The franchise began in 1977 with the release of the film Star Wars (subtitled Episode IV: A New Hope in 1981), which became a worldwide pop culture phenomenon. It was followed by the successful sequels The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983); these three films constitute the original Star Wars trilogy. A prequel trilogy was released between 1999 and 2005, which received mixed reactions. A sequel trilogy began in 2015 with the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. All seven films were nominated for Academy Awards (with wins going to the first two films) and have been commercial successes, with a combined box office revenue of over $7.5 billion, making Star Wars the third highest-grossing film series. Spin-off films include Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) and Rogue One (2016), which is the first in an upcoming series of anthology films.
The series has spawned an extensive media franchise—the Star Wars expanded universe—including books, television series, computer and video games, and comic books, resulting in significant development of the series’s fictional universe. Star Wars also holds a Guinness World Records title for the “Most successful film merchandising franchise. In 2015, the total value of the Star Wars franchise was estimated at USD $41.9 billion, making Star Wars the second highest-grossing media franchise of all time.
In 2012, The Walt Disney Company acquired Lucasfilm for $4.06 billion and earned the distribution rights to all subsequent Star Wars films, beginning with the release of The Force Awakens in 2015. The former distributor, 20th Century Fox, retains the physical distribution rights to the first two Star Wars trilogies, owning permanent rights for the original 1977 film and holding the rights to Episodes I–III, V, and VI until May 2020. Walt Disney Studios owns digital distribution rights to all the Star Wars films, excluding A New Hope.