Dec 12, 2013

What influence has Steven Spielberg had on Star Wars? Quite a lot actually....

spielberg and lucas on a film set

The influence of Steven Spielberg on George Lucas and Star Wars

Steven Spielberg is arguably one of the most popular and talented film makers there is. They invented the word blockbuster because of his film Jaws. Literally people queued up around the block to see the 1975 movie!

Spielberg went on to create wonderful films including science fiction gold such as E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, A.I. and Minority Report. Not too forget his other works such as the Oscar winning Shindler'sList, Saving Private Ryan or this author's favourite Spielberg movie, Empire ofthe Sun.

So why are we talking about Steven Spielberg on a Star Wars fan site? What's the connection to George Lucas? What influence has he had?

There's many connections (other than a great friendship) - four of them are some films that all feature a certain whip wearing character called Indiana Jones. You see, Spielberg directed those movies but they were largely George Lucas productions - he wrote and produced them to satisfy his desire to capture the magic of the films that had inspired him as a child.

Spielberg once said "With Star Wars, George put the butter back into the popcorn.” which is possibly the greatest compliment one director can give another.

So the connection between Spielberg and Lucas is very real and very close. They've made movies together so surely they must have had the odd chat with each other about the movies they've made?

Of course they have and this has lead to Spielberg have some influence over the direction in which George Lucas took the Star Wars films - after all, if one of your greatest friends is a fan of your work and ideas and is actually one of the world's greatest directors in his own right, you'd totally take some of his suggestions and ideas on board!

So lets look at some of the actual influences that Steven Spielberg has had on the Star Wars universe.

A New Hope, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a certain bet

Let's start with an indirect one. After making THX1138 and the acclaimed American Graffiti, Lucas had made a name for himself in Hollywood and was working on production of Star Wars.

At a similar time Spielberg was producing Close Encounters of the Third Kind. George was a bit nervous about how Star Wars was going to turn out and during a set visit to Spielberg's film expressed such concerns. Steven promptly backed his friend so much so he suggested they swap royalty points on each other's films by way of a bet that each other's film would do better. Fearing a flop with his own movie, Lucas agreed. 

While Encounters did pretty well at the box office, Spielberg actually cleaned up on Star Wars and it's now the stuff of legend that he actually has made over 46 million dollars to date from Star Wars and he didn't even have to lift a finger to do it! Has an easier 46 million bucks ever been made from a set visit by a friend?

Da na. Da na. Da na!

Let's go back to Jaws, the first film we mentioned. Other than the shark, Bruce was his name, eating Captain Quint, one of the most famous parts of that movie was the music. The classic two note motif was the work of a composer called John Williams.

It was Spielberg that suggested and introduced Williams to Lucas to score the music of Stars Wars. Given Williams' subsequent score has become one of the most famous, if not the most famous movies scores of all time, Spielberg's influence on Star Wars was massive enough for this alone!

The Phantom Menace

A really simple one is the reference Lucas put into The Phantom Menace - in a key scene that features the Senate debate some point, if you look closely, you can spy a few characters that look like the loveable alien from Spielberg's E.T. film. Indeed, one of the lil guys was called Grebleips which keen eyes may recognise as Spielberg's name simply written backwards.

anakin darth eyes revenge of the sith

Revenge of the Sith

Not many people sit through the credits of movies these days (except if it's a Marvel movie) but if you did during Revenge of the Sith you may have noticed Steven Spielberg was given a production credit as Assistant Director! Scuttlebut has suggested for years that Lucas wanted Spielberg to direct Return of the Jedi but it couldn't be sorted out due to Lucas's issue with DGA.

Lucas eventually found a way to get Spielberg on board though. He asked his mate for some help with the lightsaber duel between Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi on Mustafar and with Yoda's swashbuckling with the Emperor during the planning and development of the scenes.  This work was considered of sufficient worth that Heidelberg deserved the production credit.

The Clone Wars 

Back to Jaws again but we'll leave it to Bryan Young to report on this one:

"Jaws is no less important to those who create Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The first time I realized there was a hardcore Jaws fan on the crew of The Clone Wars was watching the thirteenth episode of the third season. “Monster” served as our introduction to the now-iconic villain Savage Opress. The homage from Jaws was subtle and CG supervisor Joel Aron later told me that he thought I might have been the only person who noticed it. But in Jaws (and in a few other Spielberg pictures) there is a lovely shot of a night sky, a quiet moment, and a falling star streaks across the frame. The moment is repeated in loving memory in “Monster” and it brought a smile across the face of the film nerd inside of me."

super 8 monster eyes

The JJ Abrams factor

JJ Abrams has been anointed as the 'Chosen One' by Kathleen Kennedy to direct Episode 7. While she and George would have made that choice, there's an awesome Spielberg link here.

JJ met Spielberg when he was a film student and they eventually become professional colleagues. JJ directed Super 8 which was an homage to the classic Spielberg films such as E.T. and Jaws (if you're wondering about the Jaws aspect, think of the slow reveal of the alien which was similar to the reveal of Bruce). Spielberg produced Super 8 for JJ.

Without the support and encouragement that Spielberg has given to JJ over the years that have lead to JJ being a very good film director, it would be very unlikely that he would found himself sitting in the director's chair for Episode 7.

It's almost certain that Spielberg was consulted on JJ's appointment as well as Kathleen Kennedy produced many of Spielberg's movies, including Indianna Jones and I think we mentioned who wrote those movies?

And that’s just the stuff we know about. One can only imagine the conversations Lucas and Spielberg have had over the years, the wise words shared and constructive feedback given. While George has got married, sold the company and wants to make ‘small’ movies again, we can be pretty sure that JJ will utilise his friendship with Spielberg as much as he can to ensure that Episode VII is the best Star Wars movie it can be, thus continuing Spielberg’s influence on the saga.