With The Last Jedi just weeks away from its release date we've got Star Wars on the brain in a big way.
In the first instalment of a new mini blog series we're taking a closer look at the saga, beginning with the inspirations behind series starter A New Hope...
Fritz Lang's extraordinary sci-fi masterpiece remains a towering achievement, exerting its influence over practically every sci-fi movie from Blade Runner to Inception. Not only are the themes of Metropolis centrally rooted in its iconic robot Maria, one that foreshadows many of George Lucas' robotic creations in Star Wars, but its German Expressionistic onslaught of overwhelming industrial design is a clear touchstone for the Empire's all-conquering Death Star.
On a more philosophical level Lang was arguably the first filmmaker to tap into the ambitious visual potential of what science fiction cinema could do, paving the way for filmmakers like Lucas to follow in his footsteps and build their own unforgettable worlds. Plus, the design of the famous poster drips with Lang's style.
Flash Gordon (1936)
George Lucas' original concept for Star Wars was to remake the beloved Flash Gordon serials from the 1930s. Although Lucas eventually went with his own ideas and designs the influence of the latter is all over A New Hope and the ensuing movies in the saga, from the outlandish designs of locations like Bespin Cloud City to the appealingly innocent nature of its central good vs evil conflict.
How ironic that the eventual Flash Gordon movie in 1980 would itself be influenced by Star Wars, which marked nothing less than a triumphant resurgence in grandiose big screen popcorn entertainment.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Perhaps the archetypal family fantasy adventure, Oz established many of the conventions we've come to expect from our favourite screen-filling blockbusters, Star Wars included. Not only did it revolutionise the possibilities of cinema with its vibrant leap from subdued sepia to full-blown Technicolour, it's also a trendsetting buddy movie as Judy Garland's Dorothy heads for the Emerald City with the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion.
Seeing any parallels here? You don't have to look very hard to discern the similarities between Oz and George Lucas' very own tin man, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). But more than that, both films share that wondrous sense of discovery that comes with setting off on an adventure with your closest allies – just as Dorothy makes the realisation that there's "no place like home", aspiring Jedi Luke embarks on a similar quest of self-realisation in the company of C-3PO, R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness).
The Searchers (1955)
Director John Ford was one of the masters of early Hollywood cinema, with trendsetting Westerns like Stagecoach securing the popularity of the genre. By the 1950s the filmmaker was older, wiser and keen to inject darker undertones into the genre he had helped pioneer. The Searchers, with its troubling, racially-motivated John Wayne character, is a classic example, one of the finest ever put out by a studio.
Lucas pays lip service to Ford's masterpiece in A New Hope, not only riffing on the homesteading environment with Luke's desert home on Tatooine but also explicitly referencing one of its most famous scenes. When Wayne's character returns to his home to discover his relatives have all been burned alive by Native Americans, it's a clear influence on the shocking scene where Luke discovers his aunt and uncle have been incinerated by the forces of the Empire.
The Hidden Fortress (1958)
Akira Kurosawa is one of the founding fathers of Japanese cinema – most famously his masterpiece Seven Samurai was remade in Hollywood as The Magnificent Seven. (Interestingly, Kurosawa was himself heavily influenced by the aforementioned John Ford.)
The Hidden Fortress is a clear influence on Star Wars, telling 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 (analogous to the bickering C-3PO and R2-D2).
Here's what Lucas himself had to say about the movie's influence: "I remember the one thing that really struck me about The Hidden Fortress, 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. The fact that there was a princess trying to get through enemy lines was more of a coincidence than anything else. In my film, the princess is more of a stand-and-fight kind of princess. In the beginning, in one of the first drafts, I did have a little bit more of her and a Jedi, an older Jedi, trying to escape, but then it evolved into the story of Luke."
Battle of Britain (1969)
Those seat-gripping Star Wars dogfight sequences had to spring from somewhere. An avid fan of ripping British wartime yarns, Lucas acknowledged the influence of the remarkable aerial photography from all-star epic Battle of Britain, grafting the recognisable wartime spectacle onto an outer-space environment.
Lucas watched numerous WWII movies in preparation for the battles between X-wings and the forces of the Empire, right down to mirroring the patterns of verbal communication ("there's too many of them!").
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