(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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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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(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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(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 Busters, Tora! Tora! Tora!, The Battle of Britain, Jet Pilot, The Bridges of Toko-Ri, 633 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 »