Blog Directory CineVerse: Big bang theory: How "Star Wars" revived sci-fi in the late 1970s

Big bang theory: How "Star Wars" revived sci-fi in the late 1970s

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

by Erik J. Martin

Thirty or so years ago in a 1970s culture far, far away, the ebbing genre of science fiction was embraced by a new galaxy of viewers--thanks to the unprecedented success of “Star Wars,” first released in 1977.

George Lucas’ intergalactic opus opened the floodgates for a slew of “Obi-wannabees”--films and TV programs featuring space chases, laser

battles with aliens, and metal-suits-and-boots heroes rescuing damsels in distress. Suddenly, the force was with TV programmers and Hollywood movie makers, who yearned to capitalize on the space film craze and, like the mercenary Boba Fett, make a quick buck.

The rash of “Star Wars” clones began on the small screen in the fall of 1977 with “Logan's Run,” a short-lived CBS series based on the 1976 film. Next came “Battlestar Galactica,” ABC’s big budget weekly show that depicted the struggle of a small rebel armada against the might of the evil Cylons (sound familiar?). The program--which launched in 1978 with a $3 million premiere, rumored to be the most expensive premiere in TV history up to that time--starred Lorne Green as Commander Adama, and had at its helm “Star Wars” f/x wizard John Dykstra as co-producer. The series fizzled in late '79, but morphed into "Galactica 1980" for only a handful of episodes the next year. 

And then there was “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,” starring Gil Gerard as the title character in another ersatz series that debuted on NBC in the fall of '79 and lasted merely a season and a half. Outer space fever even infected the funny bone, with weekly network series like ABC’s “Mork & Mindy” (1978-'82) and NBC’s “Quark” (1978) vying for viewers.

Before long, big budget sci fi features were invading the big screen, too, including “Laserblast” (1978), “The Black Hole” (1979), “Alien” (1979), “Flash Gordon” (1980), "Battle Beyond the Stars" (1980), “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1980) and its sequels, "Outland" (1981), "Space Raiders" (1983), “The Last Starfighter” (1984), and many others--most available on DVD. None raked in the same box office bucks or reaped the worldwide appeal enjoyed by “Star Wars,” though the networks and movie studios tried time and again to catch that coveted laser bolt in a bottle.

Nevertheless, the precedent had irrefutably been set--the era of the Hollywood blockbuster, ushered in by “Star Wars,” was here to stay.
Consequently, it’s no surprise that the list of all-time highest grossing films includes sci fi juggernauts like “E.T.” (1982), “Terminator 2” (1991), “Independence Day” (1996), “The Matrix” (1999), and the “Star Wars” sequels and prequels.

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