By Derek Munyon
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
The first Star Wars, which became “Episode IV: A New Hope,” was released 38 years ago. It started one of the largest and most passionate fanbases in pop culture history. It pushed the limits of what film epics could achieve. It developed new ways of doing sound for movies, establishing the company THX and new advancements in special effects with the company Industrial Lights and Magic.
With a classic story template and hero arc common in all great works of mythology as outlined in Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero With a Thousand Faces,” which had a direct influence on the film series, it’s no wonder that Star Wars be-came so popular. However, other than this novel, Star Wars creator George Lucas had many other great works of science fiction and fantasy that influenced the final product.
Many great works that came before were referenced, and some could venture to say stolen, by George Lucas when developing what became his most well known work. A lot of the tropes used in the series come from Arthurian legend, with series lead Luke Skywalker playing the role of King Arthur. Both are orphans who are mentored by old wizards to become heroes. Both of these epics typify the mono-myth however, so drawing the conclusion of similarity is extremely easy as Arthurian legend shares elements with many works of epic action.
Frank Herbert’s Dune series, which started in 1965 and went until 1985 and was continued after Herbert’s death by his son, was also a major influence in a lot of what was seen in Star Wars. Both series feature barren desert planets, magical religious cults, twins who serve an important purpose for a galactic government, a villain who turns out to be related to the hero and a scene where a ship narrowly misses being eaten by a giant worm.
One major coincidence was the character of Jabba the Hutt, a massive worm creature with humanoid facial features and arms appearing in “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” in 1983. Similarly in “God Emperor of Dune,” Herbert makes one of the main characters, Leto II, a massive worm creature with humanoid facial features and arms in 1981. The similarities are unavoidable.
Another major influence on both of these works were the 1936 Universal serial films “Flash Gordon.” Flash Gordon is a space adventurer who saves princesses and the galaxy from an evil emperor. He teams up with roguish princes and giant hairy lion people. He fights alien monsters, uses laser guns and has aerial dogfights in star ships. To be fair, Flash Gordon and the comic strip that pre-ceded the film series were wildly influential on plenty of sci-fi works to come after it.
One of the biggest influences on the film is Akira Kurosawa’s film “The Hidden Fortress,” which was released in 1958. “The Hidden Fortress” features two bickering peasant characters who end up helping a defeated general save a princess from a rival clan. While focusing more on stolen gold, “The Hidden Fortress” uses a lot of plot points that were immediately used in the Star Wars series, or at least became a part of it later on, including the concept of a princess who went undercover and swapped places with a handmaiden, which was a major plot point in “Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.”
There were plenty of movies that directed the visual style of Star Wars as well. C-3PO’s character design was directly taken from the 1927 Fritz Lang silent film “Metropolis” and it’s robotic double Maria. The droid character was originally meant to be female, but was recast as male before the film was made. The character of Darth Vader was also influenced by the character of The Lightning from the serial series “The Fighting Devil Dogs.”
Taking so many parts from so many sources to make the whole that be-came Star Wars, it’s no surprise that the series became such a classic.