19 great movies that influenced Star Wars

Oct 30, 2021

Famous films that influenced George Lucas & Star Wars

At face value, Star Wars: A New Hope was a wholly original movie written by director George Lucas. 

It was a fresh take on the old tale of a white knight and seasoned wizard rescuing the princess held captive in the evil Lord's castle.

And it had space ships, lots of spaceships.

But George Lucas is the first to state that his script for Star Wars was inspired by a whole lot of stories, myths and legends and so many movies. He was a keen film student after all!

George was inspired by many things as he went about making his film. From Spock and Gandalf to Japanese cinema, he borrowed ideas in the forms of relationships, gods, religion and monsters, war all rinsed through the "Heart of Darkness" that always naws away at his mind.

A little bit of William Shakespeare was also thrown in for good measure. Most good authors do this!

This spilt over into his other Star Wars movies and so there are a lot of influences to cover. We'll focus mostly on movie references Lucas made but we can't leave out books like John Carter of Mars either!

Here are some of the key influences that went into the original Star Wars film and the ones that followed.

He even took the odd quote verbatim and put in it a new context to great effect.

will to triumph star wars inspiration

So then, The Dambusters

If you ever thought Wedge's "Look at the size of that thing" was a classic Star Wars line you'd be right. But if you thought it was an original scripted quote written by George Lucas, you'd be wrong. 

The quote was lifted straight from the classic war movie, The Dambusters.

This movie is loved by many a film maker (Peter Jackson nearly made a remake with Christian Rivers) and George Lucas loved it so much he nicked a key plot point from it and gave it a great spin.

The plot point in question is the part of The Dam Busters where Allied bombers bounced bombs across the surface of the Ruhr River to explode against the base of a huge Nazi dam. The pilots had to get their launch just right or the bomb would not blow the dam's structure at the right point, causing the entire damn to collapse. 

Sound familiar?

That's right. 

It's the trench run and the firing of the torpedoes at the tiny target of the Death Stars exhaust port!

Lucas even borrowed the line “Get set for your attack run!” from the movie and added it to his. 

Lucas then did an extremely clever coupling with the premise of the Gregory Peck headlined, The Guns of Navarone to add some real urgency to the proceedings of attacking a Death Star. 

The film is set on a fictional Greek island called Navarone in the Aegean Sea where the Nazis have built a pair of radar-controlled super cannons. The guns threaten the evacuation of British troops on nearby Keros Island.

This mirrors that the rebels left on on Yavin IV base are at risk of total destruction by the Death Star. 

In Guns of Navarone, Peck's squad of commandos race to destroy the Navarone super guns before the British transports get within their range. This also reflects the fleet's race to destroy the Death Star before it can open fire on Yavin IV. 

These two concepts worked quite well in tandem!

A final point about inspiration from The Guns of Navarone, the Death Star’s laser-firing sequence follows quite closely the firing sequence for the super guns on Navarone shot for shot! 

Rick's Cafe from Casablanca sounds a lot like a cantina we know of...

ANH's Mos Eisley spaceport sequence 45 minutes into Star Wars basically a giant riff on the whole of Casablanca. 

The central focus of that movie, Rick’s CafĂ© was swapped out by Lucas for the Cantina, which is officially known as Chalmun's Cantina

You know how this goes,  it's a place where shady under-the-table deals are made in dark corners, while Figuran Dan's swing orchestra plays that classic Catina tune and alien barflies smoking pipes drink gosh knows whatever Chalmun himself pours them. 

Smuggler Han Solo is basically modelled on Humphrey Bogart’s world-weary cynicism and they both seem to have a fondness for using word “kid”. The famous line of "Here's looking at you kid" gets spun as "great kid, don't get cocky".

Like he did with the Navaronne and Dambusters duel plot points, Lucas also shoehorned in some of Clint Eastward's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly into Cantina scene too. The Han Solo face off against Greedo is inspired directly from a scene set in a bar in that movie.

The Casablanca love does not stop there!

Han Solo demands 15,000 credits from Luke and Obi-Wan to fly them to the planet of Alderaan. This matches strangely enough to the boat passage ticket fare out of Casablanca which costs the princely sum 15,000 Francs!

Did you know that Jabba the Hutt was originally written as a part of ANH? If you've seen the Special Edition of it, he's actually been added in using CGI over the actual human version of the character that was filmed with Han Solo. 

The part was originally cut as Lucas was never happy with it. 

Jabba's character is a direct homage to Sidney Greenstreet’s cunning and portly nightclub owner, Signor Ferrari – indeed the original concept artwork for Jabba even featured him wearing a fez hat like Ferrari!

ferrari from Casblanca inspired Jabba the Hutt

Lucas's own cult film, THX 1138 has a large influence

Poster for THX 1138

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

The human populace controlled by this bureaucracy is devoid of family ties, freedoms and indeed they are 'managed' by mandatory drug control which causes obedience and reduces the sex drive of the population (humans are raised by farming methods).

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 identity. Kind of like how Luke Skywalker eventually does his own.

It's clear that George Lucas has always been fascinated by population control. His short films prior to this covered such subjects. If we relate this to power, we can see how the Emperor is demanding complete control over the entire galaxy. 

There's a part during the big chase where a background 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 is what influenced the naming of Chewbacca's species!

While the Storm Troopers are largely inspired by Nazi's the Policemen in this movie are faceless, emotionless beings that share the same characteristics.

Lucas riffed in these themes again in Attack of the Clones. Look at the clones being developed and this scene from THX1138:
thx1138 attack of the clones

Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa and his Hidden Fortress

hidden fortress poster
Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress was released in 1958 and became popular in the United States with the ‘film crowd’ and Lucas eventually studied it in film school.

The movie tells the story of a general and a princess, fighting their way home through enemy lines in feudal Japan with the help of a pair of bumbling peasants.  

Does that sound similar? 

What if you replaced the pair of peasants with R2D2 and C3PO

A princess? 

A General who fought in the Clone Wars?

Yep, Lucas took the two bickering peasants and swapped them out for what became one of the most famous cinematic pairings in history.

George Lucas explained in an interview:

 “I remember the one thing that really struck me about The Hidden Fortress,” he said, “the one thing I was really intrigued by, was the fact that the story was told from the two lowest characters. I decided that would be a nice way to tell the Star Wars story.

Take the two lowliest characters, as Kurosawa did, and tell the story from their point of view. Which, in the Star Wars case is the two droids, and that was the strongest influence."

It's also the movie that gave Lucas the idea for the famous scene ending screen swipes.

It’s no surprise then that Lucas deftly slipped in a visual reference to Akira Kurosawa’s famous Seven Samurai film into Revenge of the Sith. In the above image, as Yoda brings his hand to his head, this is directly referencing Akira's movies.

Nazis! I hate these guys!

The Triumph of the Will was a German propaganda documentary film a 1935 German propaganda film directed, produced, edited, and co-written by Leni Riefenstahl.

It chronicles the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, which was attended by more than 700,000 Nazi supporters - a key moment is Hitler entering the rally, walking up through the throng of Nazis. 
compare ending of star wars to triumph of the will

Does that long walk seem familiar?

We totally speculate that this was just the kind of film that Lucas would have seen at film school. He was ballsy enough to take that imagery and use it for the Star Wars medal ceremony where Chewie, Luke and Han walk up to receive their medals from Princess Leia!

Lucas was not actually afraid to take notes from the Nazi era - Stormtroopers are so named for the German soldiers and Darth Vader is basically dressed like a leather clad Nazi!

The Force Awakens scene where Admiral Hux addresses his troops on Star Killer base also harkens back to this era and the imagery associated with Nazi propganda. 

The Searchers and John Wayne

Recall the scene in which Luke approaches the burned-out farm and finds Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen left murdered and burning by the Storm Troopers.

This scene is shot in such a way that it echoes a similar scene in The Searchers, in which the young hero (not the Wayne character) also returns to his family’s farm to find the buildings burned and his own aunt and uncle murdered. 

The lift is direct and obvious.

The Searchers also features a young man drawn into a relationship with a relentless father figure, who seems made of evil as he hates the Comanche (but he's really just after revenge for they murdered his mother)...

Now, where have we heard a story like that before?

Ben Hur

That pod race in The Phantom Menace?

It was bigger than Ben Hur but Ben inspired it.

The fateful moment when Sebulba's own pod racer connects with young Anakin's pod is nearly a shot for shot remake of Ben Hurs’ climactic moment when Messala accidentally locks wheels with the Ben Hur character.

Lawrence of Arabia

If you’ve seen this film, you’ll remember it features a lot of sand. As does a planet called Tatooine. 

Stars Wars blog notes:

“Many moves from David Lean’s epic were cribbed for sequences on Tatooine. The shot of Mos Eisley from the distance as Luke and Obi-Wan look from on high reminds one instantly of shots looking down at Damascus.

Shots of Tusken snipers looking down at speeders moving below echo the same sorts of shots in Lawrence of Arabia”.

Sir Alec Guinness also has a role in that film too…..

Attack of the Clones makes a very deliberate nod to Arabia in Attack of the Clones. 

Remember this scene to the right where Padme and Annakin have a chat about politics? 

Clones was shot in the exact same location and mimics a conversation the characters Dryden, Brighton and Allenby have.

Flash Gordon

Legend has it that George Lucas sought to make a film version of Flash Gordon following the success of his popular American Graffiti.

Flash Gordon was full of sci-fi adventures where the hero travelled to space with a laser holstered to his side a mission to rescue a princess from a very very bad man (Ming the Merciless). Again, does that sound like a similar theme?

Lucas grew up with the serial and wanted to make a film about something he loved. 

He however had no luck getting the rights to make a movie and set upon writing his own film, which he began calling 'The Star Wars'.

What Star Wars really borrows from Flash Gordon is the concept of a fairytale in which futuristic technology stands in for the traditional role of magic (think magician Merlin’s role in many stories). 

Lucas enjoyed Flash Gordon so much it was inevitable other elements crept into the movie. 

While the ‘swipe’ scene transitions were stolen from The Hidden Fortress, that famous Star Wars title crawl marching up the screen in yellow was taken directly from the Flash Gordon serials. 

Lucas also borrowed the concept of a Cloud City!

If we briefly turn our mind to the last act of Return of the Jedi.

The movie 633 Squadron film features a heavy squadron being sent to Norway to bomb a V-2 rocket fuel plant as the main mission. A crucial side plot has Norwegian resistance fighters seeking to disable the anti-aircraft guns that protect the fuel plant. 

Does that sound familiar? 

Think Han Solo's mission to disarm the shield generator on the small moon of Endor...

Edgar Rice Burroughs and his Princess of Mars novels

John Carter of Mars book cover
Mr Carter
Burrough’s series of novels about Princess Dejah from Mars and a soldier from Earth called John Carter were written over one hundred years ago but their effect has resonated through many artistic works, including Flash Gordon. 

You can imagine then when Lucas learned about how that inspired Flash Gordon's adventures that he read up on that too!

While Star Wars was really inspired by George Lucas’s love of the Flash Gordon serial, the real inspiration comes from science fiction author Edgar Rice Burroughs.

His nearly 100 year old stories about a human that travels to Mars and falls in love with a beautiful princess are often argued as being responsible for the whole ‘green men from mars’ thing and Star Wars...

Of the film itself, Forrest Gump director Robert Zemeckis apparently turned down the chance to direct, quipping "George already pillaged all of that" with the "Star Wars" films.

In other words, most of the best elements of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars fantasies had already been "borrowed" for Lucas' space saga, and just because the film.

Lucas made no bones about how he was inspired by Rice's work and said in 1977:

“Originally, I wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie, with all the trimmings, but I couldn’t obtain all the rights.

So I began researching and found where (Flash Gordon creator) Alex Raymond got his idea: The works of Edgar Rice, especially his John Carter series of books."

Indeed, the first draft of the Star Wars follow up, The Empire Strikes Back was written by science fiction author Leigh Bracket.

She was quoted as saying:

 “I was introduced to Edgar Rice Burroughs at a very young age . . . That changed the course of my life . . . My fascination for Mars came from the fascination for his Mars.”

Check out this comparison:

leia and dejah gold bikini inspiration
Dejah versus Leia bikini comparison
Dejah Thoris, the Princess Of Mars herself, was commonly described and depicted as wearing golden bikinis and showing a lot of skin.

Is it a surprise then that ANOTHER princess wore a golden bikini in Return of the Jedi?

Probably not, so Good one George.

George also took a bit of 'naming' help from Burroughs...

Ever wonder where the word Jedi came from?

While it may have an Asian language link, the monarchs found on the planet of Mars are a titled Jed (king), Jeddak (emperor) and Jeddara (empress) respectively.

So one can assume Jedi may have come from Edgar Rice. On Barsoom a 'padwar' is a low-ranking officer.

This is not too far a stretch from 'padawan', an apprentice Jedi, is it not?

Did you ever see Attack of the Clones? 

Carter vs Clones
Did you notice that the John Carter had a similar scene in Attack of the Clones where the hero had to battle strange alien beasts while chained to the ground?

If you thought John Carter was ripping off Star Wars, think again, as Burroughs wrote this scene over 100 of your Earth years ago!

Adventures with an old and tired wizard

JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings has influenced just about a million book writers and even features in many Led Zeppelin songs so why would George Lucas not have taken some inspiration? 

At one point in the the third draft of Stars Wars Obi Wan Kenobi 's character was speaking  direct lines from Tolkien's novels. 

While that never actually filmed, it served to show that Lucas had been thinking about the White Wizard so it can be argued that there is a bit of Gandalf in the foundations of the character of Ben Kenobi.

The Maschinenmensch and Metropolis

Fritz Lang's silent movie has been described as a 'German expressionist epic science-fiction drama film'. 

The Star Wars take away here is the inspiration for C3PO.  Metropolis features a robot called Maria, a Maschinenmensch robot.

Maschinenmensch and C3PO design comparison

 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

How did the Millennium Falcon get its name?

This next influence is a bit random, so bear with us. The conceptual design of the Millennium Falcon was covered by Kitbashed and they have come up with a great theory on how the Falcon got its name.

how the milenium falcon got it's name
So there we have it - the Millennium Falcon's name was probably inspired by a combination of talking Falcon from The Maltese Falcon and combining it in a round about way with The Eagle space ship from Space 1999.... 

That's the second movie that Humphrey Bogart has been mentioned in this essay...


General Grievous's movement actions from Revenge of the Sith were inspired by a famous film vampire!

Star Wars analyst Mike Klimo has found a 2005 account from Entertainment Weekly which described that the movements of Grievous were in part inspired by Nosterfaru from the 1922 film of the same name.

This article suggests that to be the case and also throws in that Fagin from the classic Oliver Twist film also had a part to play as inspiration for a character who also ‘moves in the shadows’.

According to animation supervisor Jamy Wheless, they not only studied Nosferatu but also Bruce Lee films in preparation of the fight sequence.

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 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.

So, what the film's influence on Star Wars?

Robby the Robot is a key take-away.

When he first meets the spacemen from Earth, he volunteers: 'I am at your disposal with 187 other languages along with their various dialects and sub-tongues'. Effectively then he was a protocol droid, the same as golden rod C3PO.

Let's be clear though, Metropolis served as the inspiration for C3PO's look (more on that movie later).

There is a direct reference to this film in The Phantom Menace.

When Qui-Gon Jinn stabs the blast door with his lightsaber and the door melts this a nod to the invisible ”monster from the id” which melts through the metal doors. 

Legendary Star Wars supervisor John Knoll (he came up with the Rogue One film concept) stated in the commentary for The Phantom Menace DVD that the “The melting door scene is a direct homage to Forbidden Planet. We looked at the melting Krell door in Forbidden Planet as inspiration.” 

Here's an overlay of the two scenes (hat tip Mike Klimo): 

forbidden planets tie to phantom menace.

George Lucas also commented on this point “At the beginning of The Phantom Menace, I kind of reverse the classic monster coming through the door motif so now it’s the aliens, the droids, and all the villains who are faced with these two sorts of invincible creatures. I kind of enjoyed the idea of making the good guys invincible and the bad guys cower in fear.

As a side note, we read that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was hugely inspired by Forbidden Planet. Speaking of Star Trek, let's finish with a final reference to:

Spock, that guy with blue blood from TV

You know when Alderaan gets smashed to a million tiny pieces by the Death Star and Obi Wan gets some really tough ‘feels’ and says "I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced." 

Yeah, Spock did that first. It's the only Star Trek reference we are aware of in the Star Wars movie canon. 

Live long and prosper indeed...

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