In 1971, Lucas wanted to film an adaptation of the Flash Gordon serial, but couldn't obtain the rights. He began developing his own story inspired by the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs.[b] Immediately after directing American Graffiti (1973), Lucas wrote a two-page synopsis for his space opera, titled Journal of the Whills. After United Artists, Universal Studios and Disney rejected the film, 20th Century Foxdecided to invest in it. Lucas felt his original story was too difficult to understand, so on April 17, 1973, he began writing a 13-page script titled The Star Wars, sharing strong similarities with Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress (1958). By 1974, he had expanded the script into the first draft of a screenplay, adding elements such as the Sith and the Death Star. Subsequent drafts evolved into the script of the original film.
Lucas negotiated to retain the sequel rights. Tom Pollock, then Lucas' lawyer writes: "We came to an agreement that George would retain the sequel rights. Not all the [merchandising rights] that came later, mind you; just the sequel rights. And Fox would get a first opportunity and last refusal right to make the movie." Lucas was offered $50,000 to write, another $50,000 to produce, and $50,000 to direct the film. The offer was later increased. American Graffiti cast member Harrison Ford had given up on acting and become a carpenter whom Lucas hired for his home renovations, until Lucas decided to cast him as Han Solo.
Star Wars was released on May 25, 1977. Its success led Lucas to make it the basis of an elaborate film serial. With the backstory he created for the sequel, Lucas decided that the series would be a trilogy of trilogies, with the original film retitled Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope for its 1981 rerelease. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back was released on May 21, 1980, and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi on May 25, 1983. The sequels were self-financed by Lucasfilm, and generally advertised without the episodic number distinction present in their opening crawls. The plot of the original trilogy centers on the Galactic Civil War of the Rebel Alliance trying to free the galaxy from the clutches of the Galactic Empire, as well as on Luke Skywalker's quest to become a Jedi.