Star Wars sources and analogues
Star Wars, the space opera saga and cultural touchstone, is acknowledged to have been inspired by many sources. These include Hinduism, Qigong, Greek philosophy, Greek mythology, Roman history, Roman mythology, parts of the Abrahamic religions, Confucianism, Shintō, and Taoism, and countless cinematic precursors.
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, especially his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, directly influenced Lucas, and is what drove him to create the 'modern myth' of Star Wars. The natural flow of energy known as The Force is believed to have originated from the concept of prana, or qi/chi/ki, "the all-pervading vital energy of the universe".
Amongst the celebratory 30th anniversary of Star Wars, The History Channel premiered a 2-hour event covering the entire Star Wars saga entitled Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed. Featuring interviews from the likes of Stephen Colbert, Newt Gingrich, Nancy Pelosi, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, Peter Jackson, acclaimed scholars, and others, the program delved further into the Heroic Epic concept and the influences of mythology, and other motifs that were important in making Star Wars. Subjects include sins of the father and redeeming the father, coming of age, exiting the ordinary world, and others.
Similarities and inspirations
- Star Wars 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. The basic plot involving the infiltration of a megalomaniacal outer-space Emperor's fortress by two heroes disguised in uniforms of soldiers of his army is drawn from Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, with Luke Skywalker and Han Solo filling the roles of Flash Gordon and Prince Barin, respectively, and Ming the Merciless the Emperor. The Emperor's deadly, hostile planet (the Death Star/Mongo), 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 were all elements retained from the first Universal Flash Gordon serial. 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 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 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. Star Wars 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 Star Wars. Additionally, both films feature a battle-tested General – Rokurota Makabe in The Hidden Fortress and Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars – 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 Star Wars, 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.
- Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace features a pod racing action sequence. This entire sequence is 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 Star Wars Episode II: 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. (Some[who?] also have considered Tom Courtenay's Pasha/Strelnikov character from Zhivago as an inspiration for Anakin/Darth Vader, but the similarities are likely coincidental.) Similarly, the chase sequence with Zam Wesell on Coruscant likely references Blade Runner; Lucas based many of the Coruscant cityscapes on Los Angeles in 2019. A reference to The Searchers occurs in Star Wars, 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 Star Wars 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. Many[who?] have considered 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).
- The attack on the "Death Star" in the climax of the film Star Wars 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 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 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 the 'trench run' sequence in Star Wars.
- Star Wars 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 potentially derives from Sergei Eisenstein's "Potemkin Stairs" montage in The Battleship Potemkin.
- During the execution of 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).
- The 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 Asimov's 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, most notably Foundation's Edge and Foundation and Earth. Since Asimov's death in 1992, the Star Wars cinematic universe has gained new Asimov-esque elements: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace introduced the planet Coruscant, which bears a close resemblance to Asimov's Trantor (Coruscant technically originated from Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, a Star Wars expanded universe novel published in 1991).
- The section of "Star Wars" in which the heroes are trapped in the belly of the Death Star and must make a daring escape has similarities to "Fellowship of The Ring". The group is unwillingly drawn down an alternative path when they discover the traditional safe route is destroyed by the enemy. The group is attacked by a tentacled monster and pursued by a resident army (Orcs in Tolkien's novel, Stormtroopers in the film). Looking for an exit, the group only manages to escape after the old wizard sacrifices his life to an evil monster (the Balrog in Fellowship, and Darth Vader in Star Wars) to buy the rest time to escape. With his last words he yells at his friends to "fly" ("Run" in modern English) instead of trying to rescue him.
- Star Wars borrows significantly from Arthurian mythology; especially with respect to plot and main character development. The life and character development of Luke Skywalker parallels that of the legendary King Arthur. Both individuals are orphans that later become heroes in their early adulthood. Both individuals also have mentors that are at a much older age and provide them guidance and/or training. Arthur was mentored by Merlin; whereas Luke was mentored and trained by Obi-Wan Kenobi prior to continuing his training and mentor-ship with Yoda. The role of Anakin Skywalker as the father of the hero, Luke Skywalker, mirrors that of Uther Pendragon who is King Arthur's father. Qui Gon-Jinn, Master Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi's roles match that of Merlin during the era of Anakin Skywalker and Uther Pendragon respectively.
- Star Wars shares many similarities with Frank Herbert's Dune, including the desert planet setting with a moisture-based economy, spice smugglers, obese interstellar antagonists, and a mystical mind control-using sect with great influence over galactic politics — Herbert himself once enumerated 37 similarities. The influence was even more distinct in early Star Wars versions, with Princess Leia guarding a shipment of "aura spice" instead of the Death Star plans. The script for Jodorowsky's Dune was circulating in Hollywood at the time of Lucas' early work on Star Wars.
- There has been a long debate among fans about the influence that comic book writer Jack Kirby had on the original Star Wars trilogy. Kirby's time at DC Comics between 1971 and 1975 was defined by his creation of the New Gods saga. This intergalactic story involved the New God, Orion of the planet New Genesis, being prophesied by the Source as the warrior to defeat Darkseid - the tyrannical ruler of the planet Apokolips, and, by doing so, bring peace to the universe and end the conflict between the two planets. Unknown to Orion was that he was the son of the evil Darkseid. Parallels can thus be drawn between the nature of the relationships between Orion and Darkseid to Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, as well as between the mythical Source and the Force. According to some accounts, Lucas met comic book writer and editor Roy Thomas at a dinner in 1972, during which Lucas described the plot of Star Wars, to which Thomas noticed the similarity between this and Kirby's New Gods, which was then already series.
- Star Wars is widely considered to resemble Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen in themes, plot elements, and music.
The stormtroopers from the movies share a name with the Nazi stormtroopers (see also Sturmabteilung). Imperial officers' uniforms also resemble some historical German Army uniforms (see Wehrmacht) 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), Hoth (Hermann Hoth was a German general who served on the snow laden Eastern Front), and Tatooine (Tataouine - a province south of Tunis in Tunisia, roughly where Lucas filmed for the planet; Libya was a WWII arena of war). Palpatine being Chancellor before becoming Emperor mirrors Adolf Hitler's role as Chancellor before appointing himself Dictator. 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. The space battles in A New Hope were based on filmed World War I and World War II dogfights.
Continuing the use of Nazi inspiration for the Empire, J. J. Abrams, the director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, has said that the First Order, an Imperial offshoot which will possibly serve as the main antagonist of the sequel trilogy, is also inspired by another aspect of the Nazi regime. Abrams spoke of how several Nazis fled to Argentina after the war and he claims that the concept for the First Order came from conversations between the scriptwriters about what would have happened if they had started working together again.
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." (Rolling Stone, June 2, 2005). "Vader" is the Dutch word for "father" (the Dutch word is instead pronounced "vah-der"), and the German word for "father" (Vater) is similar. However, in the earliest scripts for Star Wars, the name "Darth Vader" was given to a human Imperial general with no apparent relationships.
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The people give their democracy to a dictator, whether it's Julius Caesar or Napoleon or Adolf Hitler. Ultimately, the general population goes along with the idea ... That's the issue I've been exploring: how did the Republic turn into the Empire?
- Star Wars: Empire of Dreams (documentary)
- Official Star Wars website
- The Legacy Revealed Schedule
- Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed. The History Channel. May 31, 2007
- Official Star Wars:The Legacy Revealed website at History.com
- Comprehensive fansite showcasing Star Wars' origins and influences
- Star Wars: The Myth for Our Time