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Celebrating 40 years of Star Wars

The Force was definitely with this breakthrough film from the moment it hit movie theaters in 1977. These were the droids we were looking for.

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Forty years ago, two words flashed on movie screens and forever shifted the world's cultural landscape: Star. Wars.

The movie opened in theaters on May 25, 1977, and created an instant sensation with its groundbreaking special effects, rousing adventure, inspiring heroes and chilling villains. It made household names of George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford -- not to mention Darth Vader, C3-PO, R2-D2 and the countless aliens and adventurers of the Star Wars universe. And it became a cultural touchstone for a generation.

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From the moment the curtain went up 40 summers ago, "Star Wars" -- later retitled "Episode IV: A New Hope" -- was more than a movie. It was a phenomenon, giving birth to a multimedia empire of movies, TV shows, books, comics and video games. From the original trilogy to the prequels, the infamous Holiday Special to the Lego Star Wars universe, that first film paved the way for modern blockbuster franchises.

Star Wars even has its own annual holiday. On this special May the 4th, we kick off a monthlong special series exploring the many ways the sci-fi mega-franchise has impacted our lives.

We'll have a galaxy's worth of personal memories, photos, videos and interviews right up to the actual anniversary. We'll visit the theaters and drive-ins of the '70s, and hear from fans of all ages, including some who've been inspired to make their own movies based on the mythic space saga. And we'll find out how appearing in the original film changed the lives of those involved.

We kick off our look at Star Wars at 40 with CNET writer Bonnie Burton's inside story of a decade working at Lucasfilm and an interview with special effects pioneer John Dykstra, head of the Industrial Light and Magic team that won an Oscar and revolutionized the industry.

The Force isn't just with us. It's stronger than ever.

Crowd Control: A crowdsourced science fiction novel written by CNET readers.

CNET Magazine: Check out a sampling of the stories you'll find in CNET's newsstand edition.