(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films and television properties that inspired George Lucas’s iconic universe. In this edition: The classic war film 12 O’Clock High.)
1949’s 12 O’Clock High is a seminal war film. Made in the late ’40s while the wounds of World War II were still fresh, it tells the story of a beleaguered American bomber wing suffering from morale and leadership issues. Gregory Peck plays General Frank Savage, a man sent in to reform the bomber wing and make them a force feared by the Germans who they seek to bomb into oblivion. The film was notable for the empathy at which it approached the subject matter of pilots dealing with trauma. For a film made in the ‘40s, that alone made it a radical concept.
It’s a remarkable film that gets into the head of the bombers and the leadership skills needed to motivate a group of people to fly, day after day, out to their deaths.
In the lead-up to The Last Jedi, this was a chief influence commonly cited by Rian Johnson. This was one of the films he screened for his cast and crew during pre-production and production, and it’s easy to see how it would have influenced the eighth episode of the Skywalker saga. It would be easy to point to it as an influence for A New Hope as well.
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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker speculation, and therefore possible spoilers, lie ahead.
In the newly released trailer for The Rise of Skywalker, we hear a familiar laugh. Sheev Palpatine. And was that the second Death Star? How could something like this happen? How is this even possible?
Well, we’ve compiled all the scenarios, from least likely to most likely, just so you have the analysis you need.
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In the ‘60s, the author Kurt Vonnegut spoke about what he called the canary in the coal mine theory of the arts. In a speech to American Physical Society, he said, “This theory says that artists are useful to society because they are so sensitive. They are super-sensitive. They keel over like canaries in poison coal mines long before more robust types realize that there is any danger whatsoever.”
It’s a useful prism to think about art that tries to tell us something and something I thought of often as I watched Jordan Peele’s Us. Us is a movie with a lot to say. I wouldn’t dare to presume that I knew what it was trying to say, or what underlying lesson Peele wanted me to learn for certain, but I can tell you what it told me. If you’re reading this, I can presume you’ve seen Us. You know that it’s about a world of shadowy “tethers” who are linked to us down below. You know that these reflections of us have nothing and are down below for reasons we can’t begin to fathom. You know that the only thing these reflections want, at least one of them in particular, is a better life for themselves. When you throw in a healthy dose of horror and film’s final twist, you have something that’s equal parts Twilight Zone and Mark Twain.
Spoilers for Us lie ahead.
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(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films and television properties that inspired George Lucas’s iconic universe. In this edition: Buster Keaton’s The Navigator.)
Buster Keaton’s 1924 film The Navigator isn’t spoken of as often or as lovingly as the much more known The General from 1926, but it was the biggest hit of his career. It tells the story of a foppish young aristocrat accustomed to having servants tend to his every whim suddenly find himself (and the equally well-to-do love of his life) on a cruise ship adrift at sea. The two elites have to learn to fend for themselves through a series of hilarious antics. On the surface, one could watch this film and Star Wars may well never cross your mind, but it feels apparent that this Buster Keaton classic had a significant influence on The Phantom Menace.
Star Wars creator George Lucas went back to the well of silent film for inspiration when working on the prequels, which makes sense. If the classic trilogy was patterned after the cheap serials of the ‘30s and ‘40s, why wouldn’t one go back to the silent films of the ‘10s and ‘20s? It’s the same reason The Phantom Menace is dripping in art deco design that precedes the industrial war look of World War II that was common to the classic trilogy. He set the clock back a generation to create films that fit in the timeline of Star Wars while still being cohesive in design.
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Alita: Battle Angel is the latest action extravaganza from two of our most auteur-like blockbuster directors working: Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron. Cameron served as a producer, but has spent over a decade trying to get the film off the ground on his own. It was originally announced in 2003 but production of Avatar kept Cameron from committing to the project, in addition to other development issues. In 2016, Robert Rodriguez was brought on as a director and the film finally got made.
Based on a ‘90s manga series by Yukito Kishiro called Gunnm in Japan and Battle Angel Alita here in the US, the theatrical Alita: Battle Angel is a marvel of technology, offering rich visuals and kinetic action that is beyond fun to watch.
I think the merit in this film isn’t necessarily with the story and script, which is serviceable, if not bloated. And it only feels bloated in order to tee up a sequel I wonder if we’ll ever get. No, the merit in this film is spectacle.
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Posted on Wednesday, February 13th, 2019 by Bryan Young
(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films and television properties that inspired or help us better understand George Lucas’ iconic universe. In this edition: the 1952 film Neighbours.)
It’s been said that Pablo Picasso called 1952’s Neighbours the greatest film ever made. Though I wouldn’t bestow that much honor to it, it is definitely a film you need to see and holds a special place in film history and the inspiration of Star Wars. Produced by the National Film Board of Canada and directed by Norman McLaren, it won the 1953 Academy Award for Best Documentary, Short Subject. This highly political film is disguised as a loosely animated parable for the dangers of war and possession. It was shot in a style called pixilation, that was novel at the time though it seems common enough these days, where live actors appear to be animated.
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(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films and television properties that inspired or help us better understand George Lucas’ iconic universe. In this edition: Brazil.)
The 1985 release of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil was nothing short of a miracle. The executives at Universal were so disappointed with Gilliam’s grim vision of the future that they wanted to recut it and give it a happy ending, but Gilliam refused to be beaten down by the system. He fought and fought and fought until the executives were forced to relent. Ironic that a film about trying to beat the system from within and losing (mostly) was only released because a filmmaker fought the system and actually won.
Brazil tells the story of Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) as he navigates an Orwellian hellscape with bliss until his dreams become too much. When he decides he needs to follow those dreams, the society he’s lived in with aplomb actively works to destroy him. While they might destroy his body, though, they’d never destroy his spirit.
Arguably, Brazil is Gilliam’s definitive masterpiece, evoking everything he is as a filmmaker and storyteller and boiling it into one dystopian nightmare. It’s a study in stark contrasts as well. In one particularly funny (and disturbing scene) Sam Lowry is dining with his mother (Katherine Helmond) and her rich and decadent friends when a terrorist’s bomb explodes in the background. None of the rich folks seem to notice and the restaurant staff erects accordion walls around them so they don’t have to witness the world literally falling apart around them. For as big as the film is, it’s always oppressively personal. For as funny as it is, each laugh threatens to become a sob as you realize just how bleak the universe really is.
This is Terry Gilliam’s view of the human condition, it seems, and it’s as hilarious as it is terrifying.
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This contains spoilers for the most recent issue of Darth Vader.
The final issue of Marvel’s Darth Vader comicis out, and it has a lot to say about who might be the father of Anakin Skywalker. Could Palpatine have really manipulated the Force into creating his strongest apprentice?
“There was no Father,” Shmi Skywalker confesses to Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace of her son, Anakin Skywalker. This leads the venerable Jedi Master to believe that Anakin is the one foretold to be the Chosen One as part of an ancient Jedi prophecy. When he reports this to the Jedi Council, they remain skeptical that the young boy was conceived of the midi-chlorians, which were the source of all life in the galaxy and a pathway to hear the will of the Force for those in tune with them.
But the fact remains that Anakin Skywalker has a higher midi-chlorian count than anyone they’ve ever encountered. Was he a product of the Force’s will? Or were the midi-chlorians tampered with by someone strong in the dark side of the Force? In the final issue of writer Charles Soule’s run on Darth Vader that came out last week, Darth Vader has a vision that may well lead him to believe the latter is true. But what are we left to believe?
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(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films and television properties that inspired (or in this case help us better understand) George Lucas’s iconic universe. In this edition:Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.)
Losing the screenwriter William Goldman was a blow to the world of cineastes last month. He was one of the sharpest writers ever to come to Hollywood and he had a distinct way of playing a tense scene for laughs and making giggle at how good is writing could be. 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is no exception. It’s as much a comedy as it is a legitimately thrilling western film. Headlined by Paul Newman and Robert Redford, the film is charming and suspenseful in equal parts, following the (mostly) true adventures of the train robbing pair and their gang.
Goldman’s writing is as sharp as it ever would be, and under the direction of George Roy Hill, they collaborated to create a master blend of wit and western.
Though it wasn’t the first film to pair a couple of smartass outlaws, it set the standard moving forward and every line of dialogue pairing characters like that followed the mold. Star Wars was no exception.
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Posted on Wednesday, November 21st, 2018 by Bryan Young
(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films and television properties that inspired or help us better understand George Lucas’ iconic universe. In this edition: Girl Shy.)
Among film nerds, Harold Lloyd is a household name. Saying his name instantly evokes images of the bespectacled actor dangling from a clock or in other improbable and impossibly dangerous situations. Made in 1924, Girl Shy was Harold Lloyd’s first production independent of Hal Roach and he wanted it to focus less on the stunts he’d been known for and more for his character work. That doesn’t mean Girl Shy doesn’t have its own thrilling stunts, as the climax of the film might have been the most exciting sequence Lloyd ever accomplished in his career, but the character work leading up to that sequence was the most well-developed Lloyd had pulled off. He plays a young tailor’s apprentice who wants to be an author. He’s also impossibly shy around girls and has a terrible stutter when he’s nervous. Think about that: Harold Lloyd is able to portray a verbal stutter in a silent film from 1924. He’s clumsy and shy, but that doesn’t stop him from falling in love and the climax plays out like an early version of The Graduate, with Lloyd’s character breaking up a wedding in order to reunite with the love of his life.
Though during his time making films through the ‘20s and ‘30s, Lloyd was spoken of in the same breath as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, it was Lloyd himself that prevented his legacy from flowering as much as it should have. He controlled the rights to all of his films and very rarely allowed them to be played for a variety of reasons. Now, almost a hundred years after the peak of his popularity, Lloyd is taking his more rightful place in the history of cinema.
But how does that connect to Star Wars?
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