Was Star Wars conceived as a “space opera” at all? I always thought it was a pastiche of pulp fiction and B series like Flash Gordon.
Technically, Flash Gordon is space opera. That is a genre that in some form has existed since the beginnings of the science fiction genre. Originally it was called planetary fiction, but it contains all the same elements, just based on a single alien world. That expanded in the 1930’s to multiple planets in one star system and expanded later to multiple star systems (Azimov’s Foundation stories were the first to take it galaxy wide). But the story type has varied very little. All the main elements of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series appear in Star Wars. Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon were hugely popular and planted the spark in GL’s mind. Reportedly he originally wanted to do Flash Gordon, but couldn’t get the rights so he invented his own. The galaxy he created is very much inspired by the greats of the 30’s to 60’s Space Operas like Flash Gordon, Foundation, Dune and many others. It seems he wanted to differentiate Star Wars from 2001 and THX-1138 (more reality based science fiction) and used space opera and then jumped to calling it space fantasy (which, when I’ve found it used as a genre, contains all the great space operas).