Imperial Stormtroopers. Photo by Brian McGowan, courtesy of Unsplash.
It’s been 44 years since A New Hope hit theaters, yet Star Wars seems to have an almost miraculous ability to generate new fans. George Lucas — and now Disney — created a franchise that keeps reinventing itself while remaining true to the original vision. With so many years since its debut and swaths of new fans discovering Star Wars each year, many might not recognize the films that inspired their favorite space opera. Skipping over classics such as Casablanca, Yojimbo, and The Magnificent Seven, here are five more films that directly contributed to Star Wars.
It’s no secret that George Lucas was heavily influenced by samurai movies. Between Darth Vader’s Japanese-inspired armor and Star Wars’ most famous weapon being an obvious stand-in for a katana, the entire saga is dripping with samurai imagery. Perhaps the most apparent Japanese film to influence Lucas was Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. The film follows the “two lowest characters,” similar to R2-D2 and C-3PO, who provide comic relief to an odyssey that includes a princess in hiding, vast panoramic vistas, and a world mired in war. The iconic wipe transition that is now closely associated with Star Wars was also taken straight from Kurosawa. When the two films are viewed together, the similarities between them are impossible to miss.
Westerns were equally as influential to Star Wars as samurai films were. Perhaps no Western has as glaring an influence as The Searchers. John Ford’s 1956 classic starring John Wayne tells the story of Ethan Edwards, a retired soldier whose brother and family are killed, causing him to reluctantly don his guns once again and embark on a quest to rescue the family’s kidnapped daughter. Beyond the almost identical plot that kicks Luke Skywalker’s three-film journey into motion, the films look undeniably similar. Luke’s adopted home on Tatooine bears an unmistakable resemblance to Monument Valley, and the discovery of his murdered family is virtually identical to Edward’s discovery in The Searchers.
This British World War II film follows a squadron of Royal Air Force bombers on its mission to destroy critical infrastructure in Nazi Germany. The film builds tension by quick-cutting between cockpits and enemy targets. Parts of the attack on the Death Star at the end of A New Hope are almost shot-for-shot re-creations of the climactic air battle in The Dam Busters. Even the mission planning and dialogue between the pilots are overt salutes to The Dam Busters. The impressive air combat that makes its way into every Star Wars film can trace its inspiration back to Michael Anderson’s 1955 war film.
George Lucas borrowed a long list of things from the Flash Gordon comics: two heroes sneaking under the enemy’s nose while disguised as soldiers (perhaps both movies got this idea from The Lord of the Rings), a furry sidekick, a sexy princess in distress who also happens to be the villain’s daughter, and a beautiful city in the clouds, to name a few. The most obvious similarity between the two films, though, is the opening crawl. The bright yellow text sets the stage for the audience in almost every Star Wars film, but it wasn’t an original idea. Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe did it first; Star Wars just perfected it.
Fifteen years before George Lucas began work on A New Hope, Peter O’Toole starred in what is widely considered one of the greatest films ever made. Beyond both movies being a version of “the hero’s journey,” they share a striking resemblance. Lawrence of Arabia has some of the most beautiful cinematography in film history. Sprawling landscapes that make characters and audiences alike feel minuscule work just as well on Tatooine as they did in the Arabian desert. George Lucas even decided to shoot a scene from Attack of the Clones at the Plaza de España, the same location used for an identical scene in Lawrence of Arabia. Both films use gorgeous architecture and the desert’s natural beauty to enhance their stories.
Whether George Lucas is paying homage to his favorite films or taking other directors’ creativity and rebranding it as his own is debatable. What’s not up for discussion is that Star Wars takes some of the best elements of classic movies and perfectly weaves them together, resulting in one of the most successful film franchises of all time.
Mac Caltrider is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He served in the US Marine Corps and is a former police officer. Caltrider earned his bachelor’s degree in history and now reads anything he can get his hands on. He is also the creator of Pipes & Pages, a site intended to increase readership among enlisted troops. Caltrider spends most of his time reading, writing, and waging a one-man war against premature hair loss.
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