The Big Idea Issue: Star Wars & The Sequels

This article appears in our “The Big Idea Issue,” which is on stands now.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away there lived a man who had the creativity, the talent, and the balls to create a legacy that would span decades. He built a cinematic empire straight out of his imagination that has bridged the gap between pop culture, counter culture, and even mainstream culture. But it’s not over yet—in December, George Lucas will pass the torch to Disney for the latest installment of the Star Wars saga, Episode 7: The Force Awakens. To celebrate, we’re sharing our favorite big ideas from this remarkable series.

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When Star Wars opened in 1977 it changed everything. And I mean everything! One of the things George Lucas’s saga altered was the importance of the sequel to the Hollywood filmmaking machine.

The Empire Strikes Back is considered by many to be the greatest sequel ever. A large group of fans strongly believe it is the absolute best of the Wars franchise (myself included). Empire had a tall task in front of it when it was released in 1980—it had to top the cultural phenomenon Star Wars was 3 years prior.


People forget that Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was Hollywood’s first blockbuster. It beat Wars to the cinema by 2 years when it was released in 1975. Jaws was the highest grossing film of all time until SW took its spot. There have been 3 sequels to Jaws and none of those installments were able to equal the impact of the original. Spielberg didn’t return to direct the killer shark follow-ups and that played a part in why the franchise didn’t grow. The movies didn’t establish a mythology to build upon the way Wars did. Each Jaws sequel felt like a diminished copy of the classic first picture.

There was nothing diminishing about the quality of Empire. All of the main characters returned and Lucas remained the creative godfather of the series. Empire introduced fan favorite characters like Jedi Master, Yoda. It also changed the way fans viewed 1977’s Wars. The reveal of Darth Vader being Luke Skywalker’s father changed everything audiences thought they knew about the saga. Star Wars made you care about its characters and The Empire Strikes Back gave you vital information about who those characters were.

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Blockbusters released today try hard to make sure the audience knows more follow-up stories are coming. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is constantly teasing its audience with hints and glimpses of what’s coming next. It’s hard to follow the narrative of a Marvel flick if you haven’t seen all the previous movies. This approach helps Marvel insure to a certain extent that audiences will return for the next installment of their series.

Empire wasn’t just a follow-up to Star Wars—it was the next chapter in a larger story. The movie that followed Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, was practically impossible to understand if you hadn’t seen the two previous space opera films. There was a time when Hollywood viewed this kind of tactic as financially dangerous. Studios didn’t want to alienate viewers from watching a film if they hadn’t seen the one prior. The unparalleled success of Star Wars changed the way studios viewed the financial significance of sequels.

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