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'Star Wars' still a force to be reckoned with

On a recent episode of "Jimmy Kimmel Live," Harrison Ford, aka Han Solo of "Star Wars," mock-confronted Solo's old partner in crime from the movies, Chewbacca. He angrily told him "I'm done with that 'Star Wars' crap and I'm done with you. Haven't you heard? I'm in 'Cowboys & Aliens.' Daniel Craig is my Wookie [expletive] now."

He wishes. Ford and anyone else connected to the original "Star Wars" trilogy -- "Star Wars," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "The Return of the Jedi," which ran from 1977 to 1983 -- will likely never escape the franchise's gravitational pull. Nor, apparently, will we. Even 34 years after it first blazed across big screens -- and six years since the last film in the series was released -- "Star Wars" hasn't budged from its position atop the pop culture pecking order.

"People remember their youth," says Wheeler Winston Dixon, a professor of Film Studies at University of Nebraska. "[Star Wars creator George] Lucas has shrewdly positioned himself as the Disney of a new generation, rolling out sequels, updates and now all the films on BluRay with 40 hours of extras, to keep each new generation interested."

Naturally, interest in "Star Wars" reignited from 1999 to 2005 when the second trilogy was released, setting box office records, even if critics and fans of the first trilogy balked at what they perceived as the new films' trove of bad dialogue and overbaked computerized effects. If anything, the second go-round has intensified the fierce loyalty for the first three films.

Googling "Star Wars" produces more than 326 million hits. The film franchise is everywhere: cartoons, books, video games and other merchandise spanning both trilogies. The Cartoon Network just announced it was renewing a new season of its hit series "Star Wars: The Clone Wars."

There are just as many, if not more, new goings-on related to the original trilogy. Dozens of parodies litter YouTube. Others have consumed whole episodes of TV shows, such as Fox's "Family Guy." Disneyland just upgraded its popular "Star Wars" ride "Star Tours." In September, Lucas will release all six films for the first time on hi-def BluRay.

The Buffalo Bisons hosted its popular "Star Wars" night again this year. On Sept. 4, the San Francisco Giants will do the same; encouraging fans to dress in costume and remain in the seats after the game for a showing of "The Empire Strikes Back." It was the fourth year for Star Wars night at the ballpark with the North Ridge Fan Force Buffalo chapter.

At the recent Comic-Con in San Diego, even though there were dozens of new films and TV series grabbing the headlines, a sizable "Star Wars" contingent showed up. There's a "Star Wars" tourism trade, involving fans traveling to places as remote as Tunisian deserts and Guatemalan pyramids, where "Star Wars" scenes were filmed. They even flock to Lucasfilm's offices in San Francisco's Presidio to see the statue of Yoda out front.

If that's not enough proof that the Lucas franchise is still going strong, Vivid Entertainment will release "Star Wars XXX: A Porn Parody," which they call "the most anticipated adult movie of the year." It's safe to assume Lucas has a small clone army of lawyers, should he decide a pre-emptive attack is called for.

Critics and older fans nearly attacked after the second trilogy was released.

"The special effects have taken over," says Toby Miller, the chairman of the Department of Media and Cultural Studies at University of California Riverside and an expert on "Star Wars." "Lucas basically has one story to tell: The Oedipal one. The actors since [Alec] Guinness are laughable."

Yet the perceived lack of quality hasn't stopped the "Star Wars" machine one bit.

"There are two reasons it's still popular today," says Dave Dorman, who has illustrated dozens of "Star Wars" books, comics and magazines and was once named best "Star Wars" artist by readers of Star Wars magazine. "One, George Lucas created a story with a universal message of good versus evil and father versus son, interwoven into a story of high adventure.

"Two, while that could have died out within a generation, Lucas and his LucasFilm organization have made a number of very smart business moves in marketing and merchandising," Dorman says. "They have kept those original ideas through subsequent generations of kids through comics, books, toys and animated adventures."

That merchandising accounted for $450 million in toy sales alone in 2008, according to MSNBC.com. A study published in June 2010 by The Licensing Book, a toy manufacturer trade magazine, said 5-to-10-year-old boys' favorite movie-based toys were from "Star Wars," beating out "Harry Potter," "Transformers," "G.I. Joe" and other blockbusters. And this was without having a live action "Star Wars" film in theaters for five years.

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