The original Star Wars trilogy were highly influential films that changed how science fiction films were imagined and how special effects were used. But Star Wars was not created in a vacuum. Instead, the men and women behind Star Wars blended together diverse inspirations from a variety of different genres, pulling from samurai films, wild west movies, space opera serials, and World War II dramas. George Lucas and his creative team pulled seamlessly and blended these seemingly unrelated stories in order to create the characters, worlds, and plots of Star Wars.
The films that are presented on this list all affected the creation of the original Star Wars trilogy, and their influence has been noted by George Lucas or other people on the production team. While these are not the only films that influenced Star Wars, there are clear and direct parallels that are present that connect these movies to the original trilogy.
Before Star Wars: The Force Awakens is released on December 18th, you can tide yourself over by watching these 12 Movies that Inspired Star Wars.
Seven Samurai (1954)
The films of Akira Kurosawa are perhaps the best known and most direct influences of the Star Wars films. Lucas’s use of Kurosawa’s famous horizontal wipes (to transition from one scene to another) are a clear tribute to the filmmaker. But beyond the visual similarities, Kurosawa’s characters, plots, and themes directly influence those of Star Wars.
The film Seven Samurai is especially notable in this regard, with the Jedi order mimicking the Samurai order. Luke and Obi-Wan’s relationship in A New Hope resembles that of Katsushiro, the young samurai who trains under Shimada Kambei, the wise, old ronin. Luke may also find inspiration in Kikuchiyo, a farm boy who wants to become a samurai.
Flash Gordon serials (1936)
George Lucas has said that Star Wars developed from a project that was going to be a reimagining of the Flash Gordon movie serials of the Great Depression. The series of short films followed Flash Gordon as he went on adventures in space and fought against the Imperial forces of Ming the Merciless.
However, Lucas could not get the rights to Flash Gordon, and the project evolved into Star Wars instead – though Flash Gordon continued to be an inspiration. An early draft of the Star Wars script even featured Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless dueling on the cover. This starting point contributed to multiple visual references to Flash Gordon in Star Wars, including Cloud City’s resemblance to the Court of the Skymen as well as the opening credits, which scroll upwards along the screen in.
Triumph of the Will (1935)
J. J. Abrams was not the first to take inspiration from the Nazis for the Star Wars films. George Lucas’s stormtroopers were inspired by the Nazi stormtroopers, and in large part by how they were portrayed in Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda film, Triumph of the Will.
Created in 1935, Triumph of the Will was created to support the Nazi regime. Despite its promotion of Adolf Hitler’s fascist government, its stunning cinematography has made it one of the most cited and influential films in history. George Lucas saw Triumph of the Will in film school, and it clearly made an impression on him.
In addition to its influence on the Empire, Triumph of the Will is also a noted inspiration for the final scene in A New Hope. Unnervingly, as the heroes are awarded medals for their work against the Imperial forces, the ceremony mirrors that of a Nazi rally.
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
George Lucas called this Stanley Kubrick film “the ultimate science fiction movie.” Even though 2001: A Space Odyssey does not share plot points or character types with Star Wars, it influenced the design of the original trilogy in many ways. Stuart Freeborn, who was involved in the make-up and production design of the iconic ape sequence at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, went on to design Yoda, Jabba the Hutt, and the Ewoks.
Additionally, 2001: A Space Odyssey helped other elements of design. Its use of classical music is reminiscent of John Williams’ epic score, and helped to pave the way for Star Wars‘s use of spaceship models. While Lucas’s ships are faster and louder in comparison to Kubrick’s silent and slow-moving units, the techniques that Lucas utilized were pioneered in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Metropolis is one of the earliest science fiction feature-length films. A silent German film, it is a futuristic commentary on class conflict, set in a sprawling dystopian city, reminiscent of the later trilogy’s Coruscant.
The connection between C-3PO and Metropolis‘s robot Maria is clear – the human-cyborg relations droid’s design was inspired by film’s robot, who was also gold in Metropolis‘s posters and other promotional art. Metropolis also features the droid’s inventor, who has a cyborg hand (which he covers with a black glove), just as Luke’s hand appears after Darth Vader chops it off in their duel in Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back. Finally, the inventor’s destruction, where he is thrown from the top of a cathedral, resembles the Emperor’s death at the hands of Darth Vader in The Return of the Jedi.
The Hidden Fortress (1958)
The Hidden Fortress is perhaps the most cited influence of the original Star Wars trilogy, and with good reason. Akira Kurosawa’s film tells the story of a general and a princess fighting to escape enemy territory with the help of two bickering peasants.
The whole plot of Star Wars: New Hope is clearly indebted to Kurosawa’s story. Lucas has acknowledged that the two fighting peasants helped to inspire his droid pair R2-D2 and C-3PO. Similarly, the old general and princess evolved into Obi-Wan Kenobi and Princess Leia, although that inspiration is much more loose; while Princess Yuki pretends to be a mute to hide her identity, Leia joins in the battle. There is no Luke Skywalker character in The Hidden Fortress, as Lucas expanded and changed the story to include additional characters.
Dam Busters (1955)
Dam Busters is a World War II film that tells the true story of British Royal Air Force pilots and their mission to destroy three German dams. In order to destroy the dams, the pilots were required to fly close to the war and fire bombs at the dam – if they did not shoot the bombs at the precise time that they needed to, the dam would not be destroyed. It is a repeated trope that can also be found in 633 Squadron (1964), in which pilots navigate a narrow fjord filled with turrets. This premise, of course, reappears in A New Hope, but instead of dams, the Rebel pilots are attacking the Death Star.
The similarities do not end there. Gilbert Taylor, who was the special effects photographer for Dam Busters, went on to be the cinematographer of A New Hope. Unsurprisingly, the visual similarities between the two films are striking.
The Guns of Navarone (1961)
World War II movies were excellent sources for Star Wars because they illustrated the high stakes of combat. The Guns of Navarone is a completely fictional story, although it is set in World War II, that follows a group of allied soldiers led by Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck) on a mission to destroy a pair of giant guns. If they do not destroy these guns as soon as possible, then the evacuation of the allied troops will be stopped and their men will be destroyed.
This race to destroy a super-weapon against the clock appears in both A New Hope and The Return of the Jedi, with the guns standing in for the first and the second Death Star. The X-wing pilots, and later Han Solo and Leia’s task force on Endor, are necessary in order to save their friends and allies.
Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
Ray Harryhausen was a master stop-animation animator who is most famous for Jason and the Argonauts, a masterful epic based on Greek mythology. When Harryhausen passed away in 2013, George Lucas said that without his influence, Star Wars would not have existed. Jason and the Argonauts, which brought a large number of fantastical creatures to life through stop-motion, illustrated how powerful special effects could be if correctly harnessed.
In the Star Wars original trilogy, stop-motion was used in a variety of special effects, including the chess pieces in A New Hope, as well as the tauntauns and AT-AT walkers on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. Without the influence of Harryhausen, these effects would not have been possible.
Dersu Uzala (1975)
Bonus: Jurassic Park (1993)
While Jurassic Park was released in 1993, after the original trilogy, George Lucas has said that it was the film that made him realize that the technology was available that would make the prequel trilogy possible. It was as a pivotal achievement that convinced Lucas that he could continue building and expanding the universe that he had created.
How do these films compare to Star Wars? And are there any inspirations that we missed? Let us know in the comments!
Star Wars: The Force Awakens will arrive in theaters on December 18, 2015