If you think George Lucas simply sat down at his desk with a pencil and a yellow legal pad and wrote down the script for Star Wars, you'll also believe they've recently added an extra letter to the word gullible in the dictionary.
Here are some of the key influences that went into the original Star Wars film and the ones that followed.
The Hidden Fortress – Directed by Akira Kurosawa
The movie features the plot of a general and a princess fighting their way home through enemy lines in feudal Japan with the help of a pair of bumbling peasants. Does that sound similar? What if you replaced the pair of peasants with R2-D2 and C-3PO?
Yep, George Lucas took the two bickering peasants and swapped them out for what became one of the most famous cinematic pairings in history.
Lucas has said “I remember the one thing that really struck me about The Hidden Fortress, the one thing I was really intrigued by, was the fact that the story was told from the two lowest characters. I decided that would be a nice way to tell the Star Wars story. Take the two lowliest characters, as Kurosawa did, and tell the story from their point of view. Which, in the Star Wars case is the two droids, and that was the strongest influence.”
Keen-eyed fans may also notice the way the movie “swipes” from one shot to another. This was another idea that Lucas borrowed directly from the film.
Several other movies are said to have served as inspiration for Lucas as well. We'll touch on these very lightly.
Recall the scene in which Luke approaches the burned-out farm and finds Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen left murdered and burned by the Storm Troopers. This scene is shot in such a way that it echoes a similar scene in The Searchers, in which the young hero (not the Wayne character) also returns to his family's farm to find the buildings burned and his own aunt and uncle murdered. The lift is direct and obvious.
The Searchers also features a young man drawn into a relationship with a relentless father figure, who seems made of evil as he hates the Comanche (but he's really just after revenge for they murdered his mother). Does this sound familiar to Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader‘s travails?
The fateful moment when Sebulba's own pod racer connects with young Anakin's pod is nearly a shot-for-shot remake of Ben Hur's climactic moment when Messala accidentally locks wheels with the Ben Hur character.
That said, the famous trench run on the Death Star was actually a lift from 633 Squadron, and the timing of the Death Star's positioning to attack the Rebel base was a point taken from the Gregory Peck vessel, The Guns of Navarone.
Lawrence of Arabia
If you have seen this film, you'll remember it features a lot of sand. As does a planet called Tatooine. As does an angry young man called Anakin.
Stars Wars blog notes:
“Many moves from David Lean's epic were cribbed for sequences on Tatooine. The shot of Mos Eisley from the distance as Luke and Obi-Wan look from on high reminds one instantly of shots looking down at Damascus.”
Shots of Tusken snipers looking down at speeders moving below echo the same sorts of shots in Lawrence of Arabia.
Sir Alec Guinness also has a role in that movie.
Attack of the Clones makes a very deliberate nod to the movie. Remember the scene below in which Padmé and Anakin have a chat about politics?
It's shot in the exact same location and mimics a conversation the characters Dryden, Brighton, and Allenby have in Spain Square (see below):
Flash Gordon was an epic sci-fi adventure in which the hero traveled to space with a laser holstered to his side on a mission to rescue a princess from a very very bad man – and Star Wars has plenty of that indeed. But what Star Wars really borrows from Flash Gordon is the concept of a fairytale in which futuristic technology stands in for the traditional role of magic (think Merlin's role in many stories), which, in a sense, may be true. But what about the Force?
Lucas enjoyed Flash Gordon so much that it was inevitable that elements of it crept into the movie.
While the swipe scene transitions were stolen from The Hidden Fortress, that famous Star Wars title amble marching up the screen in yellow was taken directly from the Flash Gordon serials. Lucas also borrowed the concept of a Cloud City
Edgar Rice Burroughs and his Princess of Mars novels
Burrough's series of novels about Princess Dejah from Mars and a soldier from Earth called John Carter were written over one hundred years ago.
But they resonated so long and strongly with their influence on other writers that Lucas eventually found out about them when he learned they were the inspiration for Flash Gordon.
If Lucas said he had an idea that there would be two robots, it would be McQuarrie who gave them their look.
Spock from Star Trek
You know when Alderaan gets smashed to a million tiny pieces by the Death Star and Obi-Wan Kenobi gets some really tough feels and says “I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.” Yeah, Spock from Star Trek did that first.
Gandalf from Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings has influenced just about a million book writers and even Led Zeppelin, so why not George Lucas?
At one point, the third draft of Stars Wars featured Obi-Wan Kenobi paraphrasing direct passages from Tolkien's writings.
While that was cut from the final movie, it served to show that Lucas had been thinking about the white wizard, so it can be argued that there is a bit of Gandalf in the foundations of the character of Ben Kenobi.
Fan Boys and Fan Girls and Moms and Dads with Fat Wallets
Let's start with Boba Fett. He had very minor parts in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but he built up a massive fan base – so much so that Jeremy Bulloch is a cult star of the Star Wars universe.
This love for Boba meant that Lucas put the character into Attack of the Clones, which gave an origin for Fett. Some loved it, some hated it.
Either way, it was pretty cool to see Mace Windu cut off Jango's head with his saber.
And then we got the Mandalorian.
Fans also spend money. And there was a lot of money to be made from Star Wars merchandise – so much so that by the time Return of the Jedi rolled around, it was said to be funded by sales of merchandise from The Empire Strikes Back.
The cynics have suggested that to make even more money, the intended presence of Wookie was changed to the Ewoks so toys and the like would be more marketable to children.
And let's not get started on the Porgs in The Last Jedi…
Timothy Zahn's Coruscant
Zahn's novels are credited with making Star Wars popular again in the early 1990s and may have had an influence on George Lucas' decision to make the prequel movies.
A key takeaway from Zahn's work is the creation of the character Grand Admiral Thrawn – he now has entered the new Star Wars canon by virtue of having a key role in season three of Star Wars Rebels.
These were just some of the major influences on Star Wars movies. There are probably a hundred other things that inspired Lucas as the six films were made.
Certainly, we haven't yet mentioned Frank Capra and Yoda's death in Return of the Jedi, for example…