Star Wars hits 40 and the force is as strong as ever, says UEA expert

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia and Harrison Ford as Han Solo, appear

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia and Harrison Ford as Han Solo, appear in a scene from George Lucas' Star Wars, released 40 years ago. Picture: Lucasfilm - Credit: AP

On the 40th anniversary of release of George Lucas' original Star Wars film, the Norwich-based founder of the World Star Wars Project says its contribution to popular culture cannot be overestimated.

UEA Professor Dr Tom Phillips who has been undertaking a research project into Star Wars franchise p

UEA Professor Dr Tom Phillips who has been undertaking a research project into Star Wars franchise pictured outside Odeon Norwich. Picture: Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

Today marks 40 years since the release of George Lucas' original Star Wars in May 1977 and the The Force at 40 is as strong as ever says Dr Tom Phillips, lecturer in humanities at the University of East Anglia who researches fandom and audiences.

Star Wars has become part of the DNA of our popular culture over the past four decades, loved by generations of fans.

Dr Phillips helped found the World Star Wars Project, with the aim to understand this fan devotion to Han, Leia, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and company.

Launched in 2015 at the UEA, the project is a 10-institution research initiative that explores audiences' engagement with the Star Wars film series.

Poster for the 1977 release of Star Wars, the film that sparked fan devotion that continues today an

Poster for the 1977 release of Star Wars, the film that sparked fan devotion that continues today and laid the trail for blockbuster franchises. - Credit: Archant


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Dr Phillips said: 'The 40th anniversary of Star Wars is a significant landmark. While many different fan cultures may celebrate particular historic moments for their favoured films, the Force turning 40 marks celebrations that go beyond Star Wars fandom and into wider popular culture.

'Disney's purchase of the Star Wars franchise in 2012 gave it a new lease of life. The new sequel trilogy, the second film of which – The Last Jedi – will be released in December this year, and standalone films such as Rogue One have enabled a renewed, intergenerational fan engagement with the Star Wars brand.

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'Star Wars fans are not the media stereotype of what may be considered a 'fan': Star Wars transcends age, gender, race and class.'

Dr Phillips knows because his research saw him and long other members of the project team attended the Star Wars Celebration Europe event at the ExCeL London in last July. Over the course of two days, the team recorded interviews with nearly 100 fans.

World Star Wars Project saw Dr Phillips and his project team condct interviews with fans in an effor

World Star Wars Project saw Dr Phillips and his project team condct interviews with fans in an effort to study the cultutal impact of Star Wars on fandom. - Credit: Archant

Dr Phillips said: 'The research team's time spent at Star Wars Celebration Europe gave us some fascinating insights into what motivates fans to still engage with Star Wars after all this time. Some people were hard-core fans, for whom Star Wars forged part of their identity.

'Other people didn't describe themselves as 'fans' at all, but were simply there because they were interested enough to see what all the fuss was about.

'Whether you've seen it or not, Star Wars is impossible to escape. Beyond the films, we see its cultural pervasiveness in items as everyday as cereal, makeup and postage stamps. And whether or not you can agree on how good Star Wars may or may not be, it is inarguably one of the most important films ever made, given its contribution to popular culture.'

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