Star Wars Influences

Guerra Stellari

Star Wars, the popular science fantasy saga, and cultural touchstone, is acknowledged to have been inspired by many sources. These include Hinduism, Qigong (‘Life Energy Cultivation’), Greek philosophy, Greek mythology, Roman history, Roman mythology, parts of the Abrahamic religions, Confucianism, Shintō, and Taoism, not to mention countless cinematic precursors including Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone.

George Lucas has said that chivalry, knighthood, paladinism, and related institutions in feudal societies inspired some concepts in the Star Wars movies, most notably the Jedi Knights. The work of the mythologist Joseph Campbell, most notably his book ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces,’ directly influenced Lucas, and was what drove him to create the ‘modern myth’ of ‘Star Wars.’ The supernatural flow of energy known as The Force is believed to have originated from the concept of prana, or ki/qi/chi, ‘the all-pervading vital energy of the universe.’

Other motifs that were important in making ‘Star Wars’ include sins of the father and redeeming the father, coming of age, and exiting the ordinary world.

‘A New Hope’ includes many elements derived from the 1936 Universal serial ‘Flash Gordon’—the original property George Lucas had sought to license before making the first ‘Star Wars’ film—and its sequel, ‘Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe’ (involving the infiltration of a megalomaniacal outer-space Emperor’s fortress by two heroes disguised in uniforms of soldiers). Ming the Merciless’ deadly, hostile planet Mongo is comparable to the Emperor’s Death Star, and other similarities include a sexy, sometimes scantily-clad brunette space Princess whom the hero defends (Princess Leia/Princess Aura), a big, strong, hairy, animal-like ally (Chewbacca/Prince Thun of the Lion Men), a fearsome monster found underground and/or fought in an arena by the hero (the Rancor/the Gocko or Orangopoid) a city in the sky ruled by someone who originally works with the villains but later joins the heroes, ray-guns, and dogfighting spaceships. The opening text crawl of ‘Star Wars’ is in the same style as the text openings of each chapter of the ‘Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe’ serial.

In the Akira Kurosawa movie ‘Dersu Uzala’ that came out 1975, just two years before the first ‘Star Wars’ movie, there are two scenes that bear a striking resemblance to scenes in ‘Star Wars.’ The first is The Captain and Dersu looking out over the horizon, seeing both the setting sun and the rising moon at the same time. This is very much like when Luke Skywalker stares out on the sky with binary suns in ‘A New Hope.’ The other scene is when Dersu and the Captain are suddenly caught in a blizzard, and they have to quickly build a shelter to spend the night, to survive the cold. The Captain collapses from the cold and Dersu has to drag and stuff him in to the shelter. This is very similar to the scene in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ where Han Solo cuts a tauntaun open and stuffs the unconscious Luke into it, when they get caught in a blizzard on the snow planet Hoth.

The costume for Darth Vader was visually inspired by the character ‘The Lightning’ in the Republic Pictures serial ‘The Fighting Devil Dogs.’ The Lightning also had an army of white-armored stormtroopers and flew through the sky in a large triangular airship (the ‘flying wing’). Darth Vader’s need to wear his helmet to breathe recalls the oxygen helmets of the underground-dwelling Muranians in the 1935 Mascot serial ‘The Phantom Empire,’ which are required by the caped Thunder Riders to be able to breathe on the surface.

‘Star Wars’ was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s ‘The Hidden Fortress.’ ‘A New Hope’ features the exploits of C-3PO and R2-D2, whereas the plot of ‘The Hidden Fortress’ is told from the point of view of two bickering peasants. The two peasants, Tahei and Matashichi, are first shown escaping a battle, while C-3PO and R2-D2 are first shown fleeing an attack in ‘A New Hope.’ Additionally, both films feature a battle-tested General – Rokurota Makabe in ‘The Hidden Fortress’ and Obi-Wan Kenobi in ‘A New Hope’ – who assist a rebellion led by a princess and engage in a duel with a former rival whom they fought years earlier. Lucas also features many horizontal wipe scene transitions in ‘A New Hope,’ a technique used thoroughly by Kurosawa in his films. Similarly, the Princess trades places with a slave girl in ‘The Hidden Fortress,’ with the slave girl acting as a decoy for the real Princess. In ‘Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,’ Queen Amidala trades places with one of her handmaidens who acts as a decoy.

‘The Phantom Menace’ features a pod racing action sequence inspired by the famous Chariot Race of ‘Ben Hur.’ The climactic moment when Sebulba’s Pod attaches itself to Anakin’s Pod mimicks, almost shot for shot, the climactic moment of the scene in ‘Ben Hur’ when Messala accidentally locks wheels with Ben Hur.

Lucas has also cited John Ford’s ‘The Searchers’ and David Lean’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ as references for the style—if not the story—used in the films. A more direct homage to ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ occurs in ‘Attack of the Clones,’ as Padme and Anakin talk while walking around the Theed palace on Naboo. It was filmed at the Plaza de España in Seville, Spain, which in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ was the site of the British Army headquarters in Cairo, and was shot in the exact manner as the scene in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ where Allenby (Jack Hawkins) and Dryden (Claude Rains) discuss whether to give artillery to Lawrence’s Arab troops. In the same film, Padme and Anakin also retreat to an estate called Varykino – the name of the Gromeko family estate in ‘Doctor Zhivago.’ A reference to ‘The Searchers’ occurs in ‘A New Hope,’ when Luke discovers the burning moisture farm, while the Tusken Raiders sequence in ‘Attack of the Clones’ recalls the climax of ‘The Searchers.’ Han’s showdown with Greedo in A New Hope resembles a scene in another John Ford movie, ‘Cheyenne Autumn.’

Lucas is also a fan of Sergio Leone’s film ‘Once Upon a Time in the West,’ and according to Leone’s biographer, Christopher Frayling, he listened to the score from Leone’s film while editing ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’ Some film critics consider Vader’s first appearance in ‘A New Hope’ as being an ‘homage’ to the introduction of Henry Fonda’s villainous Frank in the Leone film.

The death scene of Yoda in ‘Return of the Jedi’ is taken almost shot-for-shot from the death scene of the similarly mystical High Lama in Frank Capra’s ‘Lost Horizon’ (Yoda and the High Lama also both share a diminutive form and odd cadence of speech).

Lucas has said that the space battles in ‘A New Hope’ were based on filmed World War I and World War II aerial dogfights. The attack on the Death Star in the climax of ‘A New Hope’ is similar in many respects to the strategy of Operation Chastise from the 1954 British film, ”The Dam Busters.’ Rebel pilots have to fly through a trench while evading enemy fire and drop a single special weapon at a precise distance from the target in order to destroy the entire base with a single explosion; if one run fails another run must be made by a different pilot. Some scenes from the ‘A New Hope’ climax are very similar to those in ‘The Dam Busters’ and some of the dialogue is nearly identical in the two films. These scenes are also heavily influenced by the action scenes from the fictional wartime film ‘633 Squadron.’ That film’s finale shows the squadron’s planes flying down a deep fjord while being fired at along the way by anti-aircraft guns lining its sides. George Lucas has stated in interviews that this sequence inspired his ‘trench run’ sequence.

‘A New Hope’ shares at least one similarity with the classic 1942 film ‘Casablanca.’ A fez was placed on Jabba the Hutt’s head as an homage to the heavyset Signor Ferrari. The march on the Jedi Temple sequence in ‘Revenge of the Sith’ is a direct tribute to Sergei Eisenstein’s ‘Potemkin Stairs’ montage in ‘The Battleship Potemkin.’ During Order 66, the slaughter of the Separatists and the declaration of the Galactic Empire are reminiscent of the montage of massacres during the christening scene of ‘The Godfather,’ a film directed by his friend and mentor Francis Ford Coppola. They are similar in the christening of one (the baby and the Empire) with the death of a group of others (the other dons and the Separatists).

The robot in Fritz Lang’s 1927 film ‘Metropolis’ inspired the look of C-3PO (although C-3PO is golden and male).

Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov stated on several occasions that George Lucas’s galaxy-wide Empire bore a close resemblance to the galaxy depicted in his ‘Foundation Series.’ The greatest differences are that Asimov’s Galaxy contains almost no robots and no non-human aliens. Asimov addressed both issues directly in the saga’s later volumes. Since Asimov’s death in 1992, the ‘Star Wars’ cinematic universe has gained new Asimov-esque elements: ‘The Phantom Menace’ introduced the planet Coruscant, which bears a close resemblance to Asimov’s city-planet, Trantor (Coruscant technically originated from ‘Heir to the Empire’ by Timothy Zahn, a ‘Star Wars Expanded Universe’ novel published in 1991).

In a 2005 interview, George Lucas was asked the origins of the name ‘Darth Vader,’ and replied: ‘Darth is a variation of dark. And Vader is a variation of father. So it’s basically Dark Father.’

The stormtroopers from the movies share a name with the Nazi stormtroopers. Imperial officers’ uniforms also resemble some historical German Army uniforms and the political and security officers of the Empire resemble the black clad SS down to the imitation silver death’s head insignia on their officer’s caps. World War II terms were used for names in ‘Star Wars’; examples include the planets Kessel (a term that refers to a group of encircled forces), a Chancellor as the leader, and Hoth (Hermann Hoth was a German general who served on the snow laden Eastern Front) and Tatooine (Tatouine – a province south of Tunis in Libya, roughly where Lucas filmed for the planet. Libya was a WWII arena of war). The Great Jedi Purge alludes to the events of The Holocaust, the Great Purge, the Cultural Revolution, and the Night of the Long Knives. In addition, Lucas himself has drawn parallels between Palpatine and his rise to power to historical dictators such as Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Adolf Hitler. The final medal awarding scene in ‘A New Hope,’ however, references Leni Riefenstahl’s ‘Triumph of the Will.’

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