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Star Wars is an American epic space opera franchise, centered on a film series created by George Lucas. The franchise began in 1977 with the release of the film Star Wars (subtitled Episode IV: A New Hope in 1981) by 20th Century Fox, which became a worldwide pop culture phenomenon. It was followed by the similarly successful sequels The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983); these three films constitute the original Star Wars trilogy. A prequel trilogy was later released between 1999 and 2005, which received a more mixed reaction from critics and fans in comparison to the original trilogy. All six films were nominated for or won Academy Awards, and were commercial successes, with a combined box office revenue of $4.38 billion, making Star Wars the fourth highest-grossing film series.
The events depicted in the Star Wars franchise take place in a fictional galaxy. Many species of alien creatures (often humanoid) are depicted. Robotic droids are also commonplace and are generally built to serve their owners. Space travel is common, and many planets in the galaxy are members of a single galactic government. In the prequel trilogy, this is depicted in the form of the Galactic Republic; at the end of the prequel trilogy and throughout the original trilogy, this government is the Galactic Empire. Preceding and during the sequel trilogy, this government is the New Republic.
One of the prominent elements of Star Wars is "the Force", an omnipresent energy that can be harnessed by those with that ability, known as Force-sensitives. It is described in the first produced film as "an energy field created by all living things [that] surrounds us, penetrates us, [and] binds the galaxy together." The Force allows users to perform various supernatural feats (such as telekinesis, clairvoyance, precognition, and mind control) and can amplify certain physical traits, such as speed and reflexes; these abilities vary between characters and can be improved through training. While the Force can be used for good, known as the light side, it also has a dark side that, when pursued, imbues users with hatred, aggression, and malevolence.
The six films feature the Jedi, who adhere to the light side of the Force to serve as peacekeepers and guardians, and the Sith, who use the dark side of the Force for evil in an attempt to destroy the Jedi Order and the Republic and rule the galaxy for themselves.
The first film in the series, Star Wars, was released on May 25, 1977. This was followed by two sequels: The Empire Strikes Back, released on May 21, 1980, and Return of the Jedi, released on May 25, 1983. The opening crawl of the sequels disclosed that they were numbered as "Episode V" and "Episode VI" respectively, though the films were generally advertised solely under their subtitles. Though the first film in the series was simply titled Star Wars, with its 1981 re-release it had the subtitle Episode IV: A New Hope added to remain consistent with its sequel, and to establish it as the middle chapter of a continuing saga.
In 1997, to correspond with the 20th anniversary of the original film, Lucas released a "Special Edition" of the Star Wars trilogy to theaters. The re-release featured alterations to the three films, primarily motivated by the improvement of CGI and other special effects technologies, which allowed visuals that were not possible to achieve at the time of the original filmmaking. Lucas continued to make changes to the films for subsequent releases, such as the first ever DVD release of the original trilogy on September 21, 2004, and the first ever Blu-ray release of all six films on September 16, 2011. Reception of the Special Edition was mixed, prompting petitions and fan edits to produce restored copies of the original trilogy.
More than two decades after the release of the original film, the series continued with a prequel trilogy; consisting of Episode I: The Phantom Menace, released on May 19, 1999; Episode II: Attack of the Clones, released on May 16, 2002; and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, released on May 19, 2005. On August 15, 2008, Star Wars: The Clone Wars was released theatrically as a lead-in to the animated TV series of the same name. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released on December 18, 2015.
On January 26, 2016, Variety reported that Disney executives were meeting with cable outlets Turner, FX Networks, Viacom, NBCUniversal, A&E Networks and AMC Networks to have a discussion on purchasing the free-TV rights to the first six Star Wars movies.