6 Movies That Directly Influenced the Making of Star Wars

When it came to the creation of Star Wars, George Lucas took inspiration from many sources. Those sources included Edgar Rice's John Carter of Mars novels and Flash Gordon serials.
But, of course, there were also several movies from which Lucas took inspiration for his iconic franchise. In this piece, we'll look over six such examples and review them accordingly.

THX 1138

THX 1138 Poster references
Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.

This is actually one of Lucas' own movies and is considered by many to be a classic sci-fi flick in its own right. Lucas built a world in which humanity appears to be controlled by some kind of dystopian bureaucracy, where robots serve as friendly faceless policemen.

The human populace is devoid of family ties, and freedoms and is controlled by mandatory drugs which cause obedience and reduce the sex drive. This is literally population control where reproduction is carefully managed.

The plot follows the title character “THX 1138” as he and his female “mate” try to escape the rat race of the future. Viewers discover how society functions as he rushes around discovering his true identity.

Lucas later applied this naming concept to Stormtroopers and the concept was more fully fleshed out in The Force Awakens when audiences learned Finn was only named as Poe refused to call him “FN-2187.”

For many a viewer, this was not new territory. Many sci-fi novels and movies like this one have covered similar ground. You have to wonder, however, how interesting this movie would have been to a fresh young mind in 1971.
Apparently, it wasn't initially a particularly popular movie but, following the release of Star Wars six years later, its popularity slowly started to increase as it was discovered by viewers of Lucas' masterpiece – it's now considered something of a cult movie.
If there's one gripe with this movie, it's that the last half an hour before the “big chase” scene is quite long and slow. While some points of discovery are quite chilling (his mate's organs appear to be recycled after she is put to death), it's a hard grind to get to the end.
Be warned, there are major spoilers from here on in…
The faceless robot Policeman gives up the chase of THX 1138 when he is ordered to do so because the allocated budget to capture him has been exceeded by six percent and it's considered cost-effective to let him go. It's a brilliant way to end the movie as the whole point of the story is to demonstrate population control as governed by bureaucracy.

There's a part during the big chase where a background voice says (over some kind of radio system) “I think I ran over a Wookiee back there on the expressway.” We can surmise that this is what influenced the naming of Chewbacca's species.

It's a great movie and it's fun to see how Lucas was shaping up as a director. If you're a fan of sci-fi movies and are prepared to sit through a little bit of plodding along at points, it's definitely worth watching.

Bonus movie inspiration: The liquid Terminator from Terminator 2: Judgment Day was likely somewhat inspired by the silver-faced robot policemen in THX 1138.

Forbidden Planet

Image Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Most people will have heard of Forbidden Planet. It's the movie that introduced one of the most famous robots in cinema history (before R2-D2 and C-3PO came along), Robby the Robot. What an incredibly strange and wonderful movie it is.

Released in 1956, it was the first big-budget sci-fi movie of the Hollywood era. Apparently a bit of a flop, it quickly gained cult status and is now considered a classic sci-fi movie.

While it's quaint by today's standards, Forbidden Planet features strong sci-fi themes mingled with star-crossed would-be lovers. Some research for this movie reveals that it was loosely based on William Shakespeare's The Tempest, which you can see play out fairly well.

The graphics and special effects were fun to see and they must have been considered pretty fabulous back in the day. It, unsurprisingly, received an Oscar nomination for its effects.

So, what was its influence on Star Wars?

At face value, it's hard to see. Robby the Robot is the key takeaway. When he first meets the spacemen from Earth, he says “I am at your disposal with 187 other languages along with their various dialects and sub-tongues” – which Lucas obviously borrowed for C-3PO. Let's be clear though, Metropolis served as the inspiration for C-3PO's look (we'll watch that movie later, okay?).

At one point in the movie, Robby cannot be found because he was away somewhere giving himself an “oil job.” A loose Star Wars connection is that C-3PO had an oil bath at Luke's farm.

Forbidden Planet was a fun movie to watch. The big reveal at the end was pretty ho-hum for anyone who's seen 1001 space movies but the concept was brave enough for the time – and one many filmmakers have since copied.

It also seems that this movie had just as big an impact on Gene Roddenberry and his work with Star Trek as it did on Lucas and A New Hope.

Bonus fact: Forbidden Planet was the movie debut of actor Leslie Nielsen, who many people were first introduced to in The Naked Gun spoof movies.

The Searchers

Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The Searchers is a great Western movie starring the late, great John Wayne. It focuses on the search for two kidnapped women – those being Wayne's characters' nieces.

Featuring classic sexist tropes, a cliched Sherif, wonderful cinematography, and stereotyped Indians, this film hangs on the charm and likable roguishness of Wayne.

There's also a dark underbelly to this movie that sits just underneath the sprawling vista. There's racism, forbidden love, prejudice, blind anger, and malice, all just bubbling away – much of which comes to a boiling point at the fantastic ending.

It's absolutely understandable why The Searchers is considered a classic film. But what influence did it have on Star Wars?

All the evidence points to the return to the homestead that has been attacked. After leaving the farm to chase cattle rustlers, it turns out to have been a rouse. Ethan Edwards and Martin return to find the buildings burning and their loved ones dead, raped and murdered, and left to burn.

This echoes quite strongly with what Luke Skywalker sees on his arrival back to the moisture farm. His fears are realized as both Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru have been murdered and their bodies burnt.

There are some other themes that share a similar tone. Ethan was on the losing side of the war, as was Obi-Wan Kenobi (kind of), and Obi-Wan and Luke Skywalker make a similar pairing to Ethan and Martin – one being the vastly experienced campaigner, the other the handsome young man with a sudden mission thrust upon him.

The Guns of Navarone

Guns of Navarone
Image Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

It was Kitbashed who noted how this movie had a significant influence on George Lucas.

It's a long war movie starring the impeccable Gregory Peck. Peck plays Mallory as he leads a band of soldiers to seek and destroy giant guns that overlook a strait of water that is a crucial strategic asset during World War II.

The idea is that Peck's mission is to destroy these guns to allow the US warships a safe passage through the strait to rescue 3000 soldiers marooned on an island. The Germans are planning to attack that island and kill the men so timing is crucial.

The destruction of said guns is the key to everything. Does That Seem Familiar?

Yes, Lucas was indeed influenced by this concept and adapted it somewhat for the finale of Star Wars. The Death Star (with its supergun) must be destroyed in time before the Rebel base is blown to smithereens.

That's pretty much the only influence The Guns of Navarone appears to have on Star Wars, but it's undoubtedly a significant one.

It is a fantastic movie. Peck as Mallory is an inspired character just oozing guile and brains against some pretty hostile German troops. That man just possesses a cool-as-hell gravitas.

There are some great conflicts between the characters and their German opposites and they provide a great discussion about the evils of war and the things that men (and women) do in times of great stress.

Q.E.D indeed, David Niven, Q.E.D indeed.


Metropolis movie poster fritzlang
Image Courtesy of Parufamet

The oldest movie in this list, stretching back to a 1927 release, Metropolis has been described as a “German expressionist epic science-fiction drama film.” Directed by Fritz Lang, it's a silent movie to boot.

It's very enjoyable (there are no bad movies on this list) once you get used to the narrative of a silent movie. It has an engaging story – which is basically the classic tale of a brave individual up against a giant corporation.
For its time, the special effects were brilliant.
So the Star Wars takeaway is the inspiration for C-3PO. Metropolis features a robot called Maria, who is a Maschinenmensch robot. Concept designer Ralph McQuarrie used the look of this robot as part of his initial design work for C-3PO and the rest is history.
Intial C3Po sketch inspired by the Maschinenmensch
McQuarrie's early concept of C-3PO and companion R2-D2
Image Courtesy of Lucasfilm


Maschinenmensch and C3PO comparison
 A side-by-side comparison of C-3PO and the Maschinenmensch

The Hidden Fortress

Image Courtesy of Toho Co., Ltd.
The Hidden Fortress is arguably the film that had the most influence on George Lucas – and it's been saved for last here.
The name Akira Kurosawa may ring a bell with movie aficionados. He's considered one of the great filmmakers and his work is hailed by many film critics. He caught Lucas' eye while he was at film school and that was that.
Let's take a step back and have a look at Star Wars for a moment – and let's first consider the plot. It's a story seen through the eyes of two bumbling robots who help a princess fight an evil overlord. That's almost the story you'll see if you watch The Hidden Fortress. It's the tale of two bumbling idiots as they help an exiled Princess take on an evil General. Lucas arguably lifted the whole plot from it.

He also nabbed Kurosawa's scene wipes and sprinkled them throughout his own movie, making them his own (as the general American, not the rest of the world) didn't watch Japanese movies.

But it's not just The Hidden Fortress that Lucas borrowed from. He took many ideas from Kurosawa's movies:
  • The famous fight in which a certain alien gets his arm cut off in the Cantina by Obi-Wan Kenobi is straight from Yojimbo.
  • The hiding-under-the-floor trick is a lift from Yojimbo's sequel, Sanjuro.
  • The Empire Strikes Back features a lot of the plot and imagery from come from the Oscar-winning Dersu Uzala.
  • There's a moment in Revenge of the Sith when Yoda rides in a gunship. He runs his hand over his head, sadly pondering how the Jedi Council's request for Anakin to spy on Palpatine has riled Anakin. This mimics the character Kambei Shimada’s motion in Seven Samurai, one of Kurosawa's most famous movies.
  • Rian Johnson also continued this Kurosawa influence in The Last Jedi.

Other Movie Influences on Star Wars

There are plenty of other noteworthy movies – including Ben Hur, The Dam Busters, and Lawrence of Arabia – that have had some direct influence or inspiration on George Lucas' movies.

  • For Ben Hur, the comparison between the chariot race and the pod race is unmistakable.
  • The Dam Busters features a bomb being landed in an impossible place, like Luke's Force-inspired torpedo blast shot to destroy the Death Star.
  • Lawrence of Arabia serves as the inspiration for the sand backdrop of Tatooine. We also understand that Lawrence of Arabia director David Lean studied The Searchers for inspiration on how to film landscapes.
  • One more Lawrence of Arabia reference was snuck into Attack of the Clones. That part where Padmé and Anakin “walk and talk” is filmed in exactly the same place (Plaza de España in Seville) as where a similar scene happens in Lean's movie.
  • Seven Samurai (Kurosawa again) casts a large shadow over Star Wars – while it's arguable that the concept of Jedi came from John Carter of Mars, the way the Jedi carry themselves with a noble dignity arguably comes from this movie.
  • The Cantina scene in A New Hope was probably inspired by the events that happened in Rick's Cafe in Casablanca (and also from Yojimbo). And Han Solo's use of “kid” when he talks to Luke is possibly borrowed straight from Humphrey Bogart's character. Speaking of Bogart, have you ever wondered how the Millenium Falcon got its name?
  • The medal ceremony at the end of A New Hope is apparently inspired by the Nazi propaganda movie Triumph of the Will. Indeed, Nazism inspired much of Star Wars. Think of Darth Vader's costume design, that speech General Hux gave in The Force Awakens and of course, even the name Stormtrooper was lifted straight out of Hitler's playbook.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Editor in Chief at Wealth of Geeks | + posts

Paul Rose Jr is the Editor in Chief of Wealth of Geeks & manages the Associated Press program for The Insiders network. He has worked as TV News Producer, Forensic Analyst, and Train Conductor, among many other things. He’s the former TV Editor for InfuzeMag and owns more books, DVDs, and comics than most people have seen in their lifetimes. When he’s not writing or editing on Wealth of Geeks, he exercises his creative muscle writing screenplays and acting in film and television in Los Angeles, CA.