From War Movies to Westerns to Saturday matinee serials, the spectrum and diversity of the films that went towards inspiring Star Wars may surprise you.
With today being May the Fourth, we thought we’d inspire franchise fans with a few older movies to add to their rotation: Films that informed and created the “Star Wars” universe as we know it.
It’s no secret that George Lucas is extremely referential; some of his references are out-and-out imitations. The Podracing scene from “The Phantom Menace” is nearly a shot-for-shot remake of the famous chariot scene from “Ben-Hur.” The dialogue was used from a British World War II movie called “The Dam Busters” (see below). Even famous characters like Yoda are said to originate in other films.
The Hidden Fortress
The best place to start is probably with Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 film “The Hidden Fortress.” In many ways, the Japanese director influenced Lucas, from his propensity for underdogs to his famous screen-wipe transitions.
Other Kurosawa films that find echoes in the Star Wars universe include the lone-wolf hero epic “Yojimbo” and “Dersu Uzala,” a film with a scene of a setting sun and rising moon. That bears significant resemblance to the binary suns scene in “A New Hope.”
Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe
It’s no secret that Lucas also drew a lot of inspiration from the old matinees serials designed to separate children from the nickels weekly. These adventure stories in faraway places were the standing for the later genre films leading up to today featuring such iconic heroes as Flash Gordon, the comic strip hero created to compete with the very popular Buck Rogers. George Lucas tried to buy the classic sci-fi serial Flash Gordon rights in 1971 but was forced to withdraw. The serial thriller Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe (1940) is a good example of this sort of film that weekly ended with a cliffhanger that appeared to spell certain doom for the hero, only to have him somehow escape death the following week.
The connection between science fiction films and westerns is well known, and certain Westerners can also claim to serve as an inspiration to the Franchise taking place in a galaxy far away. Stylistic and plot similarities to the John Ford classic The Searchers come up repeatedly in the Star Wars franchise. The hot, sandy desolation of Tatooine is an echo of Monument Valley; the kidnapping and murder of several characters at the hands of an indigenous tribe (Comanche in The Searchers, Tusken Raiders in Star Wars); and a scene of Anakin looking for his mother are taken shot-for-shot from the western.
Lawrence of Arabia
Another film that lends its style to Star Wars is the classic Lawrence of Arabia (1962) Battle sequences in the desert were particularly influential for Lucas, and he even put a clear homage to the film Attack of the Clones.
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad
The monsters created by Ray Harryhausen influenced all kinds of fantasy movies, but the stop-motion beasts of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) had a particular impact on Star Wars. Star Wars visual effects supervisor Phil Tippett saw the film as a child and decided he wanted to go into movie animation as a result. He was responsible for the holo chess game in A New Hope, and he created the techniques for animating the Tauntauns and AT-ATs.
The soundscape of Star Wars owes its unique feel to the 1956 sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet. Sound designer Ben Burtt led the film as inspiration for non-cliched sci-fi noises. Like in Forbidden Planet, Burtt avoided the typical beep-boops of space films and used natural sounds with an electronic twist to make a more organic soundscape. As most fans know Forbidden Planet, it’s a wonderful and groundbreaking example of 1950s science fiction. It was the first sci-fi film set completely in another world, and it stars a young Leslie Nielsen.
The Dam Buster
Another war movie, the 1955 British film The Dam Busters shares a lot with the space franchise: crew, visual references, and even dialogue. Gilbert Taylor helmed the special effects in both The Dam Busters and A New Hope, and make-up was done for both by Stuart Freeborn. The Dam Busters follows a group of Royal Air Force pilots tasked with destroying three German dams with a special bomb.
No surprises here. The iconic German silent film Metropolis (1927) was the inspiration for the look of C-3PO.
Well, that wraps it up for now. It’s interesting to think how so many seemingly unconnected influences could come together to help inspire the creation of a series of stories. Happy May the Fourth, and of course, may the force be with you always.