"I think, basically, I was interested in, you know, in mythology, and I was really looking for a way to sort of recreate the role mythology played and I was sort of poking around,” Lucas told ET.
How the works of Joseph Campbell shaped the saga’s story structure has been well-documented over the years. Lucas’ love of Republic serials famously influenced A New Hope and Raiders of the Lost Ark. With the shoulders of these giants to stand on, he further narrowed in on his vision by seeking out voids that had been left behind in as a new generation of filmmakers took over cinema.
"The Western was sort of the last real mythological genre. And I couldn't make a Western. Westerns were out of style at that point, and I wasn't that interested in Westerns anyway. And I said, ‘What is going to take over, because nothing has replaced it.’ Nothing replaced the Western,” Lucas said.
"And I said, ‘Maybe it'll be space. And I like space. Space is fun, so we'll create a kind of fantasy space world where I can tell some time-worn stories.’"
Science fiction wasn’t a popular or profitable genre at the time. Special effects makeup artist Rob Bottin told ET that before working on creatures for the cantina scene in A New Hope, he had worked on a movie called The Incredible Melting Man. This film would later become fodder for Mystery Science Theater 3000 -- a solid indicator of the state of the genre. Lucas was a risk from the start. The pitch for a space adventure with mythological themes was heavily rejected by the studios until Twentieth Century Fox president Alan Ladd Jr. took the project.
“Science fiction was not very well thought of when I did Star Wars. It was very hard to get a science fiction film off the ground. Special effects films were almost nonexistent,” said Lucas, whose most popular work at that point was a low-budget coming-of-age comedy, albeit a very successful one.
MORE: Hayden Christensen Gets Standing Ovation at First 'Star Wars Celebration in 15 Years
“Because they were considered complicated and people didn't understand them, to do a complicated science fiction film that involves special effects was unheard of at that point.”
While the genre mashups of the script were groundbreaking, A New Hope also ushered in the next advancements in special effects. The limited budget meant applying practical effects techniques, many of which had origins dating back to the silent film era. It also provided opportunities to showcase developments in technology that had been expensive in the past. This included a motion control camera system created by visual effects supervisor John Dykstra, once too expensive, now cost-efficient and practical for productions such as A New Hope.
Lucas knew that special effects didn't have the capacity to shoulder the burden of making a good movie. Like many people after first seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey, he noticed the expanded role they had played in the movie’s success. He now saw their potential as simply another storytelling device, on par with compelling characters and an exciting plot.
As he finished up initial drafts of the story, one problem became obvious: It was too big. Like J.R.R.Tolkien before him, he was forced to split his tale into sections. Each act in the script was big enough to sustain its own film, not including a massive backstory (our future prequels). In the beginning, we were in the middle.