In its individual pieces, Star Wars is not a very original work of art. Then again, what story really is when it’s broken down. That being said, George Lucas has always been very upfront about his influences. It’s possible to go through and identify explicit influences from the past in almost every scene in the Star Wars films. Lucas doesn’t try to shy away from these influences. Instead, he often embraces them, even including little tributes or references to the films that he’s drawing from. There are many examples of plot points being borrowed or referenced throughout the saga, but we will focus on the clear cut ones. Think of Star Wars as a collage and we’re going to peel back each of the individual components.
With each of these scenes or story elements, it becomes obvious that Lucas is a man that creates stories like an architect, taking little sequences that have been created by others and compiling them into a new structure. If Lucas wasn’t so open about his influences, many people might question his methods a bit, but he’s not alone in his methods. Many directors openly build on the shoulders of those who came before them (see Quentin Tarantino). These types see film as a collaborative process. Really all storytelling is a collaborative process, at least under a postmodern framework it is. To feel completely original is equal to feeling completely naïve. So let’s not shame them; lets celebrate these stolen/borrowed scenes. Were going to take a look at 15 examples of Star Wars plot points that we’ve seen before, in something you could also call 15 Star Wars plot points that were stolen from elsewhere… Dun-Dun-Duuuun!
15. Ben Hur
In Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the pod race scene between Anakin and Sebulba might look familiar if you’re a lover of famous older films. The entire thing is very obviously referencing the epic chariot race in Ben Hur (1959). The one part in particular, when Sebulba and Anakin get entangled with their pods, is almost a shot-for-shot remake of when Messala and Ben Hur get their wheels locked together. In both films, there is also a scene in which the villain says that he sees hatred welling up in the hero, as well as a few shots that showcase the shady betting on the race going on behind the scenes. While almost any racing scene will draw some influences from the great Ben Hur, the allusions in Star Wars are so blatant that the scene is actually much improved when it’s appreciated for exactly what it is meant to be.
14. John Carter of Mars
The famous stories from Edgar Rice Burroughs (also the author of Tarzan) were a massive inspiration for the Star Wars franchise and for science fiction stories in general, but there are some scenes from Star Wars that draw from it very intentionally for greater effect. Take the arena battle scene with Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, for example. This battle is very easy to identify with the gladiator scene in John Carter of Mars, when the hero (or heroes) is thrown into the ring and must fight off crazed alien beasts and monsters. There are other connections like the Martian Princess, Dejah Thoris, from John Carter of Mars. Lucas clearly benefitted from her character when he created Leia. Like Leia, Dejah Thoris is also rebelling against the new evil regime and trying to restore peace to her people.
13. Lawrence of Arabia
George Lucas is a big fan of the work of David Lean and there’s no film of Lean’s that influenced Lucas more than Lawrence of Arabia. Many of the shots that Lucas used throughout the entire space opera were due in large part to Lean’s influence, so Lucas decided to pay him a little tribute by filming a dialogue scene between Anakin and Padme (with R2D2 tagging along) at the Plaza de Espana in Seville, the same location that Lean used for a pre-intermission scene in Lawrence of Arabia. Not only was the same location used to achieve this homage though because, Lucas also recreated it shot for shot, with the characters walking toward the camera just as they did in Lean’s 1962 epic.
12. The Fellowship of the Ring
While the Star Wars movies may predate The Lord of the Rings movies, they do not predate the books and there is one major Star Wars plot point that rifts on The Fellowship of the Ring. While in the Death Star in A New Hope, Luke, Leia and Han Solo are driven down, deep into the bowels of the Death Star where they encounter a tentacled Dianoga in the garbage chute. The heroes are then chased by the evil army until they cross paths with the villain. Their resident old man (Obi Wan Kenobi) decides to fight the villain sacrificing himself so the others can escape. Now compare this to the scene in LOTR when the fellowship is driven down to the Mines of Moria where they encounter a tentacled monster (The Watcher). From there they are chased by the evil army of orcs and cross paths with the villain, the Balrog. Their resident old man (Gandalf) decides to fight the Balrog, sacrificing his life so the heroes can escape. Fly, you fools.
11. Dersu Uzala
Another one of Akira Kurosawa’s films, Dersu Uzala has two scenes in particular that George Lucas took and put to use. The first is the blizzard scene on the planet of Hoth, which has Han Solo drag an unconscious Luke to shelter and safety. This is clearly taken from the scene in Dersu Uzala when the cold weather causes the captain to collapse and Dersu drags him to safety. Another scene is likely more of a tribute, but both men, the captain and Dersu, are looking out at the horizon and witness the setting sun and rising moon together. Luke has a similar moment when he sees the binary suns of Tatooine. This is in a way a science fiction parody of that scene, showing the otherworldliness of the alien planet.
10. The Fighting Devil Dogs
It’s long been said that Darth Vader is based on the character of “The Lightning” from The Fighting Devil Dogs. I don’t think that George Lucas has ever openly admitted this, but it’s really not that much of a stretch considering all these other influences. The Lightning is best known as being the first costumed villain in film, and Darth Vader and his costumes are quite similar. Even their powers are a little similar. The Lightning also has a posse of costumed soldiers and they dress in white. The same color as Stormtroopers. Coinkidink? Maybe, but I think not. The Lightning and his henchmen would fly around in their triangular ship, “The Flying Wing,” which is also very similar to the design of Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer as well. It’s not an open and shut case, but there certainly appear to be some fairly obvious connections here.
When you first notice that Han Solo is modeled after the confident and cynical Humphrey Bogart’s Rick from Casablanca, you’ll feel a little silly for not seeing it earlier. After all, they both say the word “kid.” Case closed. There’s another major element from Casablanca (1942) that really influenced Star Wars and that’s Rick’s Café Américain, which the Cantina is very obviously modeled after. A place to hide away from the authorities, shady characters all around, a swing band and people of all shapes and sizes. Both these places epitomize seediness. In fact, the entire spaceport town of Mos Eisley is heavily influenced by Casablanca, a place that one can remain unseen but need to be able to handle their own within.
There’s one very obvious connection between Star Wars and the silent German film, Metropolis (1927): C-3PO is almost an identical copy to the robot Maria, except for their different genders. There are other plot connections though. Both Luke Skywalker and Maria’s inventor have a cyborg hand that they cover up with a black glove. Also, nearing the end of Return of the Jedi, the Emperor is thrown off the top level by Darth Vader. This scene is very close to the scene at the end of Metropolis when the inventor is thrown off the top of the cathedral. Really any science fiction movie will trace some influence from Metropolis, but that shouldn’t change how important it was to Star Wars.
7. The Godfather
There is a very close connection between the “Baptism of Fire” scene in The Godfather (1972) and the “Order 66” or “The Great Jedi Purge” scene in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. In The Godfather, Michael watches the baptism of his nephew (symbolically and literally becoming the Godfather) while the heads of the other mafia families are killed one by one. In Star Wars, a similar juxtaposition is set up with the establishment of the Galactic Empire and the slaughter of the separatists going on at once. Since Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, director of The Godfather, are such old pals, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that Lucas has included a little pastiche here.
6. Lost Horizon
Even if you didn’t know what you were looking for, it’s almost impossible to miss the connections between Yoda and the High Lama in Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon (1937). Both Yoda and the High Lama speak in a very strange and very unique way, both are just little guys and both have incredibly drawn out death sequences. Both of these tiny sages are sort of mystical beings who bestow their knowledge on the heroes (the chosen ones) right before they pass away, almost as if they were waiting on the heroes to die. It’s much more than a few references though; the final moments of Yoda with Luke is really close to a shot-for-shot remake of the Lost Horizon scene with the High Lama with Robert Conway (Ronald Colman).
5. The Dam Busters
When Gilbert Taylor, the special effects guy for Star Wars: A New Hope came on board, he brought with him a wealth of experience, but he also brought a certain idea for a scene. At the end of A New Hope, Luke and the gang of Rebel pilots must fly through the trenches on the Death Star and fire at a specific area at a precise moment in order to destroy the ship. This is almost exactly how the scene in The Dam Busters plays out, except the pilots are from the British Royal Air Force and the things they are destroying are German dams. This type of scene is not only unique to these two movies, however, as 633 Squadron pilots navigate a very similar terrain. Lucas has admitted that the visuals of the fjord in 633 Squadron was a big reference point for him. There are even some direct quotes from the battle in The Dam Busters that were recycled for A New Hope.
Moisture-based economies, mind control and obese aliens are all things from both Star Wars and Frank Herbert’s Dune. In early drafts of Star Wars, Princess Leia wasn’t smuggling the plans to the Death Star, she was smuggling “aura-spice,” similar to the spice melange in Dune. It’s been said that the script for Jodorowsky’s Dune was even making its rounds in the mid 70’s and it could have ended up influencing several major films that came out in that time. There are so many elements that show up in both Dune and Star Wars, but perhaps the most plot-driven element is that both villains are revealed to be related to the heroes. SPOILER: In Star Wars, Vader is Luke’s father; in Dune, the Baron is Paul’s grandfather.
3. The Hidden Fortress
A lot has been made of the connections between Star Wars and Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress (1958). The major premise in the Japanese classic is two bumbling farmhands must help a princess claim her rightful throne and restore peace to the land. Sound familiar? It should. It’s exactly what R2D2 and C-3PO were designed to do. Lucas has held nothing back in giving Kurosawa the proper credit for this idea. There’s also the constant bickering and comic relief given by the two lowly helpers and the evil, scarred villain trying to stop their progress. A few others of Kurosawa’s films were used as material to draw from for Star Wars including Yojimbo (1961), which served as the inspiration for the Cantina brawl scene in Star Wars.
2. New Gods Saga
A prophesied hero who will overcome the dark side and restore peace to the universe. Yet the hero is unaware that the villain is actually his father. There’s also a mystical power that controls everything and it rhymes with “horse.” This has got to be Star Wars, right? Wrong. This is the description of the New Gods Saga, a comic series written by Jack Kirby in the early-to-mid 70s. In New Gods, the hero is Orion (Luke) and he is foretold to be the savior of the universe by the mythical Source (Force). In his way is Darkseid (see The Dark Side and Darth Vader), who is actually his father. There’s a rumor that the similarities between the two stories was even brought to Lucas’ attention before the films were made. He just shrugged it off I guess. Hmm.
1. Flash Gordon Serials
George Lucas’ big pitch, prior to Star Wars, was to recreate the Flash Gordon story for the big screen. It wasn’t until he was unable to acquire the rights that Lucas decided to create his own story, Star Wars, but many of those original Flash Gordon ideas stuck around. Take, for example, the Cloud City which is a lot like Flash Gordon‘s Court of the Skymen, Chewbacca is similar to Prince Thun, several of the monsters and space technology is based on Flash Gordon and even the upwards title crawl is borrowed from it. The major plot point that was stolen (then acknowledged) is the hero’s infiltration of the enemy base in costume (Luke Skywalker and Han Solo), which is directly taken from Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe when a costumed Flash Gordon and Prince Barin enter Ming’s fortress.