Open main menu

The Star Wars Trilogy, often colloquially referred to as the original trilogy or the classic trilogy, is the first set of three films produced in the Star Wars franchise, an American space opera created by George Lucas. It was produced by Lucasfilm and distributed by 20th Century Fox, and consists of the original Star Wars film (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). The films follow the archetypical hero's journey of Luke Skywalker in his quest to become a Jedi and defeat the evil Empire. It serves as the second act of the "Skywalker saga".

Star Wars Trilogy
Star wars 1977 us.svg     Theempirestrikesback-logo.svg
The Star Wars Trilogy original theatrical logos
Directed by
Produced by
Screenplay by
Music byJohn Williams
Edited by
Distributed by1977–2019:
20th Century Fox
since 2019:
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures[a]
Release date
CountryUnited States

The original trilogy was followed by a prequel trilogy between 1999 and 2005, and a sequel trilogy between 2015 and 2019. Collectively, they have been referred to as the "Skywalker saga" to distinguish them from spin-off films set within the same universe.[1]



In 1971, Lucas wanted to film an adaptation of the Flash Gordon serial, but could not obtain the rights. He began developing his own story inspired by the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs.[b][2] Immediately after directing American Graffiti (1973), Lucas wrote a two-page synopsis for his space opera, titled Journal of the Whills. After United Artists, Universal Studios and Disney rejected the film, 20th Century Fox decided to invest in it.[3][4][5] Lucas felt his original story was too difficult to understand, so on April 17, 1973, he began writing a 13-page script titled The Star Wars, sharing strong similarities with Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress (1958).[6] By May 1974, he had expanded the script into the first draft of a screenplay,[7] but found that the script had grown too long for a single film.[8] Subsequent drafts evolved into the script of the original film.[9]

Lucas negotiated to retain the sequel rights. Tom Pollock, then Lucas' lawyer writes: "We came to an agreement that George would retain the sequel rights. Not all the [merchandising rights] that came later, mind you; just the sequel rights. And Fox would get a first opportunity and last refusal right to make the movie."[10] Lucas was offered $50,000 to write, another $50,000 to produce, and $50,000 to direct the film;[10] his directing compensation was later increased to $100,000. He also negotiated the sequel rights and ownership of 40% of the merchandising profits.[11][12][13] American Graffiti cast member Harrison Ford had given up on acting to try to become a carpenter, until Lucas hired him to play Han Solo.[14]

Star Wars was released on May 25, 1977. Its success led Lucas to make it the basis of an elaborate film serial.[15] With the backstory he created for the sequel, Lucas decided that the series would be a trilogy of trilogies,[16] with the original film given the subtitle, Episode IV – A New Hope for its 1981 rerelease.[17] Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back was released on May 21, 1980, and Episode VI – Return of the Jedi on May 25, 1983. The sequels were self-financed by Lucasfilm, and generally advertised without the episodic number distinction present in their opening crawls. The plot of the original trilogy centers on the Galactic Civil War of the Rebel Alliance trying to free the galaxy from the clutches of the Empire, as well as on Luke Skywalker's quest to become a Jedi and his confrontation with the evil Darth Vader.


Film Release date Director Screenwriter(s) Story by Producer(s) Distributor
May 25, 1977 (1977-05-25) George Lucas Gary Kurtz 20th Century Fox (initial)
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
May 21, 1980 (1980-05-21) Irvin Kershner Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan George Lucas
May 25, 1983 (1983-05-25) Richard Marquand Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas Howard Kazanjian

Star WarsEdit

The central three characters of the original trilogy were played by Mark Hamill (Luke), Harrison Ford (Han), and Carrie Fisher (Leia), respectively.

A Rebel spaceship is intercepted by the Empire above the desert planet of Tatooine. Aboard, the deadliest Imperial warlord Darth Vader and his stormtroopers capture Princess Leia Organa, a secret member of the Rebellion. Before her capture, Leia makes sure the droid R2-D2 will escape with stolen Imperial blueprints for an armored space station, the Death Star, and a holographic message for the Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi, who has been living in exile on Tatooine. Along with C-3PO, R2-D2 falls under the ownership of Luke Skywalker, a farmboy who has been raised by his aunt and uncle. Luke helps the droids locate Obi-Wan, now a solitary old hermit known as Ben Kenobi. He reveals himself as a friend of Luke's absent father, Anakin Skywalker, who was Obi-Wan's Jedi apprentice until being murdered by Vader. He tells Luke he must also become a Jedi. After discovering his family's homestead has been destroyed by the Empire, they hire the smuggler Han Solo, his Wookiee co-pilot Chewbacca and their space freighter, the Millennium Falcon. They discover that Leia's homeworld of Alderaan has been destroyed, and are soon captured by the planet-destroying Death Star itself. While Obi-Wan disables its tractor beam, Luke and Han rescue the captive Princess Leia, passing through incredible dangers. Finally, they deliver the Death Star plans to the Rebel Alliance with the hope of exploiting a weakness, and launch an attack on the Death Star.[18]

Ben Burtt designed the iconic soundscape of the original trilogy.

The first rough draft, titled The Star Wars, introduced "the Force" and the young hero Luke Starkiller. Annikin [sic] appeared as Luke's father, a wise Jedi knight. Between drafts, Lucas read Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and was surprised to find that his story "was following classical motifs."[19] The third draft replaced (a deceased) Annikin with Ben Kenobi.[9][f] Some months later, Lucas had negotiated a contract that gave him rights to two sequels. Lucas hired Alan Dean Foster, who was ghostwriting the novelization of the first film, to write them—with the main creative restriction that they could be filmed on a low budget.[21] By 1976, a fourth draft had been prepared for principal photography. The film was titled The Adventures of Luke Starkiller, as taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars. During production, Lucas changed Luke's name to Skywalker and shortened the title to The Star Wars, and finally just Star Wars.[9] At that point, Lucas was not expecting the film to warrant full-scale sequels. The fourth draft of the script underwent subtle changes to become a self-contained story ending with the destruction of the Empire in the Death Star. The intention was that if the film was successful, Lucas could adapt Foster's novels into low-budget sequels.[22] By that point, Lucas had developed a tentative backstory to aid in developing the saga.[23]

Star Wars exceeded all expectations. The success of the film and its merchandise sales led Lucas to make Star Wars the basis of an elaborate film serial,[15] and use the profits to finance his filmmaking center, Skywalker Ranch.[24] After the release of the first sequel, the original film was subtitled Episode IV: A New Hope in the screenplay released in the 1979 book The Art of Star Wars[25] and for all subsequent rereleases beginning with a theatrical rerelease in 1981.[26][27]

The Empire Strikes BackEdit

Three years after the destruction of the Death Star, the Empire forces the Rebel Alliance to evacuate its secret base on Hoth. Instructed by Obi-Wan's spirit, Luke travels to the swamp world of Dagobah to find the exiled Jedi Master Yoda. Luke's Jedi training is interrupted by Vader, who lures him into a trap by capturing Han and Leia at Cloud City, governed by Han's old friend Lando. During a fierce duel, Vader reveals a shocking truth about Luke's father.[28]

Owing to financial concerns, Alan Dean Foster's sequel novel, Splinter of the Mind's Eye (1978), restricted the story to Luke, Leia, and Darth Vader.[29][30] But after the success of the original film, Lucas knew a sequel would be granted a reasonable budget, and hired Leigh Brackett to write it from scratch. She finished a draft by early 1978, but died of cancer before Lucas was able discuss changes he wanted made to it.[31] His disappointment with the first draft may have made him consider new directions.[32] Lucas penned the next draft, the first screenplay to feature episodic numbering for a Star Wars story.[33] Lucas found this draft enjoyable to write, as opposed to the yearlong struggle writing the first film, and quickly wrote two more[34] in April 1978. The plot twist of Vader being Luke's father had drastic effects on the series.[35] After writing these drafts, Lucas fleshed out the backstory between Anakin, Obi-Wan, and the Emperor.[36]

With this new backstory in place, Lucas decided that the series would be a trilogy of trilogies,[16] designating the first sequel Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back in the next draft.[34] Lawrence Kasdan, who had just completed writing Raiders of the Lost Ark, was hired to write the next drafts, and given additional input from director Irvin Kershner. Kasdan, Kershner, and producer Gary Kurtz saw the film as a more serious and adult story, and developed the sequel from the light adventure roots of the first film.[37]

Return of the JediEdit

Puppeteer Frank Oz and actor Ian McDiarmid portrayed Yoda and Palpatine, respectively, in the original trilogy and returned to play them in the prequel trilogy.

Set less than one year after Vader's revelation, Luke joins Leia and Lando in a rescue attempt to save Han from the gangster Jabba the Hutt. Afterward, Luke returns to Dagobah to complete his Jedi training, only to find Yoda on his deathbed.[38] In his last words, Yoda confirms the truth about Luke's father, and that Luke must confront Vader again in order to complete his training. As the rebels lead an attack on the second Death Star, Luke engages Vader in another lightsaber duel as Emperor Palpatine watches; both Sith Lords intend to turn Luke to the dark side and take him as their apprentice.[39]

Kurtz wanted a bittersweet and nuanced ending they had outlined that saw Han dead, the Rebel forces in pieces, Leia struggling as a queen, and Luke walking off alone (like in a Spaghetti Western)—while Lucas wanted a happier ending, partly to encourage toy sales. This led to tension between the two, resulting in Kurtz leaving the production.[40]


Critical responseEdit

Film Rotten Tomatoes Metacritic
Star Wars 93% (8.71/10 average rating) (116 reviews)[41] 90 (24 reviews)[42]
The Empire Strikes Back 95% (8.92/10 average rating) (93 reviews)[43] 82 (25 reviews)[44]
Return of the Jedi 81% (7.2/10 average rating) (89 reviews)[45] 58 (24 reviews)[46]

Academy AwardsEdit

Academy Awards Awards won
Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back Return of the Jedi
Best Picture Nominated
Best Director Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Best Art Direction Won Nominated
Best Costume Design Won
Best Film Editing Won
Best Original Score Won Nominated Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Best Production Design Nominated
Best Sound Mixing Won Won Nominated
Best Sound Editing Nominated
Best Visual Effects Won
Special Achievement Award Won[g] Won[h] Won[i]

Box office performanceEdit

Film Release date Budget Box office revenue Box office ranking Refs.
North America Adjusted for
(North America)[j]
Worldwide All-time
North America
Star Wars May 25, 1977 $11 million $460,998,007 $1,608,419,900 $314,400,000 $775,398,007 #16 #90 [48][49]
The Empire Strikes Back May 21, 1980 $18 million $290,475,067 $886,571,200 $247,900,000 $538,375,067 #91 #183 [50][51][52]
Return of the Jedi May 25, 1983 $32.5 million $309,306,177 $849,356,500 $165,800,000 $475,106,177 #75 #220 [53][54]
Total $61.5 million $1,060,779,251 $3,344,347,600 $728,100,000 $1,788,879,251 #2 #2


In 1989, the Library of Congress selected the original Star Wars film for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry, as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[55] The Empire Strikes Back, was selected in 2010.[56][57] 35mm reels of the 1997 Special Editions were the versions initially presented for preservation because of the difficulty of transferring from the original prints,[58][59] but it was later revealed that the Library possessed a copyright deposit print of the original theatrical releases. By 2015, Star Wars had been transferred to a 2K scan which can be viewed by appointment.[60]



  1. ^ According to the 2012 deal, physical distribution rights to Episodes VVI were set to move to Disney in 2020, while rights to Episode IV were set to stay with Fox, but eventually rights for the trilogy moved to Disney in 2019 as a result of the acquisition of Fox.
  2. ^ Flash Gordon creator Alex Raymond had been influenced by John Carter of Mars in particular.
  3. ^ Later known as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Star Wars: A New Hope or simply as A New Hope.
  4. ^ Also known as Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back or simply as Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
  5. ^ Also known as Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi or simply as Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
  6. ^ In the draft, Kenobi's first meeting with Luke is lifted directly from The Hobbit, acknowledging Gandalf as a source of inspiration.[20]
  7. ^ Ben Burtt for the creation of the alien, creature, and robot voices
  8. ^ Brian Johnson, Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren and Bruce Nicholson for visual effects
  9. ^ Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston and Phil Tippett for visual effects
  10. ^ Adjusting for inflation is complicated by the fact that the first films have had multiple releases in different years, so their earnings cannot be simply adjusted by the initial year of release. Inflation adjusted figures for 2005 can be found in Block, Alex Ben; Wilson, Lucy Autrey, eds. (2010). George Lucas's Blockbusting: A Decade-By-Decade Survey of Timeless Movies Including Untold Secrets of Their Financial and Cultural Success. HarperCollins. p. 519. ISBN 978-0061778896. Adjustment to constant dollars is undertaken in conjunction with the United States Consumer Price Index provided by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, using 2005 as the base year.[47]


  1. ^ "Star Wars: Episode IX Cast Announced". July 27, 2018. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  2. ^ Young, Bryan (December 21, 2015). "The Cinema Behind Star Wars: John Carter". Retrieved September 17, 2018.
  3. ^ Vallely, Jean (June 12, 1980). "The Empire Strikes Back and So Does Filmmaker George Lucas With His Sequel to Star Wars". Rolling Stone. Wenner Media LLC.
  4. ^ Rinzler 2007, p. 8.
  5. ^ Smith, Kyle (September 21, 2014). "How 'Star Wars' was secretly George Lucas' Vietnam protest". The New York Post. Retrieved September 22, 2014.
  6. ^ Kaminski 2008, p. 50.
  7. ^ Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy (DVD). Star Wars Trilogy Box Set DVD documentary. 2004. 14 minutes in.
  8. ^ Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy (DVD). Star Wars Trilogy Box Set DVD documentary. 2004. 16 minutes in.
  9. ^ a b c "Starkiller". Jedi Bendu. Archived from the original on June 28, 2006. Retrieved March 27, 2008.
  10. ^ a b Fleming Jr, Mike (December 18, 2015). "An Architect Of Hollywood's Greatest Deal Recalls How George Lucas Won Sequel Rights". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 10, 2017.
  11. ^ Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy (DVD). Star Wars Trilogy Box Set DVD documentary. 2004. 18 minutes in.
  12. ^ "The Real Force Behind 'Star Wars': How George Lucas Built an Empire". The Hollywood Reporter. February 9, 2012. Retrieved September 26, 2018.
  13. ^ "30 pieces of trivia about Star Wars". BBC. May 23, 2007. Retrieved May 9, 2014.
  14. ^ Taylor, Chris (April 13, 2017). "Harrison Ford to George Lucas: You're wrong about Han Solo". Mashable. Retrieved December 27, 2018.
  15. ^ a b Kaminski 2008, p. 142.
  16. ^ a b Steranko, "George Lucas", Prevue #42, September–October 1980.
  17. ^ Saporito, Jeff (November 11, 2015). "Why was "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" originally released under another title". ScreenPrism. Retrieved November 7, 2018.
  18. ^ Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (DVD). 20th Century Fox. 2006.
  19. ^ Stephen and Robin Larsen, Joseph Campbell: A Fire in the Mind. 2002, p. 541.
  20. ^ Taylor, Chris (2015). How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise. Performing Arts. p. 96.
  21. ^ Rinzler 2007, p. 107.
  22. ^ Kaminski 2008, p. 38.
  23. ^ Kaminski 2008, p. 134.
  24. ^ Baxter, John (1999). Mythmaker. p. 173. ISBN 978-0-380-97833-5.
  25. ^ Hidalgo, Pablo [@pablohidalgo] (February 15, 2019). "(And just to preemptively 'well, actually' myself, 'Episode IV: A New Hope' was made public by publishing it in the screenplay in 1979's Art of Star Wars book. But it wasn't added to the crawl until 1981)" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  26. ^ James Ryan. "When did Star Wars become known as A New Hope? - In A Far Away Galaxy".
  27. ^ ScreenPrism. "Why was "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" originally released under another title - ScreenPrism".
  28. ^ The Empire Strikes Back (DVD). 20th Century Fox. 2004.
  29. ^ Wenz, John (January 1, 2018). "The First Star Wars sequel: Inside the writing of Splinter of the Mind's Eye". Retrieved August 16, 2018.
  30. ^ Fry, Jason (July – August 2000). "Alan Dean Foster: Author of the Mind's Eye". Star Wars Insider (50).
  31. ^ Bouzereau 1997, p. 144.
  32. ^ Kaminski 2008, p. 161.
  33. ^ Bouzereau 1997, p. 135.
  34. ^ a b Bouzereau 1997, p. 123
  35. ^ Kaminski 2008, pp. 120–21.
  36. ^ Kaminski 2008, pp. 164–65.
  37. ^ Kaminski 2008, p. 178.
  38. ^ Susan Mackey-Kallis (2010). The Hero and the Perennial Journey Home in American Film. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 221–. ISBN 978-0-8122-0013-3.
  39. ^ Return of the Jedi (DVD). 20th Century Fox. 2004.
  40. ^ Geoff Boucher (August 12, 2010). "Did Star Wars become a toy story? Producer Gary Kurtz looks back". Los Angeles Times, Calendar section
  41. ^ "Star Wars". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  42. ^ "Star Wars: Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  43. ^ "Empire Strikes Back". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  44. ^ "The Empire Strikes Back". Metacritic. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  45. ^ "Return of the Jedi". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  46. ^ "Return of the Jedi". Metacritic. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  47. ^ Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Community Development Project. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved January 2, 2019.
  48. ^ "Star Wars (1977) - Box Office Mojo".
  49. ^ "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 15, 2019.
  50. ^ "The Empire Strikes Back (1980) - Box Office Mojo".
  51. ^ "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 15, 2019.
  52. ^ "The Empire Strikes Back (1980) - International Box Office Results - Box Office Mojo".
  53. ^ "Return of the Jedi (1983) - Box Office Mojo".
  54. ^ "Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 15, 2019.
  55. ^ "U.S. National Film Registry Titles". U.S. National Film Registry. Archived from the original on August 21, 2006. Retrieved September 2, 2006.
  56. ^ "'Empire Strikes Back' among 25 film registry picks". Retrieved December 28, 2010.
  57. ^ Barnes, Mike (December 28, 2010). "'Empire Strikes Back,' 'Airplane!' Among 25 Movies Named to National Film Registry". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 28, 2010.
  58. ^ Andrews, Mallory (July 21, 2014). "A 'New' New Hope: Film Preservation and the Problem with 'Star Wars'". Sound on Sight. Retrieved July 27, 2014. the NFR does not possess workable copies of the original versions...Government-mandated agencies such as the National Film Registry are unable to preserve (or even possess) working copies of the films on their list without the consent of the author and/or copyright holder.
  59. ^ "Request Denied: Lucas Refuses to Co-Operate with Government Film Preservation Organizations". Saving Star Wars. 2011. Retrieved July 27, 2014. When the request was made for STAR WARS, Lucasfilm offered us the Special Edition version. The offer was declined as this was obviously not the version that had been selected for the Registry.
  60. ^ Ulanoff, Lance (December 17, 2015). "The search for the 'Star Wars' George Lucas doesn't want you to see". Mashable. Retrieved October 12, 2016.


  • Bouzereau, Laurent (1997). The Annotated Screenplays. Del Rey. ISBN 978-0-345-40981-2.
  • Kaminski, Michael (2008) [2007]. The Secret History of Star Wars. Legacy Books Press. ISBN 978-0-9784652-3-0.
  • Rinzler, Jonathan W. (2007). The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film (Star Wars). Del Rey. ISBN 978-0-345-49476-4.