The opening crawl? The legendary theme music? The instantly recognizable sound of a lightsaber? All of these things are indeed synonymous with the Star Wars cinematic universe, but they are merely the icing on a delicious, richly layered cake. The truth of the matter is that the recipe for a Star Wars story includes a far more complex range of ingredients.
It may well be an iconic space opera film franchise that changed the face of cinema, but each Star Wars instalment still functions within a very clear formula. There are a number of elements that constitute a Star Wars story, and this is proven by the fact that those films that adhere closely to the formula are far more successful, and better received than those that don’t. The formula was even evident in the most recent outing for the series – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – which doesn’t even have an opening crawl, by the way.
While Star Wars: The Force Awakens was accused (with fair reason) of essentially being a remake of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, due to the similarity in narrative beats, this is a very different issue than the evolution of the Star Wars formula. The formula was indeed present in The Force Awakens, but not because it was a remake. It was present, because the Star Wars formula is what makes a Star Wars story a Star Wars story.
So, on that note, let’s take a look at exactly what those formula elements are, and how they have each contributed to forty years of iconic cinema.