PT Dilloway was right that Star Wars helped revive the Wagnerian practice of leitmotif, which specifically means the practice of having one particular piece of music or theme associated with a character or scene, so that when the audience sees that thing the music cues them -- and changes in the music can help evoke changes in the characterization or setting. Since music is particularly effective at sticking in your memory -- think of the jingles you remember from when you were a kid -- the music in Star Wars helped cement it in your mind.
But another reason Star Wars may be central to all of Western Civilization is that, like Wagner's Ring Cycle, it takes a relatively simple story (the hero's journey) and wraps it in simple philosophy, combines it with evocative music, and sends it out into the culture. The characters in the movie aren't very well-developed; they're more archetypes than they are actual people or characters. And although it's admittedly hard to develop a character over the course of a 2-hour movie, Lucas had six films to develop Anakin Skywalker and three to develop his sons and daughters and none of them are very fully-realized people that you could read motivations into.
Instead, the characters are ciphers, letting us see ourselves in them and allowing us to feel as though the story maps onto our lives. Just as people have interpreted The Ring Cycle in many different ways, people interpret Star Wars through their own filter, seeing themselves as Luke or Leia or Han or Chewie... Rusty, really? ... and mapping the movie onto their own life.
That pull is especially powerful when the emotion is generated at a time when you're still forming opinions. Baby Boomers tend to be amazingly protective of and overwrought over Woodstock, which really was nothing -- they hold a Burning Man every year and nobody thinks that is transformative.
But Woodstock as an idea stands in the Boomers' minds as a watershed moment, the moment when they realized they could do something big and even though Woodstock itself was a blip in history (if that) it made the Boomers feel as though they were all a part of something.
My grandfather's generation had World War II. His father had World War I. The Boomers had Woodstock and/or Vietnam.
And my generation? We had Star Wars, perhaps the last time that the majority of the people my age all took part in one thing at one time (more or less.)
I wonder if Harry Potter will serve as the same thing for The Boy's generation?
Also, It's nice to think that our generational touchstones have moved on from slaughtering millions to swinging across the Death Star.
And now, the question: As always, worth 50 points:
Name the person who choreographed the light saber fights in Star Wars, and the movie in which he discussed how he did that.
Last commenter? Get 40 points.