Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Star Wars

(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.

The Solo Connection

The most obvious connection between Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is the relationship between Han Solo and Chewbacca. But which is Butch and which is Sundance? The scene with Greedo is reminiscent of the opening scene with Sundance at the poker table.

“This movie has a lot of ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ in it,” Alden Ehernereich said in an interview with the San Francisco Examiner. “There’s this wry humor: We’re stuck, we’re cornered, but we’ll crack a joke. [Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid] was the movie that I most felt ‘I wanna be one of these guys.” And it shows when you watch his titular performance in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Who but Han Solo and Butch Cassidy would be charismatic enough to talk their way out of capture or certain death? You can practically hear Paul Newman in Alden Ehrenreich’s tone when he’s pouring the charm onto Paul Bettany’s Dryden Vos.

And compare Butch and Sundance’s exchange about Bolivia to the exchange between Han and Chewie at the end of Solo. “No,” Han says just like Butch,”No, I’m telling ya, it’s gonna be great, and when have I ever steered you wrong?”

And then the Millennium Falcon flies off.

Fortunately, we know that Han and Chewie don’t have to face an ending like the one Butch and Sundance did at the end of their film.

The Train Heist

It wasn’t just the actors, but it was the writers and filmmakers behind Solo that imbued that also film with a sense of Butch Cassidy. In fact, the train heist was ripped right from the 1969 western and, in the original script, the description of the train name-checked Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. James Clyne, Lucasfilm’s design supervisor, talked about it designing the whole heist and the blend of charm and excitement comes straight from the George Roy Hill film.

Both films feature train heists that are both funny and tense, with the emotion able to turn on a dime in either of them. In all cases, they’re exciting.

When Enfys Nest arrives to complicate the train heist, it has all the weight of EH Herriman’s super posse bursting out of the train to chase the Hole in the Wall gang Butch leads. And, like the super posse, they dog every step of our anti-heroes for the rest of the film.

Attack of the Clones

What Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid provided the underworld of Star Wars can’t be understated, but neither can its contributions to the love story of the prequels.  Anakin and Padme borrowed heavily from one of the key scenes of the story between Butch Cassidy and Etta Place.

Does that scene of Butch Cassidy showing off on his bicycle remind you of anything in Attack of the Clones? It should. According to Mythmaking: Behind the Scenes of Attack of the Clones, the scene in the meadow on Naboo where Anakin and Padme are at the beginning of their courtship. Anakin surfs along a shaak the same way Butch does on his bicycle. They both crash and come closer to their loved ones.

It’s interesting to note that the color palettes in each scene both feature that morning sunrise in the meadow feel that evokes certain feelings.

Although it’s not as successful in Attack of the Clones as it is in Butch Cassidy, seeing what George Lucas was trying to emulate makes me love the scene even more.

Butch and Sundance

As I was researching this article, I was surprised to see that the contemporary critical reaction of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was lukewarm. After giving it only 2.5 stars, Roger Ebert wrote at the time of it’s release that it “must have looked like a natural on paper, but, alas, the completed film is slow and disappointing.” Pauline Kael echoed Ebert’s opinion, “[the movie] reads as if it might play, it doesn’t, and probably this isn’t just [George Roy] Hill’s fault.”

But time has been much kinder to this film and it’s viewed (rightly) as a masterpiece of the genre and of writing in general. The mixture of comedy and the tension of the chase, matched with one hell of an ending, offers one of the most unique westerns the genre has to offer. And there’s no doubt it set the pattern for films for years to come. But if you’re going to watch it for only one reason, watch it for the chemistry between Paul Newman and Robert Redford through the incredible William Goldman dialogue. The film is a knockout.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is available to stream via HBO and for rent on most streaming services. It’s also widely available on Blu-ray and DVD.

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