How the Wizard of Oz Inspired the Story of a New Hope

You've surely heard of The Wizard of Oz. but, did you know it helped to inspire Star Wars? Many people know it as the famous old movie that starred Judy Garland as Dorothy and a dog called Toto.

It was of course originally a book that took the world by storm in 1900 when it was published and it grew into a publishing empire for author Frank L Baum.
It was 39 years later when the Hollywood movie was released. It was a popular movie at the time but it came into its own as the years went by due to repeated showings on American TV. It became a cultural touchstone whereby, even 60 years later, Tim Burton attempted to make a series based on the story and Wicked is a hugely popular Broadway musical.
Even George Lucas managed to get caught up in the magic of the movie.
Noted film critic Roger Ebert noticed how Lucas had perhaps drawn inspiration from the 1939 film when he write in his 1977 review of what was then still called Star Wars:
“Star Wars is a fairy tale, a fantasy, a legend, finding its roots in some of our most popular fiction. The golden robot, lion-faced space pilot, and insecure little computer on wheels must have been suggested by the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.”
wizard oz main cast
Image Courtesy of Loews Cineplex Entertainment
Ebert's same review noted many other influences on the film. Let's begin with Luke Skywalker.
If we posit the equation that “Luke = Dorothy,” we can begin to unlock some of the parallels between the two characters.
  • Both Luke and Dorothy live with their aunt and uncle on a farm.
  • They both are looking for something more. Luke wants to go to the Academy to fly things and likes to stare into the Binary Sunset and ponder such things. Dorothy states her aspirations when she sings “Over the Rainbow.”
  • They each have complementary farmhands. Hunk, Zeke, and Hickory for Oz and C-3PO and R2-D2 respectively.
  • Each has their world turned upside down. Dorothy's is literally thrown around by a tornado, and Luke's by Darth Vader's stormtroopers murdering his family (which was actually a call out to John Wayne's The Searchers). Sidenote: Wayne has a cameo “line” in A New Hope.

The two characters also become surrounded by familiar companions.

  • Chewbacca steps in for the Cowardly Lion.
  • C-3PO steps in for The Tin Man (and both enjoy some oil for their joints early in each film! “Thank the maker”).
  • R2-D2 steps in for Toto. Both don't speak English and one could argue that R-TWO D-TWO is a play on TO TO.

It is very important to bear in mind that the duo of R2 and C-3PO were directly inspired by characters from The Hidden Fortress, so don't think Lucas is wholly copying from The Wizard of Oz.

George Lucas has previously said that he took facets of Luke's personality and made them into characters, and that's how he came up with Luke's friends and companions. That's pretty much what happens in The Wizard of Oz

An amusing parallel is that when Darth Vader kills Obi-Wan Kenobi, only Kenobi's robes remain as his body has disappeared into the Force. When Dorothy accidentally kills the Wicked Witch of the West, only her robes remain after the water is thrown on her. In each case, both scenes have become very famous movie moments.

At the end of the day, Luke and Dorothy have both had a life-changing adventure. The difference is that Luke's family remains dead and while Dorothy bested the Witch and outed the Wizard, the Empire lives on.
I should be at pains to point out that Lucas has not taken every element of his movie from The Wizard of Oz to write his script. He actually took hundreds of elements from books, movies, and real-world issues (Star Wars can be viewed as a commentary on the Vietnam War) and turned them into his own unique fairytale – and there's an argument that, in doing so, he had an even bigger impact on the world of movies than Baum's first book did on literature.

Indeed Lucas said with almost a sense of annoyance about the matter:

“Oh, he just took The Wizard of Oz and turned it inside out. But if you look at those two movies, they are totally different ideas. I mean, you can see certain similarities between almost any two movies. But coming up with a basic idea and developing it and making it work is very difficult and not to be underestimated.”

So let's give him a fair due on that point. But don't be fooled, in Return of the Jedi, Lucas did a fabulous homage to this scene:

follow the yellow brick road oz
Image Courtesy of Loews Cineplex Entertainment
Can you see what this is going to be? Recall that R2-D2 and -C3PO are inspired by OZ and you get:
wizard of oz reference in return of the jedi
Images Courtesy of Lucasfilm and Loews Cineplex Entertainment

Like Dorothy and her new friends went off to the Wizard's Emerald City, C-3PO and his little buddy R2 headed off to Jabba's Palace, with each party not really knowing what their fates would be.

There's actually an amusing story about the production of The Force Awakens that relates to The Wizard of Oz

At one stage Carrie Fisher had not read the movie's script but was desperate to do so. She tried to bribe costume designer Michael Kaplan to divulge details with a chance to see the famous red shoes from The Wizard of Oz that Fisher's mother Debbie Reynolds owned. Kaplan, while tempted, kept his mouth shut and never saw the shoes.

We suspect this might have been particularly a cheeky attempt at bribery from Fisher because Reynolds apparently sold the shoes in 2011 – well before The Force Awakens script was written!

For a more expert consideration of The Wizard of Oz's influence on Star Wars check out these links:

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.