To the children of the 1970s and 1980s, George Lucas’ authentic Star Wars trilogy seemed like it came towering, fully formed, out of that galaxy far, far away, and its intoxicating combination of mythology and souped-up, effects-fueled activity has made it one of the most frequently influential sagas to come out of Hollywood over the previous 40 years — as evidenced by the deafening buzz that accompanies every new episode in the franchise. However, of course Lucas, like each filmmaker, stood on the shoulders of giants to build his masterpiece, also with this feature, we look back on some of the most apparent strands of Star Wars‘ DNA.
The Hidden Fortress (kakushi-toride No San-akunin)
A princess and a scoundrel on a mission behind enemy lines, using a pair of squabbling nincompoops helping them along the way. Sound familiar? To anyone who is seen Star Wars, Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 classic The Hidden Fortress will bear several distinct similarities, not the least of which is how — as George Lucas later pointed out — they’re both told from the point of view of “both smallest characters.” Loose storyline similarities aside, there are distinct parallels between Star Wars and The Hidden Fortress, perhaps most notably Kurosawa’s deft manner with kinetic activity (there’s a horse chase whose swooping excitement are not completely dissimilar from the Death Star battle) and also their shared fondness for display wipe transitions. It’s been argued that the similarities between The Hidden Fortress and Star Wars are overstated through the years, but there’s no denying that there are a lot of good reasons why the Washington Post’s Rita Kempley known as Fortress the “panoramic odyssey that inspired” Lucas’ saga.
Director John Ford prompted a ton of filmmakers across several productions — such as the above Akira Kurosawa — along with his shadow looms large over the Skywalker family saga told during the first six Star Wars movies, primarily through the chapters that take place on the desert world of Tatooine. Its desolate landscape conveys different echoes of Ford’s The Searchers, in which a homesteader embarks on a grueling quest for revenge after his family is accepted by natives — only as Anakin does at the prequels upon discovering the kidnapping of his mother Shmi. Anakin’s return to Tatooine and slaughter of the Tusken Raiders who took Shmi is basically a sped-up version of The Searchers, along with our glimpses of Tatooine at A New Hope — especially the unforgettable sight of young Luke returning for his own family farm to find it in smoldering ruins — overlook an obvious debt to Ford’s somber, sun-baked classic.
The Dam Busters
George Lucas attracted plenty of war films for inspiration when casting the climactic battle strings for Star Wars, although watching the Rebels’ first series on the Death Star, there’s one movie that stands out specifically: 1955’s The Dam Busters, in which a squadron of Allied fighters lays out to blow up German dams by flying via a trench and dropping bombs in just the ideal time, angle, and speed to deliver their payloads leaping across the ground and to the walls. The story puts up an almost unbearably tense ultimate action, from which Lucas borrowed liberally — not just visually (with the aid of A New Hope cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, who managed The Dam Busters‘ unique effects) but fundamentally, lifting lines of dialog like “Get set for your assault operate” and “Look at how big that thing.”
Metropolis acts as a fundamental building block for cinematic sci-fi in general, so it’s essentially a matter of course that Fritz Lang’s classic magnum opus would apply some substantial impact on Star Wars — also on storyline grounds, that’s arguably quite true, from Metropolis‘ depiction of some fringe element desperately in chances against a ruling class to the addition of a principal character using a mechanical hands. However, Star Wars‘ largest debt to Metropolis could be the visual design of Maschinenmensch, the legendary female robot whose looks were clearly never away from artist Ralph McQuarrie’s head while he was producing his concept artwork for C-3PO. Naturally, at this time, George Lucas’ adorable jabbering droid is much better known to the mainstream crowd than anything from Metropolis, however even in the event that you’ve never found it, take our word on this — Luke’s trusty golden-plated companion is a descendant of theatre’s original legendary robots.
Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe
George Lucas was so enamored of this 1936 Flash Gordon movie serial he tried optioning the rights to a new adaptation from producer Dino de Laurentiis — even when these meetings had turned out otherwise, he may have put his own stamp on the cosmopolitan comic franchise instead of opting to set out on his own using Star Wars. It is therefore unsurprising that Lucas’ trademark trilogy ended up bearing the distinct stamp of the Gordon movies, utilizing recognizable filmmaking touches like the opening title creep and “soft wash” scene adjustments as well as storyline elements, for example Chewbacca (an analog of Flash’s leonine pal Prince Thun) and also our heroes’ infiltration of the Death Star in disguise. Contemplating how well things turned out using Star Wars, he likely would have put together a killer Flash Gordon, however do not feel too terrible for Flash — he did, after all, make his own 1980 movie, along with something Luke Skywalker never had: Queen on the soundtrack.
Triumph des Willens (Triumph Of The Will)
The original Star Wars trilogy’s arc pits rebels — our heroes — against a plainly authoritarian regime, however the general saga’s perspective seeing power and those who wield it is not anywhere near as absolute as the kids of 1977 might have guessed while watching X-wing fighters swoop into these Death Star trenches. In actuality, as we found from the prequel trilogy, the Empire was the Galactic Republic, and just morphed to the police say of A New Hope and outside via a matter of officially commissioned degrees. The line between democracy and fascism is not necessarily as sterile as we’d like to think — that is the reason why it’s sort of fitting that the joyous denouement of this very first episode, in which our protagonists are paraded through a room filled with soldiers and awarded medals for their heroism, conveys direct visual echoes of a spectacle out of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, in which Hitler and his generals march before a enormous military standing in attention.