Stranger Things Season 4 Was Inspired By A Very Specific Star Wars Film

It's very apparent that "Stranger Things" is something of a potpourri of all the geeky pop culture stuff Matt and Ross Duffer love. You can see the Amblin influence clear as day and there are enough nods to the work of Stephen King to choke a rabid dog. So it shouldn't come as a surprise to learn that "Star Wars" also serves to inspire the storytelling of Netflix's biggest show. 

We're talking beyond a simple reference here, but ingrained storytelling influence. There's been plenty of "Star Wars" Easter eggs or references in the show over the years. The world fell in love with babysitter Steve engaging in a pretend lightsaber battle with Dustin while wearing his adorkable sailor boy ice cream slinger outfit in season 3, for instance. But what we're talking about here is deep, structural influence.

If you've seen "Stranger Things" season 4 you can probably guess which "Star Wars" film was the most influential. The central hero, who can move stuff with their mind, spends a good chunk of time training before rushing off to confront the bad guy before they're ready. The good guys lose, but escape with their lives. A crucial member of the group is essentially lost and needs to be recovered. 

You see where we're going here. Season 4 is "The Empire Strikes Back" season of "Stranger Things."

The heroes lose

The Duffers dove into the influence of "Empire" for Netflix Geeked. Here is Matt Duffer's exact words on the matter:

"I mean, this season, we always wanted our Empire Strikes Back season. We tried it a little bit with 3, but this is kind of really doubling down on the idea of, like, you know, at least 3 has a sad note. There's a sacrifice, but they've defeated the evil, or at least pushed it back for a while. Whereas this one, we wanted them to actually lose. And so we wanted our characters to experience what that felt like. And that was the big idea, really coming into season 3, right? Was that they were gonna lose, they were gonna introduce Vecna, and that they were gonna lose to him. That would be setting our characters up for war. What is gonna be the ultimate final confrontation with Vecna, with the Upside Down, which is gonna be Season 5."

Listening to the Duffers talk, it's clear why their work goes beyond mere nostalgia porn. They don't just pay lip service to their geeky passions, they understand why their favorite movies, books, and shows worked in the first place on a storytelling level. The young leads of "Strangers Things" aren't exactly The Losers Club from "It" but they evoke the same feeling because the Duffers and their writing staff knows all the character flaws and strengths that King used to differentiate his kid protagonists and made sure to do the same with their young Hawkins heroes.

Lots of people try to emulate the "Empire Strikes Back" experience, very few understand why it works so well in serialized storytelling. Judging by the pop culture takeover "Stranger Things" has accomplished recently, it's safe to say the Duffers got it right.