There is perhaps no other film series in the history of cinema that has had an effect on the industry as considerable as Star Wars, with the creation of the all-encompassing universe, involving merchandise, spin-offs and a continuing series of films now seen as the benchmark of successful mainstream filmmaking. Featuring bombastic action sequences, eccentric characters and a flurry of real-world excitement, much of the success of George Lucas’ series rubbed off on the remainder of 20th century cinema.
Forcing the shift of filmmaking from an auteur-led experience, to an entrepreneurial model, George Lucas evolved the way in which movies were made, marketed and distributed, creating a breeding ground of merchandise and fan-culture in which Star Wars was packaged as an experience.
The original star-hopping sci-fi, now known as A New Hope to modern audiences instilled an unprecedented sense of adventure and wider exploration where characters mention unknown events such as ‘The Clone Wars’; pure titillation for any excitable Star Wars fan.
This universe wasn’t constructed from the inner workings of Lucas’ own mind, however, with the filmmaker taking inspiration from some of the finest films of the early century, as well as a few science-fiction thrill rides. Having influenced a countless amount of movies from the excitement of its own legacy, let’s take a look into ten films that inspired the original Star Wars and helped to start a global phenomenon.
10 films that inspired the original Star Wars
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (Nathan Juran, 1958)
The work of the American animator and special effects artist Ray Harryhausen is known as some of the most seminal work in all of early-stop motion animation, with his influence spreading far and wide. Phil Tippett, the visual effects supervisor for Star Wars, saw the film as a child and named it as the one movie that sparked his love for cinema, influencing his eventual career.
The influence of Tippett and his adoration for The 7th Voyage of Sinbad can be seen in the holo chess game in A New Hope as well as in the animation of the Tauntauns and the towering AT-ATs.
The Dam Busters (Michael Anderson, 1955)
An incredible film and unbelievable story in its own right, Michael Anderson’s 1955 war movie tells the story of how the British dismantled German dams in WWII using a new ingenious bouncing bomb that glided bumped the water. Sharing much with the 1977 science fiction movie, Lucas borrowed many visual references and even several moments of dialogue.
Taking charge of the special effects in both movies, Gilbert Taylor was responsible for many of these similarities, as well as Stuart Freeborn who worked on the makeup for both films.
Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe (Ford Beebe, Ray Taylor, 1940)
One of George Lucas’ most significant inspirations was not a film at all, but a series, Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe by Ford Beebe and Ray Taylor, to be precise. Inspired by everything from the show’s opening title crawl to its bombastic space opera narrative, Star Wars also borrowed Flash Gordon’s keen interest in evil emperors, cunning princesses and unlikely heroes.
Speaking in an interview with Leonard Maltin, Lucas stated, “The original impetus for the whole thing was, I used to watch a serial on television called Adventure Theatre, and they had Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe on it and I used to love that. So I went off and wrote my own space opera”.
Forbidden Planet (Fred M. Wilcox, 1956)
The sounds and epic score of the Star Wars universe have become some of the series’ most beloved aspects, with the beeps, squeaks and futuristic blaster effects helping the movie to appear both lovingly homemade and thrillingly ahead of its time. Much of this is down to the innovation of Fred M. Wilcox’s 1956 movie, Forbidden Planet starring a young Leslie Nielsen, that is still recognised today as an early pioneer of the sci-fi soundtrack.
Inspired by the film, sound designer Ben Burtt infused his own original, imaginative sound effects into Star Wars, avoiding cliche to create a truly groundbreaking soundscape, undoubtedly inspired by the work of Forbidden Planet.
The Guns Of Navarone (J. Lee Thompson, 1961)
War movies were a key genre of inspiration for George Lucas in the creation of the Star Wars universe, with the J. Lee Thompson film The Guns Of Navarone being a significant text of influence. Telling the fictional story of a group of allied soldiers in WWII who are sent on a mission to destroy a pair of large guns, or risk catastrophic disaster, the plot of the film shares a striking resemblance to the finale of A New Hope.
Essentially a war movie, disguised with hundreds of bells and whistles, Star Wars borrows from many WWII films, taking the idea of a team sent to destroy a giant weapon for use in the first film in the franchise, as well as the 1983 film Return of the Jedi.
The Hidden Fortress (Akira Kurosawa, 1958)
The filmmaking of Akira Kurosawa had a significant effect on the early concepts for Lucas’ Star Wars, with the director taking fondly to the cinema of the Japanese mastermind, particularly the 1958 movie The Hidden Fortress. Liking the underdog story of the film, along with its screen-wipe transitions, Lucas took both these aspects for use in the 1977 film among several other features.
Speaking on the influence of Kurosawa, Lucas stated, “The one thing that really struck me about Hidden Fortress, and I was really intrigued by, was the fact that the story was told from the two lowest characters I decided that that would be a nice way to tell Star Wars story which is take the two lowliest characters as Kurosawa did and tell a story from their point of view”.
Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927)
There are many narrative and visual similarities between Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and George Lucas’ iconic sci-fi, with the shared resemblance of Metropolis’ golden robot named Maria and C-3PO being the most obvious example. Such similarities do not end here, however, with the sprawling city of Fritz Lang’s masterpiece also inspiring the distant galactical city of Coruscant
Metropolis also features a death scene that closely resembles the Emperor’s death at the climax of Return of the Jedi, as well as a memorable black glove covering a robotic hand that Lucas also borrowed.
The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
The link between Star Wars and the classic westerns of old is a well established fact, with many even considering Lucas’ film to be one of the most definitive films of the unlikely genre. Though the filmmaker was inspired by several westerns, it was John Ford’s 1956 film The Searchers that proved to be the most influential, providing Lucas with environmental iconography and more.
In addition to the sandy desolation that Ford depicts in The Searchers, there are also multiple moments that directly inspired Star Wars, including one moment when Comanches murdered several characters in a raid, similar to the Tusken Raiders in Lucas’ film.
Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)
George Lucas’ creative borrowing of Seven Samurai’s plot is common knowledge in contemporary cinema, with the American filmmaker taking much of the film’s identity for use in his influential space opera. Lifting several lines from the original 1954 film, including when C-3PO says, “we seem to be made to suffer, it’s our lot in life”, a line taken from Seven Samurai; “Farmers are born to suffer, that’s our lot in life”.
Speaking about the impact of the movie on his life, Lucas told IGN, “Seven Samurai made an extraordinary impact on me…”I had never seen anything that powerful or cinematographic. The emotions were so strong that it didn’t matter that I did not understand the culture or the traditions”.
Triumph Of The Will (Leni Riefenstahl, 1935)
Disney wouldn’t feel particularly happy admitting it, but the original Star Wars, as well as many of its prequels, were inspired greatly by the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will, directed by Leni Riefenstahl. Taking the name of the Stormtroopers from the real life soldiers of Nazi Germany, Lucas also took visual inspiration from the ceremony of a Nazi rally, a scene that is recreated at the end of A New Hope.
Having seen the movie at film school, Lucas was clearly taken aback by the imagery of the propaganda piece, using much throughout his film, though thankfully the comparisons end there.