It has been almost 40 years since the original Rocky and Star Wars movies came out. Each franchise has seen a number of ups and downs since then. And now, over the next three and a half weeks, each series will release a new installment that sees one generation pass its legacy on to another. And the parallels don’t stop there…
For example, the first Rocky and the first Star Wars almost came out a month apart at the end of 1976 — just like their newest sequels are now doing in 2015. Rocky came out in November 1976, and Star Wars was going to come out a few weeks later in December, but it got bumped to May 1977 because of production delays.1
Also, both franchises have long been deeply personal projects for their respective creators and are only now being handed over to other filmmakers entirely.
The first six Rocky films were all written by Sylvester Stallone, and four of them were directed by him. Likewise, the first six Star Wars films were all co-written (if not outright written) by George Lucas, and four of them were directed by him.
The seventh Rocky film, i.e. Creed, is the first one that is not written by Stallone. And the seventh Star Wars film is the first one that is not written by Lucas.2
Interestingly, each franchise also went through a sixteen-year gap between films prior to the nine- or ten-year gap between the sixth and seventh films. Rocky Balboa came out in 2006, sixteen years after the series had seemingly sputtered to an end with 1990’s Rocky V, while Lucas released the first Star Wars prequel in 1999, sixteen years after the original trilogy concluded with 1983’s Return of the Jedi.
The new films in both franchises also feature more racial diversity. Apollo Creed was always a big part of the Rocky franchise, but the seventh film makes one of his sons the protagonist while giving Rocky Balboa the mentor role that once would have gone to Mickey (or to Apollo, for that matter). Similarly, the seventh Star Wars film has cast black and Latino actors in some of the key new roles, and… well, it remains to be seen how central the heroes of the original trilogy will be to the new film.
Well, the original films in both franchises got a lot of love from the Academy, but their follow-ups, not so much. The first Rocky won three Oscars including Best Picture, but all of its sequels were ignored (except for Rocky III, which got a Best Original Song nomination for ‘Eye of the Tiger’; it lost to An Officer and a Gentleman’s ‘Up Where We Belong’). The original Star Wars, for its part, won seven Oscars and was at least nominated for Best Picture (it lost to Annie Hall), but the sequels got just three technical awards between them and the prequels had difficulty getting nominated (the final film, Revenge of the Sith, was even shut out of the visual-effects category).
There is at least one huge, huge difference between the two new films.
Creed is a passion project written and directed by an indie filmmaker making his first big-studio film, whereas Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the first in a series of annual corporate products that will be cranked out by the Disney factory now that this franchise is no longer the personal property of the man who started it all.
Are there any other parallels I could note? If so, let me know in the comments.
November 26 update: Here’s another one: Creed and The Force Awakens are both the second films in their franchises to be rated PG-13 rather than PG. The first films that got the PG-13 rating were Rocky V and Revenge of the Sith, respectively.
1. The novelization of Star Wars did come out in December 1976, though.
2. One noteworthy difference is that Stallone collaborated with Creed writer-director Ryan Coogler by playing Rocky Balboa again, whereas Lucas has been grumbling quite openly about the fact that Disney rejected his story treatments after he sold them his company and, with it, the rights to Star Wars.