Star Wars 40th Anniversary: The 7 year Science Fiction Itch

Let’s take a look back to the seven-year period in the late 70s to early 80s, when sci-fi REALLY blew up!

We can’t sign out of 2017 without first marking the 40th anniversary of the original Star Wars. With the release of the latest installment Star Wars: The Last Jedi already a box office smash it’s time to look back to the beginning.

A long time ago…….

In the years before Star Wars, science fiction was never considered a major Hollywood mainstay. Through the golden days of Hollywood during the 50s, 60s and early 70s science fiction was not considered a serious genre.

Rare films would emerge into the consciousness featuring a serious science fiction premise. Films like Planet of the Apes and Fantastic Voyage in the 60s. Forbidden Planet and a glut of “B” Sci-Fi movies in the 50s would make their mark among the regular Hollywood mealy of Westerns, comedy, and dramas.

In 1975, however, something new was emerging and a new film era was waiting to be born. The phenomenon was known as the blockbuster. Starting with Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, the blockbuster was born. Audiences were ready for something more, something bigger.

Two years later in 1977, everything was ready for the complete transformation of Hollywood. 1977 would usher in the greatest 7 years of Hollywood science fiction to ever captivate audiences. The film that would forever be the benchmark of a blockbuster was, of course, Star Wars. The seven years that followed would shape modern Hollywood until this day, with one blockbuster after another.

1977 started out as any other year for filmgoers. There was the usual, comedy like Annie Hall. The quintessential 70s disaster movie, Airport 77. A few dramas would pique interest like The Sentinel or The Eagle Has Landed. No one could anticipate what was about to unfold, on May 25, 1977. It started slowly of course in the age before the internet. By the middle of the summer of ’77 by sheer word of mouth, everyone knew something was different.

People would later recall that feeling of first seeing the Star Destroyer flying in from overhead featured in the credit-free opener of the original Star Wars. Then, future filmmakers would recount that it was that moment that they knew they wanted to become filmmakers. Many would recount long lines with people walking out of the film only to get back in line to see it again. This went on month after month.

It wasn’t just film that was changing, everything was touched by the Star Wars. Retailers, toy makers, book publishers, all wanted a part of the Star Wars phenomenon.

It was as if at that moment of realization that Hollywood itself awoke. Other movie studios quickly greenlit anything that had a science fiction bent. Racing, hoping to produce the next Star Wars. Much of what followed was forgettable “B” movie flare. Yet this awakening brought us what we are affectionately calling the seven-year science fiction itch. The greatest seven-year period of science fiction cinema.

The first film to follow with almost as much hype as Star Wars was Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Opening just 6 months after Star Wars if there was any doubt that Science Fiction was here to stay it ended with Close Encounters.

Star Trek the Rebooted TV series rumored in 1975 and 1976 became Star Trek The Motion Picture released in 1979.

1979 also saw the launch of another Hollywood mainstay with the Superhero/Science Fiction hybrid Superman.

Disney brought us the dark live-action science fiction classic The Black Hole in 1978. While Universal brought us Battlestar Galactica as both a feature film and TV series.

In 1980 George Lucas proved that Star Wars was not a one-hit wonder with the masterful sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. The success of Empire further defined the golden era of Science Fiction by popularizing the (now) Hollywood mainstay – the sequel.

Even James Bond was not immune to the science fiction craze that franchise brought us Moonraker in 1979. The same year that brought us Alien, this first in another great franchise.

1980 included other memorable releases including Flash Gordon and Saturn 3.

1982 would bring us the best Star Trek film to date The Wrath of Khan, it was this film that saved the Star Trek franchise from becoming a one-hit wonder that would eventually lead to all things Star Trek since.

Blade Runner, in 1982, pushed the film effects and produced the greatest visuals the per digital era could give us. Steven Spielberg would return with his (now) classic E.T. While Disney was at it again with TRON.

George Lucas would signal the end of the seven-year reign of science fiction with the release of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi in 1983.

There may be no coincidence that the seven-year itch ends in 1984 the year of George Orwell’s dystopian Science Fiction classic. Some of the other great dystopian science fiction movies would also get their start during this seven-year period. The original Mad Max would open in 1979 while, Escape from New York would come out in 1981. 1984 would round out the dystopian science fiction theme with James Cameron’s classic The Terminator.

1984 was still a big year for science fiction. The cult classic Dune came out in December. One of my favorites, The Last Star Fighter would feature the emerging video game as a plot device. So many great franchises getting another visit, Star Trek: The Search For Spock. Arthur C. Clarke would return with a continuation of the cerebral classic 2001: A Space Odyssey with 2010. Still, other franchises like Ghost Busters would just get their start in 1984.

By the end of 1984, the effect had worn off, Star Wars itself would go to sleep. Even the toys would sit unsold on toy shelves and clearance aisles. Quietly waiting. Waiting for the revival. The revival would come in 1995 with the relaunch and eventually the new prequel trilogy.

We may never see another period like it – 1977 to 1984.

Disagree with our list? Did we miss a sci-fi classic between 1977-1984 let us know in the comments below.

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