Hello and welcome to In Too Deep Harry Potter vs Star Wars, where I finally decide which one of these franchise is better.

Now a year or so ago James Daniel Walsh wrote this infamous statement: “Star Wars is the cultural mythos of our generation”, to which I argued that while it was true for his generation, my generation’s cultural mythos was Harry Potter. Now, a year of putting it off, I’m finally going to sit down and analyse both of these franchise. So without further ado…

Now since Les and I have differing opinions about this topic, it’s only fair he gets to have his say. So if it’s too long, for once I can duck responsibility. But since it’s a good read, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. So without further ado (again)…

Greetings Manic Fans. Les here to put in my two cents worth on the debate of which film franchise(that’s FILM franchise, mind you…) caused and continues to cause the bigger impact on culture and cinema: Star Wars or Harry Potter. While I will have a clear bias towards the former, I will try to be fair and give the later its due praises. I will say this, however….out of all those involved in this particular debate topic, I’m the only participant here who is old enough to have the legitimate perspective to measure the cultural impact of both franchises for what the world was like before and after they arrived. So, a little background for any of you out there not familiar with both properties:

Star Wars:

May 25th, 1977 was the day Star Wars premiered in America and immediately started breaking all film records at the box office and finally giving Science Fiction the box office success that had eluded all other Science fiction films before it(The 2 most successful Science Fiction films prior to Star Wars were “Planet of the Apes,” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”-and they only cleared $32.6 Million and $57 Million respectively in their first runs). Star Wars was the first film I can recall that had lines around the block for every showing for weeks and weeks(The Empire Strikes Back was the next one….then Return of the Jedi….Then Jurassic Park…. then Titanic…. Then Harry Potter…but Star Wars was the first). Going to see Star Wars was a major event for us…like attending a Rock Concert, or Opera, we were so psyched to go and see this film, we planned evenings around it. It cleared $450 Million in its first release(And remember…this was back when a film ticket was only $1.50…and theaters only had 1-3 screens to show films in…The Megaplex concept for movie theaters began in the mid-‘80s).

Drawing upon many different mythologies, George Lucas crafted a classic good vs evil saga that created a whole new universe of adventures that captured the imagination of a generation, and inspired countless science fiction/fantasy series that came after it.(And before Pretty Boy runs in to claim that without Flash Gordon, Star Wars couldn’t have been conceived….yeah, respect must be paid to that classic, but let’s get serious for a moment. If it hadn’t been for the cult classic remake, “Flash Gordon(1980),” Nobody would’ve remembered that series. Flash Gordon, Dale Arden, Dr. Hans Zarkov and Ming the Merciless were influential characters, but not household names like Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo are. Star Wars trumps Flash Gordon for exerting its influence and being remembered decades after its initial phenomenon)).

Back to the original paragraph….

So, Star Wars captured the imagination of a generation, In the process, Star Wars also established the ground work to demonstrate a new film concept: Merchandising(Insert Mel Brooks clip here…) Before Star Wars, no Science Fiction film had phenomenally successful merchandising campaigns. Toys, T-Shirts, Records, Bumper Stickers, Posters…you name it, Star Wars showed the world how to market a property. And culturally, we couldn’t get enough of it. This Phenomenon made George Lucas a very rich man and gave him the ability to break away from the Director’s Guild and make his films any way he desired.

Star Wars was a tremendous phenomenon that affected, not only, rabid fandoms, but culture in general. Even if you weren’t a huge fan of Star Wars, you still knew the quotes. “May the Force be with you,””Can someone get this walking carpet out of my way,””I’ve got a bad feeling about this” Objects like Lightsabers, The Death Star, Star Destroyers and characters and concepts like Wookies, Jedi Knights and The Force were interspersed through many other media and were popular fodder for sketch comedy shows. The Main Title by John Williams was so popular, that it actually made the American top 40, and was played on Radio Stations all over the country. The only other all instrumental film score I can remember that managed that was “Axel in ‘F’” from “Beverly Hills Cop.” In fact, they toured the country doing the “Star Wars Concert”(Which I attended-IT WAS AWESOME!).

Now, from a technical standpoint, films were forever changed by Star Wars for several reasons:

Special Effects: Industrial Light and Magic was created to handle the Effects Shots of Star Wars. They took the standard techniques of special effects and pushed them to the next levels of excellence. Bluescreen compositing wasn’t anything new, but using a new computer system to match camera moves during each pass made it possible to add motion to the composites in ways that had never been possible before. That was a significant advancement in the craft. ILM then became the industry leader for the next 30 years doing special effects for most of the biggest Science Fiction/Fantasy films you’ve ever seen. Most advancements in the craft of special effects in the last 40 years were the result of ILM including Matte Compositing, Go-Motion, Pyro-technic effects and later advancements in CGI(3 notable Academy Awards for the CGI water tentacle in “The Abyss,” the CGI T-1000 man of liquid metal in “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” and the CGI Dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park”).

Sound Effects: Ben Burtt revolutionized the art of Sound Effects design capturing and utilizing sounds that have been endlessly copied since. Hell…I’ll give him a well deserved salute just for the Lightsaber sound effect and the way he created it(It’s an exposed live wire giving feedback distortion). His solution to Darth Vader’s breathing was pretty ingenious too(he put a small microphone into a Scuba Rebreather and recorded someone taking breaths through it). The engines of the Millenium Falcon?(A hotel radiator that made a weird sound). Chewbacca?(Bears, Otters and other animals mixed together in unique ways.) Ben showed the industry how to capture and alter ordinary sounds to produce amazing sound effects(a long time before synthesizer tech made it possible to invent new sounds from scratch).

Technology: The PIXAR Computer was invented for Star Wars for technical special effects. Later it was sold and eventually became the PIXAR company(You know them, right?)

Sound mixdown and projection: To support the advancements in Sound Effects, Star Wars created THX-1138 and Skywalker Sound systems of Theater Speaker Systems and Sound Recording/Mixing that made nearly every film made after it sound a hell of a lot better and enhanced the film watching experience.

Soundtrack Composing: By hiring soundtrack composer John Williams, Star Wars also saved the art of Symphony Orchestra Soundtracks for major films during a time when Studios were pressuring filmmakers to use pop music to be the soundtracks(Seriously…20th Century Fox wanted Lucas to use Disco Music for the Star Wars Soundtrack…yeah…we dodged a bullet there….).

Star Wars was a major part of growing up in the 1970’s and its influence on what followed shouldn’t be denied.

Harry Potter:

On June 30th, 1997, JK Rowling’s novel “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” was published. It created a world-wide literary phenomenon and got children excited to read again. Creating a world where in our world, there was a society of Witches and Wizards co-existing but hidden from “Muggle” eyes, She drew upon many other mythologies(much like George Lucas did) to bring magical creatures, spell concepts and a rich tapestry of arcing stories that would develop and evolve throughout the 7 book series.

Like Star Wars, it affected pop culture in the language we use. The Terms “Muggles,””Quidditch,””Snitch,””Voldemort,””Dumbledore,””Gryffindor,” etc., popped up in other media and showed up in endless homages/parodies….(In Stephen King’s novel “The Dark Tower,” for instance, the bad guys used a heat seeking hand grenade know as a “Sneech-Harry Potter Model.” that was clearly a combination of a “Snitch” and a “Bludger” from the Harry Potter sporting event known as “Quidditch”). The Novel Series made JK Rowling the 2nd richest woman in England-second only to the Queen. The Fandom was impressive dressing up and having parties and waiting in huge lines for book premieres each time JK published the next book in the series. A film series was only natural.

On November 14th, 2001, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone(American title)” premiered. It swiftly broke all box office records and enhanced the worldwide Harry Potter Phenomenon already established by the Books. By very smart casting, the producers were able to maintain the same actors in their roles through 8 films with one notable exception: Hogwart’s Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, first portrayed by Richard Harris(Who died from cancer shortly after the 2nd film) and was re-cast with actor Michael Gambon who continued the role for the rest of the series. Considering the series has a great deal to do with the perspectives of the students and the changes they go through in 7 years, this was a significant filmmaking achievement that paved the way for other film series to attempt to keep a large cast through a saga series in a similar fashion(The Marvel Superheroes, The Avengers being the next group of films to accomplish this(well…attempted, anyway. They succeeded if you don’t count Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk(Eric Bana, Ed Norton, Mark Ruffalo) and Colonel James Rhodes/War Machine/Iron Patriot(Terrence Howard/Don Cheadle).

OK, time for the comparison debate on which FILM franchise accomplished more.

Star Wars was/is a worldwide cultural phenomenon that paved the way through technical advancements in special and sound effects for film making and through new strategies in marketing for all films made after it to have more dynamic qualities of sight and sound and merchandise campaigns to affect pop culture. Thanks to Star Wars, and its influence, you’ve enjoyed all films with special effects done by Industrial Light and Magic(and the studios inspired BY Industrial Light and Magic: Fantasy II, Blue Sky, WETA Workshop(YES, Peter Jackson, himself, is on record saying without Star Wars there wouldn’t have been WETA), etc.) and Sound recorded by THX-1128/Skywalker Sound)…and that includes the Harry Potter Series. And I can hear Fusionater running in to remind me that without Star Wars, another film could’ve come along to accomplish this. And sure it’s possible…BUT IT DIDN’T. Star Wars did it, so it gets the credit and respect it deserves. This isn’t a debate on what COULD’VE happened. It’s about what DID happen, and Star Wars profoundly and forever changed the way films are made and viewed-PERIOD.

Harry Potter was/is a worldwide cultural phenomenon that revitalized the book industry and brought the joy of reading to a whole new generation of kids who, generally speaking, were occupied by television and video games for entertainment, instead. The film series was extremely popular for a simple reason: The producers stayed faithful to the source material and made very smart casting/directing choices. No significant technical or film-making advancements were made in the films to inspire future films. Yes, they maintained the same cast through the series, but only the scale is significant. Other film franchises kept regular casts(See Star Trek, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, James Bond, etc.). The only reason Harry Potter’s casting is significant, is that there were 8 films done, and every single character was played by the same actor(Excepting Dumbledore…but with a cancer death, that one was unavoidable). However, I believe that why other films didn’t do this before, was because of Harry Potter’s source material. It was because there were that many individual stories to tell in each film to keep a cast together for. The Harry Potter phenomenon was due to the books and the films rode on its coattails. A popular film series, to be sure, but I’ll maintain that most of that popularity was due to staying faithful to the books. All the great visual magic in the films was a direct result of the influence of Star Wars. To say otherwise is to deny and disregard historical cinematic facts.

Another thing to consider is that Star Wars achieved its success on the strength of the film, itself. There was no best-selling books for it to draw upon. There was no mammoth advertising campaign to promote it. It succeeded on word-of-mouth, and produced a cultural phenomenon that survives to this day. As I was recently reminded by James, if you walk through a Target store and go down the toy aisles for action figures/playsets and Lego sets…what do you see? Star Wars toys are still popular. Harry Potter toys have all but vanished. 40 years later, and Star Wars is still strong in the culture. 10 years later, and Harry Potter is beginning to show signs it’s declining.

So, what does the future hold for these franchises?

Star Wars was purchased by the Walt Disney Company and is in production to release the 7th film in the series. I’ve no doubt with JJ Abrams at the helm it will be faithful to the original trilogy. I predict a new surge in the fandom that will only strengthen the cultural impact of Star Wars.

Harry Potter is extremely successful in the theme park world drawing tremendous business in Orlando Universal Studios, and is preparing to open the new Diagon Alley experience. JK Rowling is rumoured to be writing additional books in the Harry Potter world that could become a new film series, that, no doubt would enhance the fandom and cultural impact of Harry Potter.

So, what’s MY feelings on both series’?

As a first generation Star Wars fan, I cannot state strongly enough how important this film was to me and all of my friends growing up. I see its importance in how films are made and how we watch them. As such, I feel Star Wars had the bigger influence/impact on the culture and cinema, in general.

However, I want it clearly known, that I love the Harry Potter series too(The Books, mostly) JK Rowling created a literary magic not seen since CS Lewis, Roald Dahl, JRR Tolkien and the works of Jules Verne/H.G. Wells. Her incredible imagination produced a world I dive into regularly when I feel like reading something great. The films are great, but didn’t have an impact/influence on cinema anywhere near on a par with the way Star Wars did…and was made possible to be realized, as it was, by the results of the influence Star Wars had on films.

In the end, I’ve watched Star Wars hundreds of times, and I’m not remotely tired of it. I’ve watched the various Harry Potter films a dozen times, and if I never see them again, I won’t miss them. I’d rather read the books.

So there you have it, my friends. This is my opinion from the perspective of the only one here old enough to have experienced the pop culture world before and after both franchises arrived. For my money, Star Wars trumps Harry Potter. If you disagree with me…let’s just see where both franchises are in another 40 years. I’ll be 85, and hopefully, alive to see I was right. Peace.

So there you have it. Les’ look on the topic. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.

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