Wars" in late summer 1977, the sprawling space saga was playing in a stratospheric 1,098 theaters across America, with the longest-running engagement being 76 weeks at the Westgate Theater in Portland, Oregon. 

Lucas was a hot commodity in Hollywood after the huge success of "American Graffiti" in 1973. He shifted his attention from hot-rods to sci-fi with a 13-page treatment for "The Star Wars" that he pitched to Universal Studios and United Artists, who declined. But a visionary executive at 20th Century Fox named Alan Ladd Jr. saw the potential in the project and greenlit the movie.

What helped sell the film was a series of 21 drawings Lucas commissioned from acclaimed illustrator Ralph McQuarrie, which contained dramatic scenes of Luke Starkiller clashing with Darth Vader, the rowdy Mos Eisley cantina, R2-D2 and C-3PO, Chewbacca, Imperial stormtroopers, the Jawas' Sandcrawler, and the Millennium Falcon parked in Docking Bay 94. 

At the 1978 Academy Awards, "Star Wars" won six Oscars for Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score.

"Star Wars" made C-3PO and R2-D2 the most famous droids in the galaxy. (Image credit: LucasFilm)

USC graduate Ben Burtt revolutionized the use of sound effects in cinema and was presented with a Special Achievement Academy Award for his pioneering work on "Star Wars."

Chewbacca's growl is a blend of bear, lion, walrus, and badger vocalizations. R2-D2's "voice" was crafted using synthesizer loops fused with beeps, tweets and boops patterned after infant coos performed by Burtt himself. Darth Vader's sinister breathing was recorded with a microphone inside a scuba tank regulator. And the screeching sound of an Imperial TIE Fighter engine was created by combining an elephant's bellow and a car driving on a rainy pavement. 

Related: The Greatest 'Star Wars' Movie Plot Twists of All Time

Han Solo and Chewbacca, the best friends (and rogues) of the galaxy. (Image credit: LucasFilm)

After all the hype and hysteria of the original "Star Wars" and its merchandising juggernaut of toys, playsets, trading cards, records, t-shirts, comics and action figures, interest in the franchise remains at all-time highs with a third season of "The Mandalorian" arriving on Disney Plus in December and a new big-screen trilogy in the early stages of development.

And this Friday, Disney Plus will release "Obi-Wan Kenobi," a six-episode miniseries that chronicles the Jedi Master's exile on Tatooine while watching over young Luke Skywalker.

So raise a toast to the OG "Star Wars" movie today on the occasion of its 45th anniversary and remember the outer space sensation that started it all way back in the wild disco era of 1977.

And if you're still looking for more Star Wars, here's a look at some upcoming Star Wars TV shows, the best Star Wars games to jump into the universe and the best lightsaber fights of all time.

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Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.