Solo Inspirations

(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films that inspired George Lucas’ iconic universe. In this edition: Robert Altman’s 1971 film McCabe & Mrs. Miller)

Roger Ebert called 1971’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller Robert Altman’s only perfect film. Altman had made a lot of great films, but Ebert insisted that this was his only perfect one. It tells the story of the dopey McCabe (Warren Beatty) who arrives in the small, muddy mining town of Presbyterian Church to open a brothel. Soon, he’s visited upon by Mrs. Miller, a much smarter person than he is, a woman who knows how to run a brothel and knows a lot more about the world than he does.

Described as an anti-western, it’s really more of a character study, though it does fall into classic western tropes at the end with a shootout and a fire. I’m not sure I’m ready to declare the film perfect, but it’s certainly very good and its surprising influence on Solo: A Star Wars Story is undeniable. More than anything, it will help you understand Solo a lot better and make that film a richer experience.

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(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films that inspired George Lucas’ iconic universe. In this edition: George Lucas’s first two films American Graffiti and THX-1138)

George Lucas’ first two films, THX-1138 (1971) and American Graffiti (1973) couldn’t be more different. One is a bleak, dystopian science fiction film about how difficult it is for the human spirit to overcome a drug-addled world run by Christian conservatives. The other is a hot-rodding look at the rebellious youth of the ‘60s on their last night of freedom before their college years begin. Despite the wide gaps in genre and tone these films were, their DNA has been present in everything George Lucas has made and inspired.

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Solo References

One of the things Star Wars does better than almost every franchise is using new installments to add meaning to the previous entries in the saga. When Darth Vader uttered those infamous words, “No. I am your father,” Star Wars fans were sent reeling, going back to watch A New Hope to add that new revelation to their understanding of every scene. Was Obi-Wan lying in his hovel about Anakin? Was Vader lying in Empire? Had Uncle Owen told the truth and Vader had really been a navigator on a spice freighter? The revelation tears through expectations and forces you to rethink everything you thought you knew.

With Solo: A Star Wars Story, we get moments that will shade meaning across the saga. They might not have the same weight as Vader’s revelation, but what does?

We’ll go through them film-by-film and give you a deeper appreciation for what Solo: A Star Wars Story really does for the core Skywalker saga.

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han solo star wars prequels

This article contains major spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story. If you haven’t seen the movie, turn right around and walk way. Trust us. This will be waiting for you later.

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Star Wars Influences Heidi

(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films that inspired George Lucas’ iconic universe. In this edition: the family classic Heidi.)

1937 saw the release of Heidi, a classic film starring Shirley Temple and directed by the legendary silent film maker Allan Dwan. Temple, a box-office powerhouse, stars as a young orphan girl sent to live with her gruff, malcontent grandfather. In short order, the two of them form an unlikely bond and come to love each other, but soon they’re torn from each other. Heidi’s evil aunt kidnaps her and sells the young girl to a woman as a companion for an injured girl. Of course, Heidi’s grandfather sets out on foot in the harsh winter to rescue the girl so they may be reunited. Of course, a fast-paced chase ensues and then everyone lives happily ever after.

So, how in the world did this inform the world of Star Wars?

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Star Wars Influenced by Dam Busters

(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films that inspired George Lucas’ iconic universe. In this edition: the British World War II drama The Dam Busters)

When George Lucas set out to make the original Star Wars film, there were things he wanted to do on film with special effects that had never really been done before. At least not on the level Lucas needed to make Star Wars sing. So where did he turn for inspiration? World War II movies.

Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz once explained, “Before the storyboards were done, we recorded on videotape any war movie including aircraft that came up on television, so we had this massive library of parts of old war movies – The Dam BustersTora! Tora! Tora!The Battle of BritainJet PilotThe Bridges of Toko-Ri633 Squadron and about forty-five other movies. We went through them all and picked out scenes to transfer to film to use as guidelines in the battle.”

One film that has much more prominence than others is The Dam Busters. It’s a 1955 British film directed by Michael Anderson. It’s the real-life story of an Royal Air Force (RAF) raid to destroy three dams deep in German territory during World War II. Where many of the other films might have only had shots lifted for use in the pre-visualization process, The Dam Busters offered a lot more to George Lucas than that. Read More »

(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films that inspired George Lucas’ iconic universe. In this edition: Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho.)

Alfred Hitchcock was a master of suspense and one of the masterpieces of his oeuvre was the 1960 film Psycho, starring Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh. From the beginning, it tells the story of a woman named Marion Crane as played by Janet Leigh. She’s stolen a sum of money from her boss and finds herself on the run. She checks into an out of the way hotel in Arizona and meets a man named Norman Bates. This is the last man she’d ever meet. She’s murdered by Norman’s mother and then the story shifts almost completely to Norman’s perspective. Will he be able to help his mother get away with the murder?

It doesn’t sound like the sort of film that would have had a meaningful impact on Star Wars, but you’d be surprised where George Lucas and the teams making Star Wars films could draw influence and put it to good use.

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21-87 Short Film

(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films that inspired George Lucas’ iconic universe. In this edition: the experimental short film 21-87.)

When George Lucas was off at film school at the University of Southern California, he was exposed to all manner of film, from the mainstream to the experimental. One of the films that made the most profound impact on him was a short film from Canadian filmmaker Arthur Lipsett called 21-87. Clocking in at just over nine-minutes, the film might superficially seem to be a random collage of images and sounds, but these juxtapositions chosen by the filmmaker add up to create an overwhelming sense of emotion that is sure to cause deep, existential questions in viewers.

Walter Murch, a fellow student and future collaborator of Lucas’, said that when Lucas saw 21-87 for the first time, “a light bulb went off.”

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the last jedi rashomon

(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films that inspired George Lucas’ iconic universe. In this edition: Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon.)

1950’s Rashomon was the first international breakout hit for legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. He’d made wonderful films prior to that, from the tense post-war poverty of Drunken Angel to the noir classic Stray Dog, but Rashomon put him on the international map, winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Like Citizen Kane before it, the film revealed what was possible within the medium.

Starring Toshiro Mifune (who turned down the roles of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader in the original Star Wars) and Takashi Shimura, among others, Rashomon tells the story of a rape and murder over and over again from the perspective of several witnesses. The conceit is that the story changes every time it is told – everyone is convinced that they themselves are the guilty party.

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