Forty-two years after it began, it's easy to forget how Star Wars transformed the film industry.
Both movie-making and the movie-going experience would never be the same after its 1977 release, and the franchise — now worth an estimated US$65 billion — would redefine the term blockbuster.
Expensive special effects, sound design and music would combine to create a new big screen experience. As well as reviving the science fiction genre, the original trilogy broke new ground by saturating popular culture through cross-promotion and the birth of mass movie merchandising.
Indie turned pop culture juggernaut
Nowadays every blockbuster is released on the crest of a wave of publicity and supported by an extensive marketing campaign.
But Star Wars initially arrived to little fanfare and surprised almost everyone when it became a mainstream hit.
In many ways it began as an indie film. George Lucas struggled to get backing and had both friends and industry figures queuing up to tell him his peculiar space opera was doomed to fail.
Star Wars eventually found a home with 20th Century Fox, who agreed to a modest budget of US$8.5 million ($12.9m), which blew out to US$11m. Lucas was paid US$15,000 to develop the script, US$50,000 to write the movie and US$100,000 to direct it.
But when the movie hit US cinemas in May, it immediately struck a chord with the public and quickly became a cultural phenomenon.
Films such as Jaws (1975) and Ben-Hur (1959) helped create the concept of the summer blockbuster, but the arrival of Star Wars saw public interest go into hyperdrive.
In scenes that would be repeated with the release of each sequel, queues of cinemagoers stretched around city blocks across New Zealand and the world.
Its tremendous success also sparked media and public preoccupation with opening weekend box office takings. Figures previously found only in industry publications were now the source for news stories and headlines.
Merchandising money machine
Until Star Wars, movie-related merchandise such as clothes, toys, food and lunchboxes was almost unknown. But Episode IV provided the commercial blueprint still followed by franchises such as Frozen and Harry Potter.
Lucas knew Star Wars had enormous merchandising potential, and once his coming-of-age film American Graffiti proved a box office success, renegotiated his deal with Fox.
Rather than chase an increased salary and cut of the profits, he sought to retain control of all merchandising rights and the rights to any sequels. Fox agreed to give Lucas 60 per cent of the merchandising, with his share to increase by 20 per cent a year for two years after its release.
Those decisions proved masterstrokes as Star Wars went on to become one of the highest-grossing films of all time, with the entire franchise earning more than US$9 billion worldwide.
But the money Lucas earned from global box office takings would be dwarfed by the amount he raked in from the hugely popular and ever growing range of Star Wars toys which have amassed close to US$15b in sales.
The incredible Kenner story
Six months before Star Wars' release, Lucas was desperate to secure a licensing deal with a major toy company, but the likes of industry giants Mattel and Hasbro were not interested.
He eventually found a suitor in a small Cincinnati manufacturer called Kenner who took on Star Wars as its biggest ever licensing project, giving birth to the most profitable toy franchise in history.
With the Star Wars universe full of spaceships, space stations, and military bases, Kenner moved away from the trend of larger 30cm dolls. Instead they made action figures that stood 9.5cm tall, which were both more affordable and could fit among bigger scale toys and playsets.
Kenner's first range would not be ready in time for Christmas 1977, so the company went out on a limb and released the Star Wars Early Bird package. What was effectively an empty box came with a gift certificate that promised kids they would be the first in the galaxy to receive four action figures — Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and R2-D2.
The unlikely concept proved a big seller, and by the time the first wave of toys was released in spring 1978 they flew off the shelves. The toys only grew in popularity as more were created for the release of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
Throughout the late 80s and 90s they remained popular with adult collectors and fans driven by childhood nostalgia. The release of the prequel trilogy, and Disney's eventual involvement, maintained the toys' status as a cash cow.
Revolutionising special effects
Lucas invented ground-breaking technology and shooting methods that would change how movies were made and define modern blockbusters.
He sought to include visual effects never before seen on film and, knowing no one could pull off the effects he wanted, created his own company, Industrial Light & Magic, to do the work. Years later, Sir Peter Jackson would tread a similar path by creating Weta Workshop.
Together, Lucas and ILM developed new techniques for directors to tell their stories. In an age before computer-generated effects, craftsman were tasked with creating miniature models and matte paintings which, with camera tricks, helped sell the illusion of space and space travel.
During filming of Star Wars, ILM pioneered the Dykstraflex, the first digital motion control photographer camera system that could be programmed by a computer. Named after its chief architect John Dykstra, it allowed spaceship manoeuvres with stationary models to be performed repeatedly and reliably.
With computer generated-imagery (CGI) still years away, big set pieces such as the Mos Eisley spaceport and the Death Star hangar bay had to be shot on sets built on huge sound stages at Elstree Studios near London.
Robots were built and in some cases droid costumes were filled by actors such as Kenny Baker (R2-D2) and Anthony Daniels (C-3PO).
ILM would become one of the best effects studios in Hollywood and work on more than 300 films while leading the development of CGI in the 80s, with films such as the Back to the Future trilogy. It was also the original founder company of Pixar Animation Studios which, in 1995, released the first fully-CGI film, Toy Story.
Indeed, part of Star Wars' legacy is its influence on filmmaking.
"My gratitude and respect for George Lucas is without limit," Jackson said in a 2015 interview with Deadline.
"In the decades following Star Wars, George has used his own resources to develop digital VFX, digital editing, digital sound and digital cinematography.
"He opened the door for me to make the films that I have, in a way I could have barely dreamt of doing before Star Wars."