In The Beginning: Star Wars

A long time ago, in a state far out west, George Lucas created Star Wars.

Striking Back

One of our favorite Star Wars fan sites (and yes, we have favorites) has this to say about the origins of the trilogy:
"A critic might say, 'Oh, Lucas combined Flash Gordon with Akira Kurosawa ... and sewed it all up with Joseph Campbell's ideas on the structure of myth.' And Lucas did do all those thing, but that can't be the final answer."

OK, it's not the final answer, and we're not trying to denigrate Lucas' achievement - he's the auteur of one of the most successful films of all time, one that many critics consider the world's first "high-concept" film, and also one that happens to be completely awesome. but in terms of literary inspirations, those three sources were big ones; Lucas unquestionably based much of his creative opus on the tales he found in the Flash Gordon TV serials, Akira Kurosawa's epic movies, and Joseph Campbell's mythical archetypes. Let's tackle the three of them with the help of a fan who runs the aforementioned site, Kristen Brennan. (What, you were expecting someone more ... male?)

Flash Gordon

Brennan's a genius on this, so we're gonna let her start things off: "George Lucas often said that his original idea for the project that evolved into Star Wars was to remake the Flash Gordon movie serials from the 1930s (a 'serial' is a movie shown in weekly installments of about 10-20 minutes each). [But] the license wasn't available....Despite the plot changes, the Star Wars films are still bursting with with influences from the Flash Gordon movie serials, including the Rebels vs. the Imperial Forces, the 'soft wipes' between scenes, the underwater city with the manta ray-shaped sub and even the famous 'roll up' which begins the movie." We agree; a side-by-side viewing of Flash Gordon and Star Wars stills is downright eerie. We'd also like to throw in a word about Cloud City, which Star Wars fans know as the home of Billy Dee Williams - er, Lando Calrission. Flash Gordon also had a Cloud City, but that doesn't necessarily mean Lucas borrowed it directly. Both "cities" may be made of castles in the air, but they've got solid foundations - in Jonathon swift's famous tales of Gulliver's Travels, which also features airy domains. They, in turn, probably drew from Cloudcuckooland in the famous play The Birds, by Aristophanes (c. 448-380 B.C.E.).

Akira Kurosawa

Although Kurosawa is most famous for the Seven Samurai, that's not the movie that most directly influenced Star Wars. Lucas relied on at least two other films instead; most obviously Kakushi toride no san akunin (The Hidden Fortress, 1958) and Yojimbo (which means "bodyguard", 1961). In The Hidden Fortress, a princess in disguise must make her way through enemy territory, aided (and occasionally hindered) by two bickering peasants who are clearly the inspiration for C3PO and R2D2. As for Yohimbo, check out the scene where some rough types brag about being wanted by the authorities, a confrontation that ends with somebody's arm being cut off - and then take a look at the near-identical scenes from the Cantina in Mos Eisley, that famous "hive of scum and villainy."

Joseph Campbell

In envisioning the archetypal "hero's journey," Joseph Campbell laid out a sort of myth that's mirrored in all great quests. Here's how Campbell explained the journey, and how Star Wars riffs on it (in a fashion that Campbell approved of, by the way - he and Lucas became close friends after the first movie came out):

"The call to adventure"
Princess Leia shows up via hologram and does my "you're my only hope routine," necessitating a trip to Alderaan.

"Refusal of the call"
Luke says that nah, he really can't go, because he has to help with the harvest.

"Supernatural aid"
Obi-Wan rescues Luke from the Sand People.

"The road of trials"
Luke attempts to to wield a light saber and ends up looking foolish.

"The meeting with the goddess"
Luke meets Leia, who is decked out like an intergalactic vestal virgin.

"Temptation away from the true"
Luke is tempted by The Dark Side.

"Atonement with the father"
"Luke, I am your father," anyone? (Actually, that's not the real line from the movie, but bear with us.)

Luke becomes a Jedi, kicks some serious tail.


The article above was reprinted with permission from mental_floss' book In the Beginning.

From Big Hair to the Big Bang, here's a Mouthwatering Guide to the Origins of Everything by our friends at mental_floss.

Did you know that paper clips started out as Nazi-fighting warriors? Or that cruise control was invented by a blind genius? Read it all in the book!

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JC's myth structure was only one part of a complex machine. Besides the Hero's Journey, we also get the Western mythos, a healthy dollop of Nazi regime mythos, American Dream mythos, and drag racing philosophy.

Sublimely woven between these threads is the more universal theme of human tendency to be unable to break the bonds of who we are, to not be free. That was Lucas' intended message.
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yeah, i'm with gailpink on this one. dune was a large "influence" on lucas. the original star wars screen play even has some dune references in it.

(tattoine was called arrakis)

lucas just rips off everything.

but that's not necessarily an illegitimate practice.
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