Posted on Thursday, September 13th, 2018 by Bryan Young
Darth Maul has been in the collective conscious for 20 years. His debut was in 1998 with the release of the first trailer for Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. That film is aging better than anyone expected, and one of the key ingredients in that mix was this enigmatic villain. From that first image of the doors on Naboo separating to reveal that demon-faced monster unveiling his double-bladed lightsaber, we’ve all been captivated by him, before we even knew his name.
Before the film came out, his face was on every bit of marketing. Every package had that distinctive red facial tattoo pattern and horns. And we still didn’t even know what his voice sounded like.
When The Phantom Menace hit theaters, he was instantly a favorite character, though some were intensely disappointed by his ending. Being chopped in half at the end of the first film of a trilogy didn’t bode well for the villains in the future of the franchise.
But Maul still endured in our hearts. And with the help of actor Sam Witwer, he has lived longer than anyone ever expected.
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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:Robotech)
Cobbled together out of three distinct different anime series from Japan, Robotech became a cult phenomenon in the United States and continues to maintain its popularity. Whether one likes what was done to the original Japanese cartoons in their crossover to the United States or not, there is no doubt that the television series as it first aired in the 1980s left an indelible impression on the culture of the United States and opened the door for more imported animation to makes it way to American shores.
Robotech tells the tale of Earth after the crash landing of an alien spaceship on Macross Island in 1999. Another alien species, the Zentraedi, arrive in 2009 wanting to take the battlefortress back from the humans, but humanity has spent the last ten years reverse engineering the ship and developing Robotechnology; transformable fighter jet mecha that can be used in the coming war. The show followed the lives of the fighter pilots and civilians who had their lives affected by the war over three generations. It was epic and each episode had consequences for the rest of the series. It’s great space opera storytelling at its best and it was on television in the 1980s when audiences were most thirsty for it.
There were a number of important creatives watching Robotech during their formative years and found inspiration in the episodes of the show. One of those was a young Dave Filoni.
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(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films that inspired (or help us better understand) George Lucas’s iconic universe. In this edition:the James Bond films)
Ever since the 1962 release of Dr. No, James Bond has occupied a place in the hearts of cinema-goers. The films were brash and adventurous in a new way, offering a realism in their stunts and thrills that hadn’t been at the forefront of cinema to that point. Naturally, Steven Spielberg was a fan of franchise. In the 1970s, Spielberg revealed to George Lucas that he wasn’t just a fan, but that he wanted to direct a James Bond film. Spielberg had been turned down by the producers of the Bond films and was looking for something else. George Lucas told him to forget about James Bond, he had a better idea. Indiana Smith.
Obviously, this idea morphed into what became the first Indiana Jones film, Raiders of the Lost Ark. And it’s why Sean Connery, the first actor to play James Bond in the official Eon Productions on the big screen, was tapped to play the father of Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade. The Indiana Jones films were inspirational in a number of ways to Star Wars, and taking a step back, you can see where the influence of James Bond comes into a galaxy far, far away as well.
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(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films that inspired, or help us better understand, George Lucas’s iconic universe. In this edition: Close Encounters of the Third Kind.)
If you were standing at a bookie’s office in January of 1977 and were going to put money on which was going to be the bigger film, Star Wars or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, where would you put your money? If you’re George Lucas, you put your money on Close Encounters. Steven Spielberg definitely seems like the sure bet. His films have a better, longer track record and Lucas was coming up with his Junior effort that no one really believed in.
It was on the set of Close Encounters that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg made exactly this bet. Lucas was convinced Star Wars would bomb and Close Encounters would be the bigger hit at the box office and, as the story goes, Lucas wagered 2.5% of the box office receipts against 2.5% of Spielberg’s film. Close Encounters was huge, but Star Wars was astronomically bigger. If the bet was paid out, it’s estimated it could have cost Lucas upwards of $40 million.
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(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films that inspired, or help us better understand, George Lucas’s iconic universe. In this edition: Shogun’s Shadow.)
Samurai films have been a strong influence on the Star Wars saga since its very earliest days. When George Lucas was sitting down to write his first drafts of what would become A New Hope, he even copied out the synopsis of Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress and replaced all of the Japanese names with early Star Wars names. It served him well over the years and when it came time to break down The Clone Wars animated series, what better well to go to than back to Samurai films?
Shogun’s Shadow is an over-the-top Samurai action film from 1989. Sonny Chiba and his Japan Action Club stunt players provide all the adventurous thrills you’d want in this film about the young eldest son of the Shogun, on his way to Edo with the seemingly limitless forces of Japan trying to kill him. He’s under the protection of a motley crew of seven samurai and one has to wonder if he’ll ever make it to see his family again under such long odds. The film unfolds carefully, slowly revealing the intrigue behind who might want to kill the young heir and we’re shocked by how it all plays out.
As they fight their way through the Japanese countryside, the film gets more and more bombastic in its action. On the surface, it seems to have more in common with the ’80s action films of Jean Claude Van Damme and Bruce Willis than the work of Akira Kurosawa, but that’s not exactly a bad thing.
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(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films that inspired or help us better understand George Lucas’s iconic universe. In this edition: The Last Temptation of Christ.)
Roger Ebert famously called movies machines of empathy. He said that you can watch a film and walk in the shoes of another person and see what their plight was like and feel it for yourself. In some cases, with some audiences, that effect backfires and it’s a curious thing. Some audiences don’t want to feel those things or walk in the shoes of that particular character in that particular way. They don’t like how the character reacts to the situations before them because it’s not how they would react, or maybe they find them inconsistent with the character.
I think this is a phenomenon we’ve seen with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, thanks to its intriguing and complex treatment of Luke Skywalker. As I watch The Last Jedi and the strident backlash behind the character, I looked back into film history and found an example that I think is instructive to helping understand some of the rejections of the film. That film is Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ.
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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: Patton.)
General George S. Patton once said, “Watch what people are cynical about, and one can often discover what they lack.” And one thing I’m not cynical about is movies, particularly the old classics. The movie about the American general’s life, Patton, is one such classic.
Released in 1970 and directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, Patton came from a script by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund North that won them both Oscars. It won Best Picture that year as well, on top of five other awards. For his portrayal of the anything-but-cynical general, George C. Scott was awarded an Oscar that he refused to accept, stating that he didn’t feel like he was in competition with other actors. Patton tells the story of the general’s service during World War II, skipping over his early life and previous military career entirely. The film gets into the head of one of the most brilliant tactical minds who ever lived, but also examines the troubles that same mind had in the realm of the political. The film takes great pains to show the struggles of war and the toxicity required to construct ideas like “courage” and “cowardice” in the face of battle.
Talking to Lucasfilm Animation Supervising Director Dave Filoni over the years, he has revealed that Patton has been a big influence on his treatment of characters that feature prominently in Star Wars Rebels.
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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: 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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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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