Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed

Saturday, June 2nd, 2007

Since I had just watched The History Channel’s Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed — which revealed very little — and The Searchers — which was one of Lucas’s influences — I decided to read up a bit on the subject.

SparkNotes only mentions two major influences — neither new to me: Akira Kurosawa’s samurai movies and John Ford’s The Searchers.

Samurai movies are known in Japan as period dramas, or jidaigeki, and that is where Lucas got the word Jedi.

Lucas also lifted a number of characters and scenes from Kurosawa movies:

Lucas has said in the past that the inspiration for the characters of C-3PO, R2-D2, Han Solo, and Princess Leia could be found in Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, in which two bumbling friends help a roguish hero rescue a brave princess from captivity. More specific still, Lucas includes a direct homage to Kurosawa in the scene in which Ben defends Luke in the Mos Eisley cantina. The shot of the ruffian’s arm on the floor, severed by Ben’s blade, is a reference to a similarly severed arm, filmed in the same way, in Kurosawa’s Yojimbo.

The other major influence mentioned is The Searchers:

The scene in which Luke approaches the burned-out farm and finds his aunt and uncle murdered is shot in such a way that it echoes a similar scene in Ford’s film, in which the young hero also returns to his family’s farm to find the buildings burned and his aunt and uncle murdered. Like Luke, the hero of The Searchers is drawn into a relationship with a relentless father figure, bent on evil. And like Darth Vader, the father figure in The Searchers, played unforgettably by John Wayne, experiences a last-second moral regeneration. Like the Star Wars trilogy, The Searchers is essentially a quest story, one in which the son must ultimately redeem the father, and it also approaches the grandeur of myth.

The Wookieepedia lists some influences I was not aware of (or less aware of):

The climactic scene in which the Death Star is assaulted was modeled after the 1950s movie The Dam Busters, in which RAF Lancaster bombers fly along heavily defended reservoirs and aim “bouncing bombs” at German manmade dams in a bid to cripple the heavy industry of the Ruhr. Some of the dialogue in The Dam Busters is repeated in the Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope climax and in fact the cinematographer for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Gilbert Taylor, also filmed the Special Effects sequences in The Dam Busters.

Scenes from the Death Star assault are also reminiscent of the film Battle of Britain, particularly in showing the face of the pilot in the cockpit, and the radio dialogue between teams named after colors. Another inspiration comes from Battle of Britain‘s long combat scene near the end of the movie which is presented without dialogue or sound effects, but with a classical movie background.
Lucas has made mention of the film 633 Squadron directed by Walter Grauman when citing movies that inspired themes or elements in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. The “trench run” in A New Hope wherein Luke flies his X-wing through a “trench” on the Death Star and destroys the ship was inspired, at least in small part, by the finale of 633 Squadron, which involves several Royal Air Force planes flying at low level up a fjord against heavy, ground-based anti-aircraft fire, to attack a factory located at the base of a cliff at the canyon’s end.

It also mentions one less pleasant influence:

The scene where Princess Leia gives Han and Luke medals is very reminiscent of a long scene in Leni Riefenstahl’s 1934 film Triumph of the Will. Both scenes have large and enthusiastic crowds seated in a shallow amphitheatre bounded by columns, with a low dais where the leader stands.

Of course, Star Wars shares many elements with Frank Herbert’s Dune too.

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