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'Star Wars' is So Derivative: 15 Major Inspirations for the Iconic Space Opera (Or Works the Series Ripped Off)


I love Star Wars.

It was not only my favourite childhood movie that I constantly rewatched, sought out as many action figures as I'd be allowed to own, and on a daily basis would act out in my backyard, but it played a massive role in my love for storytelling and writing. 

When I started writing stories at a young age, I must admit that my first few were heavily based on Star Wars either by being set in the world or my own imagined universe filled with jarring similarities. But it wasn't just me, there have been many stories, series, and movies over the last four decades where we can see the inspiration coming from the iconic space opera.

Maybe I am being a little kind. Many of these works haven't been labelled as being inspired by Star Wars, but rather outright ripping it off. It is argued that many of these stories wouldn't exist or contain many of their characters or plots without borrowing from Star Wars.

But as someone who has been writing stories for decades and professionally writing about pop culture for the last decades, it has become very clear that an original idea is almost as fabled as the unicorn. Most stories are influenced and inspired by something, and they follow the structures of the stories that were crafted centuries ago. It isn't the actual ideas that makes a story original, but rather how those ideas are structured and given life through the storytelling.

As a huge Star Wars fan, I find it comical when some criticize a movie or series for borrowing from Star Wars, since creator George Lucas wasn't afraid to heavily find inspiration and borrow many characters and elements from some of his favourite stories and entertainment. Anyone who knows about pop culture history or loves digging into the history of stories and myths, will see that Lucas's magna opus is a pastiche of many classics through the decades.

There has been many more than 15 works that inspired Star Wars, but the YouTube channel SourceFedNERD details the 15 biggest inspirations in his video, 'Everything Star Wars Has RIPPED OFF.' It is a great video to show that even some of the most beloved works can be a little derivative and borrow heavily from popular things from the past.

I know some may not want to watch the video, so I provide the list below along with some of my own thoughts. I won't detail what he says about each point since he did the work and so, he deserves the watch. But I will add a few of my own thoughts on each work on this list.

And yes, both the videos and my writings contain spoilers.


15. Metropolis: Fritz Lang's 1927 sci-fi dystopian silent film classic is without a doubt one of the most influential movies. When we reviewed it for The Movie Breakdown, we also referenced the striking similarity between Maria the robot and the golden droid C-3PO. The interesting thing is the original concept drawings of C-3PO were even a closer resemblance to Maria, thus solidifying the inspiration. A movie not mentioned in this video but what must have been an inspiration and influence on R2-D2, and several other droids is the robots from the 1972 sci-fi picture Silent Running. Look for yourself.


14. Ben-Hur: I never noticed the connection between the iconic chariot race and the podrace in The Phantom Menace, but the video not only provides decent proof, but also shows some moments in the podrace that made little sense without it being a homage to Ben-Hur. Plus, I bet a young George Lucas went to see the sand and sandal epic several times in theatres.

13. The Godfather: One of Lucas's best friends in the film industry was Francis Ford Coppola, and considering it is obvious that Lucas likes taking major shots and moments from his favourite movies, it isn't surprising he'd borrow from the masterpiece helmed by his friend. The execution of mob bosses not only is similar in theme and tone as Order 666 with the mass execution of Jedi in Revenge of the Sith, but it is shot in almost the exact same way. To be fair, The Godfather moment is so iconic that numerous movies have lifted it over the years with the calm intercut with the carnage.

12. Lost Horizon: While the High Lama is not green, the character from Frank Capra's 1937 Lost Horizon has many striking similarities to Yoda including him being a guiding figure for the hero, the funny way he speaks, his mystical presence and according to the video, the shot for shot similarities in how both characters die.

11. The Fighting Devil Dogs: Even though the video states that Lucas denies its influence, sometimes inspirations can come at a subconscious level. Lucas gobbled up adventure serials in his youth, so it is likely he watched this one. The Lightning does look like his design may have influenced Vader, especially since they also have similar powers.

10. Lawrence of Arabia: This is a case where Lucas has been very open to being heavily influenced by David Lean's 1962 sweeping epic. While I always knew the shooting style and many of the cuts in Star Wars were heavily inspired by the picture, I learned in this video he even did a shot-by-shot recreation of one scene to the point of even using the same location, though this was a clear homage that was not trying to hide its influence.

9. The Dam Busters: I initially was going to mention that in a making-of-documentary for Star Wars, I remember Lucas admitting this movie was an influence on the trench run and the Death Star battle in Star Wars, but this video makes me think that the movie mentioned in a special I saw would have been 633 Squadron. It looks like this movie needs to be slotted in as a major influence considering Star Wars lifts direct lines and Lucas hired Gilbert Taylor who was the movies special effects guy to be his cinematographer to likely help recreate that action scene, but this time in space.

8. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Lucas is likely innocent this time, and to be fair, many actors have been open about a certain actor or character being the inspiration for how they depicted their own character. It is clear now why Boba Fett is so beloved, because he was patterned off one of the most iconic loners in Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name.

7. Casablanca: When I young and deep into my Star Wars love, I learned that Rick was the inspiration for Han Solo and the Cantina on Mos Eisley was patterned off the one in Casablanca, which sparked my interest in older movie as I wanted to see the things that influenced Star Wars. I tracked this movie down in the mid 1980s, and when I fell in love with it, I took the journey of finding many other classic older movies. This is one of the reasons why being honest about our inspirations can be beneficial, as it can open up a viewer or reader to works that they may not have ever considered.

6. Dune: We discussed this on The Breakdown of Dune podcast, and it is wild how similar Star Wars is to Dune. There is likely a younger audience that saw the new movie and weren't aware that it was based off Frank Herbert's novel published in 1965, which is over a decade before Star Wars was released, and many years before George Lucas would start conceiving his space opera. If we want proof that we can snag countless ideas and concepts from a work and still make something great and feel original, then this is the shining example. There are many more similarities between the two works then just the things mentioned in this video. I should also confess my own fandom started with Star Wars leading me to watch the David Lynch adaptation, so I initially thought Dune was the derivative work until my dad led me to the terrific epic book series.

5. Legend of King Arthur: To be fair to Lucas, King Arthur has been the inspiration for almost every 'chosen one' with a mystic guide fantasy adventure over the past century. Also, Lucas has been honest about his desire to create a myth in space, and much of the work was inspired by various myths and stories passed down the ages.

4. New Gods saga: This DC comics series is one of the few on the list that I was not aware of its influence, or I just completely forgot about it as I had never read it despite my love for comics as a kid. Based off the video, the similarities are hard to ignore. Though as a creative person, I've learned that more than one artist can craft similar works without the one being aware of the other. It happens. It is how the story actually unfolds that then proves their originality. I may need to track down this comic book run to see how familiar Orion is to Luke and the Source is to the Force.

3. Akira Kurosawa: Once again in all fairness to Gorge Lucas, Kurosawa is likely the most influential directors of all time and has inspired many of the greats. His works have been the inspiration or just outright ripped off by many western filmmakers. I also watched many making-of-documentaries of Star Wars that populated the 1980s that referenced Kurosawa many times, which lead to me seeking out his works and was my introduction to international cinema (along with Godzilla, of course, because I love big monsters too). 

2. Flash Gordon: Any Star Wars fan should already know the story of Lucas losing out to Dino De Laurentis in buying the rights to the iconic planet hopping adventurer, thus deciding he'd just create his own version of Flash Gordon. Then he went on to not only make Star Wars more popular than the film serials and comic books of his youth, but convinced many that the Laurentis' movie was a knock-off of Star Wars (to be fair, it likely was rushed into production due to success of the movie from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away).

1. John Carter: The Edgar Rice Burroughs (also author of Tarzan) sci-fi adventure series is one of the most influential space adventure stories of all-time. It was huge in the first half of the 1900s with not only the bestselling novels but also comic strips, merchandise, and film serials. The amount of stuff Star Wars borrows from this series is too numerous to list, but again in all fairness, almost every adventure series created since the 1911 must thank the power of John Carter. It is wild how something could have been so influential and so insanely popular yet is relatively unknown today outside of a movie that flopped (on account of the source material being forgotten). Makes me wonder how popular Star Wars will be in 100 years, and if it will be replaced by another space opera.

I agree with the video that there is nothing wrong with Star Wars borrowing from all these works of art (and filmmakers and authors). Every great work of fiction in the last several hundred years was inspired by something, even if at a subconscious level. I do think there is a lot of value in making people aware of those inspirations, as it can broaden our knowledge and appreciation of the arts.

What movies or novels do you love that you know were directly inspired by other works, and did you track those down when you discovered this fact? 

Comments

  1. Anonymous7:56 pm

    It is always a joy to spot an homage or inspiration in art that i enjoy. All good art steals/borrows/copies from somewhere and the connections make me smile

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely. When I found out about a lot of these inspirations as a kid, it was what got me hooked on movies and books that I otherwise would have ignored.

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