Cinema and Media Studies Star Wars
William Brooker, Davina Quinlivan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0059


The Star Wars saga consists of six feature films, divided into two trilogies (the Original Trilogy and, later, the Prequel Trilogy) and released over twenty-eight years. The Original Trilogy is made up of Star Wars (directed by George Lucas, 1977), The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980), and Revenge of the Jedi (Richard Marquand, 1983). Star Wars was given the subtitle Episode IV: A New Hope shortly after its successful release, and the subsequent two films are subtitled Episode V and Episode VI. Whether Lucas mapped out the entire saga from his earliest drafts—and whether he originally planned to make nine films, rather than six—is open to question, as later interviews contradict his earlier statements and notes. It is certain, however, that Lucas intended the story to begin in medias res, to recall the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon episodic serials of his own youth. In 1997, Lucas released updated and expanded “special editions” of the original films, attempting to enhance the special effects through CGI technology. These were followed by the Prequel Trilogy—The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith(2005)—all of which were directed by Lucas himself and constitute Episodes I–III of the saga as a whole, providing “backstory” to the Original Trilogy. As a narrative, the six-film Star Wars saga describes the fall and salvation of Anakin Skywalker, who turns to evil, is renamed Darth Vader, and is saved in Return of the Jedi by his son, Luke. This family saga is set against a background of political intrigue—the corruption of a vast Republic—followed by galactic war between the expansionist, tyrannical Empire and the freedom fighters of the Rebel Alliance. Lucas draws on a variety of science fiction, fantasy, and generic tropes—most famously, the westerns of John Ford and the samurai iconography of Akira Kurosawa—and combines religious motifs from a range of cultures into a vague mythology of “the Force,” with its light and dark sides. While Lucas has consistently denied plans for a further trilogy, other movies and authorized spin-off narratives exist at the margins of the six-film saga, including Caravan of Courage (directed by John Korty, 1984), the Star Wars Holiday Special (Steve Binder and David Acomba, 1978), and the CGI-animated TV series The Clone Wars (2008–). An “expanded universe” of official, semiofficial and fan-created stories, across various media from video games to comics and online stories, fills out the detail of Lucas’s fictional galaxy.

Authorized Reference Works

Hearn 2005 and Rinzler 2007 are companion pieces; lavishly illustrated production histories that give a detailed background to, respectively, Lucas’s filmmaking career and the first Star Wars movie. Sansweet 1992, Sansweet 2007, and Sansweet 2009 combine the devotion of a fan with the knowledge of a Lucas film insider in the three volumes listed here; the Star Wars Vault (Sansweet 2007) in particular demonstrates that old-fashioned reference books with lovingly presented facsimile inserts have a charm that Internet resources still cannot match. Reynolds, et al. 2006 epitomizes the strengths and limitations of these authorized sources: they offer little critical commentary but have unparalleled access to original photography and production art. Lucas and Titelman 1994 and Bouzereau 1997, finally, contextualize the screenplay with images and interviews.

  • Bouzereau, Laurent. Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays. New York: Ballantine, 1997.

    Rather than illustrations (compare Lucas and Titelman 1994), this version of the screenplays compares each scene to previous drafts, tracing the evolution of Lucas’s ideas and offering contextual notes drawn from interviews with key creative personnel.

  • Hearn, Marcus. The Cinema of George Lucas. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2005.

    Richly illustrated with rarely seen, behind-the-scenes photographs, Hearn’s coffee-table volume conveys the struggle and the achievements of Star Wars’ production, in the context of Lucas’s filmmaking career.

  • Lucas George, and Carol Titelman. The Art of Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope. Rev. ed. London: Titan, 1994.

    One in a series of companion books that cover every Star Wars film, this is an illuminated manuscript; the first volume is most interesting as a historical document. The screenplay (including deleted scenes such as Biggs and Luke’s dialogue at Anchorhead) is decorated with storyboards and production sketches. An appendix offers a rare glimpse at Star Wars newspaper cartoons of the late 1970s.

  • Reynolds, David West, James Luceno, and Rider Wyndham. Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary. London: Dorling Kindersley, 2006.

    A compilation of several previous volumes, the Visual Dictionary is, as the title suggests, dominated by images; however, these are not publicity stills or screen-grabs, but high-quality, original close-ups of props, and studio shots of the principal actors in costume. No in-depth analysis here, but a fascinating guide to the care that goes into creating each blaster pistol and royal headdress in the Star Wars universe.

  • Rinzler, J. W. The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story behind the Original Film. London: Ebury, 2007.

    Rinzler focuses on the production of the first Star Wars movie, from Lucas’s earliest handwritten drafts to the film’s astonishing box-office success. Like Hearn 2005, this is a lavishly illustrated coffee-table book, but the text is dense and detailed.

  • Sansweet, Stephen J. Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1992.

    A cornucopia of production sketches, merchandising oddities, and half-forgotten mini-action figures. Sansweet, an avid collector of Star Wars memorabilia himself, shows how the first trilogy infiltrated everyday consumer culture, from Creature Cantinas to dress-up Leias and mugs in the shape of Chewbacca.

  • Sansweet, Stephen J. The Star Wars Vault: Thirty Years of Treasures from the Lucasfilms Archives. London: Simon & Schuster, 2007.

    Less a book, more a small museum, this heavyweight hardback is light on textual content but includes an incredible range of reproduced spin-off items and artifacts, from advertising leaflets to temporary tattoos, design blueprints, and facsimiles of 1970s stationery.

  • Sansweet, Stephen J. The Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia. London: Titan, 2009.

    Arguably superseded by online encyclopedias, both official and fan made, Sansweet’s print version—in many editions and several volumes—remains the traditionalist’s ultimate guide to the characters, hardware, and locations of not just the film saga but also its “expanded universe” of books and comics.

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