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Jan 29, 2017

6 movies that directly influenced the making of Star Wars

I was looking for a movie to watch the other night and I googled for a list of the best science fiction movies. I found a list which looked to be interesting.

Two movies caught my eye.

Forbidden Planet and THX 1138.

This seemed like a good pair to watch as I'd never watched either and one was by George Lucas and I knew the other was an influence on George as he made Star Wars.

So first up was THX 1138. I then watched Forbidden Planet which I thoroughly enjoyed.

And then I thought, I should watch all the movies that are on the record as having inspired George Lucas and his Star Wars films.

I should note that Lucas was a magpie of sorts and took inspiration from many sources including Edgar Rice's John Carter of Mars novels and Flash Gordon serials. I'll not cover them hear but acknowledge they too have had a strong influence over the Star Wars movies.

So this is, a quick review of the movies that in some shape or form George Lucas was inspired by or pinched  key plot points and designs from.

I'll try and limit each review to a maximum of 500 words or less. 

First up, I'll review Lucas's own film, THX 1138


thx1138-original-movie-poster
Poster for THX 1138

Considered by many to be a classic science fiction film, Lucas built this world where humanity appears to be controlled by some kind of dystopian bureaucracy where robots serve as friendly faceless policemen.

The human populace is devoid of family ties, freedoms and indeed are controlled by mandatory drug control which causes obedience and reduces the sex drive.

This is literally population control where reproduction is carefully managed. 

The plot follows title character 'THX 1138' as he and his female 'mate' try to escape the rat race of the future. We discover how society functions as he rushes around discovering his true identify.

George applied later applied this naming concept to Stormtroopers and the concept was more fully fleshed out in The Force Awakens when we learned Finn was only named as Poe refused to call him FN-2187.

For this viewer, this was not new territory. We've ready many science fiction novels and seen many films such as this. We wonder however how interesting this movie may have been to a fresh young mind in 1971. 

Apparently it was not a popular movie but following the release of Star Wars 6 years later, it's merits have slowly been discovered by viewers. I understand it's considered a bit of a cult film now. 

If I had one gripe, the last half an hour before the 'big chase' is quite long and slow. While some points of discovery are quite chilling (his mate's organs appear to be recycled after she is put to death) it's a hard grind to get to the end. 

If I may spoil the ending, the faceless robot Policeman gives up the chase of THX 1138 when he is ordered to do so because the allocated budget to capturing him has been exceeded by 6 percent and it is considered cost effective to let him go! It's a brilliant way to end the movie as the whole point of the movie is to demonstrate population control as governed by bureaucracy.

There's a part during the big chase where a back ground voice says I think over some kind of radio system "I think I ran over a wookiee back there on the expressway." We can only guess that this what influenced the naming of Chewbacca's species!

I enjoyed this movie and can see how Lucas was shaping up as a director. I recommend if you quite like sci-fi movies and are prepared to sit through a little bit of plodding along at points.

Bonus movie inspiration: I suspect the liquid Terminator from T2 was inspired somewhat by the silver faced robot policemen.

Forbidden Planet


Forbidden Planet poster with Robby Robot
This was a movie I had heard of for many years due to it being the origin of one of the more famous robots in science fiction (before R2D2 and C3PO came along!) Robbie the Robot.

What an incredibly strange and wonderful movie!

Released in 1956 this was the first big budget science fiction film of the Hollywood era. Apparently a bit of a flop, it quickly gained cult status and is now considered a classic science fiction movie.

While quaint by today's standards it features strong science fiction themes crossed with star crossed would be lovers. Some research for this movie reveals that it was loosely based on William Shakespeare's The Tempest which you can see play out fairly well.

The graphics and special effects were fun to see and they must have been considered pretty fabulous aback in the day. I had a hunch about it this, and sure enough the movie received an Oscar nomination for its effects.

So, what was it's influence on Star Wars?

At face value it's hard to see. Robby the Robot is the key take-away. When he first meets the spacemen from Earth, he volunteers that he could speak to them 'I am at your disposal with 187 other languages along with their various dialects and sub-tongues' which Lucas probably borrowed for C3PO. Let's be clear though, Metropolis served as the inspiration for C3PO's look (we'll watch that movie later OK?)

I'm not sure if it's my dirty mind but at one point Robby cannot be found because he was giving himself an 'oil job' which could have been a lewd joke by the filmmakers. A loose Star Wars connection is that C3PO would later have an oil bath at Luke's farm.

Nielsen and Francis from Forbidden Planet
Nielsen and Anne Frances as Alta
Of note, Forbidden Planet was the film debut of actor Leslie Nielsen, who people of my age were first introduced to in The Naked Gun spoof movies.

Forbidden Planet was a fun movie to watch. The big reveal at the end was pretty ho hum for a person who has seen 1001 space movies but the concept was brave enough for the time and one other film makers have since copied.

From some further reading, it would seem that this movie had a bigger impact on Gene Roddenberry and his work with Star Trek than it did Lucas and A New Hope.

The Searchers


If you'd asked me to name a John Wayne film that I had actually seen, I think I would be hard pressed to actually name one.
John Wayne's The Searchers movie poster
He had to find her...

So I was pleased to realise that Wayne, featured in The Searchers. This is a great Western featuring the search for two kidnapped women, being Wayne's characters nieces.

Featuring classic sexist tropes, a cliched sherif, wonderful cinematography and stereotyped Indians, this film hangs on the charm and rogueness of John Wayne.

There is also a dark underbelly to this film that sits just underneath the sprawling vista. There's racism, forbidden love, prejudice, blind anger and malice, just bubbling way, much of which comes to the boil at the fantastic ending.

I loved this movie and understand why it is considered a classic film.

So what influence did it have on Star Wars? 


To my mind, it's the return to the homestead that has been attacked. After leaving the farm to chase cattle rustlers, it turns out to have been a rouse. Ethan Edwards (Wayne) and Martin return to find the buildings burning and their loved ones dead, raped and murdered and left to burn.

Which echoes quite strongly what look sees on his arrival to the moisture farm, his fears realised.

There's some other themes that share a similar tone. Ethan was on the losing side of the war, as was Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Obi-Wan and Luke Skywalker make a similar matching pairing to Ethan and Martin, one being the vastly experienced campaigner, the other the handsome young man with a sudden mission thrust apon him.

The Guns of Navarone


guns of navarone movie poster
Original movie poster
I'd never heard of this movie until Kitbashed noted how had an influence on George Lucas.

It's a long war movie starring the impeccable Gregory Peck playing 'Mallory' as he leads a band of soldiers to seek and destroy to giant guns that overlook a strait of water that is a crucial strategic asset during WWII.

The idea is that Peck's mission is to destroy these guns to allow the US warships passage through the strait to rescue 3000 soldiers marooned on an island. The Germans are planning to attack that island and kill the men so timing is crucial.

The destruction of the guns is the key to everything.

Does that seem familiar?


Yes, Lucas was indeed influenced by this concept and adapted it somewhat for the finale of Star Wars. The Death Star (with its supergun) must be destroyed in time before the Rebel base is blown to smithereens.

That's pretty much the only influence The Guns of Navarone really appears to have on Star Wars that I could take away from the movie.

It is a fantastic movie. Peck as Mallory is an inspired character just oozing guile and brains against some pretty 'friendly' German troops. That man just possesses a cool-as-fuck gravitas.

There are some great conflicts between the characters and their German opposites and they serve for a great discussion about the evils of war and the things that men (and woman) do in times of great stress.

Q.E.D indeed, David Niven, Q.E.D indeed.

Metropolis


Metropolis movie poster
The oldest film in this list, stretching back to a 1927 release. It has been described as a 'German expressionist epic science-fiction drama film'. Directed by Fritz Lang, it's a silent movie to boot.

I quite enjoyed this movie too (there are no bad movies on this list!). Once I got used to the narrative of a silent movie I was able to enjoy the story which is basically the classic story of a brave individual up a against a giant corporation. 

For it's time, the special effects were brilliant.

So the Star Wars take away is the inspiration for C3PO. Metropolis features a robot called Maria, a Maschinenmensch robot. Concept Designer Ralph McQuarrie used the look of this robot as part of his initial design work for C3PO and the rest is history. 

Intial C3Po sketch inspired by the Maschinenmensch
McQuarrie's early concept of C3PO and companion R2D2

Maschinenmensch and C3PO comparison
 A side by side comparison of C3PO and the Maschinenmensch


I saved perhaps the biggest influence for last: The Hidden Fortress

The name Akira Kurosawa may ring a bell with film aficionados. He's considered one of the great film makers and his work is hailed by many film critics. He caught Lucas' eye while he was at film school and that was that. 

Hidden Fortress film poster.
The Hidden Fortress is arguably the film that had the most influence on George Lucas.

Let's take a step back and have a look Star Wars for a moment, let's consider it's plot.

It's a story seen through the eyes of two robots who help a princess fight an evil overlord. 

And that's the story I saw as I watched Hidden Fortress. It's the tale of two bumbling idiots as they help an exiled Princess take on an evil General.

Lucas arguably lifted the whole plot!

He also nicked Kurosawa's scene wipes and sprinkled them through out his own movie, making them his own as the general American (and world!) didn't watch Japanese films!

But it's not just Hidden Fortress that Lucas borrowed from. He took many ideas from Kurosawa's films:
  • The famous fight in the Cantina is straight from Yojimbo 
  • The hiding-under-the-floor trick is a lift from Yojimbo's sequel, Sanjuro
  • The Empire Strikes Back  features a lot of the plot and imagery from come from the Oscar winning Dersu Uzala.
  • There's a moment in Revenge of the Sith when Yoda rides in a gunship. He runs his hand over his head, sadly pondering how has Jedi Council's request of Anakin to spy on Palpatine has riled Anakin. This mimics character Kambei Shimada’s motion in the Seven Samurai, one of Kurosawa's most famous movies.

Other movie influences on Star Wars


There are plenty of other noteworthy films which I have not specifically watched for this essay including Ben Hur, The Dambusters and Lawrence of Arabia each of which have had some direct influence on inspiration on George Lucas' movies.
  • For Ben Hur, the comparison between the chariot race and the pod race are unmistakable. 
  • Dambusters features a bomb being landed in an impossible place, like the blast to destroy the Death Star
  • Lawrence of Arabia serves as the inspiration of the sand back drop of Tatooine. We also understand that Lawrence of Arabia director David Lean studied 'The Searchers' for inspiration on how to film landscapes 
  • One more Lawrence of Arabia reference was snuck into Attack of the Clones. That part where Padme and Anakin 'walk and talk' is filmed in exactly the same place (Plaza de EspaƱa in Seville) as how the same scene happens in Lean's movie. 
  • The Seven Samurai (Kurosawa again) casts a long shadow over Star Wars - while it's arguable that the concept of Jedi came from John Carter of Mars, the way the Jedi carry themselves with a noble dignity arguably comes from this movie.
  • The Cantina scene in ANH was probably inspired by the events that happened in Rick's Cafe in Casablanca. And Han Solo's use of 'kid' when he talks to Luke is possibly borrowed straight from Humphrey Bogart's character. Speaking of Bogart, have you ever wondered how the Millenium Falcon got its name?
  • The medal ceremony at the end of A New Hope is apparently inspired by Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will. Indeed, Nazism inspired much of Star Wars. Think of Darth Vader's costume design, that speech General Hux gave in The Force Awakens and of course even the name Stormtrooper was lifted straight out of Hitler's playbook.

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