Monday, May 08, 2017

More on the development of Star Wars

To continue my exposition on AD ASTRA as an attempt to recapture what Star Wars was when it was new, before it got bogged down in pretentiousness and weird mysticism, as well as the early hint of SJW convergence that kind of already messed up Jedi and only got much worse as time went on, I thought it maybe nice to look at what Lucas' true immediate sources were as the draft script of Star Wars was developing.

This is meant to be a very short post.
  • Lucas wanted to remake Flash Gordon; when he failed to get the rights, he determined to make his own pastiche in the same "capes and swords and rayguns and space-ships" oeuvre.
  • As a big fan of Kurosawa's period pieces, his very first plot treatment for Star Wars is basically a remake of The Hidden Fortress with the Jedi playing the role of samurai, not yet with much in the way of super powers.  Kurosawa's films are famous both in and out of Japan in imitating Western movie traditions, of course, with a Japanese veneer on top of them.  He's adopted plots directly from Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and others that were patently not Japanese.  Kurosawa was in fact frequently criticized, especially in Japan, for being way too Western.
  • Dune is an obvious early influence in many elements of both setting and plot: the idea of a feudal empire, of spice, of the desert planet Luke lives on and psychic powers not unlike the Bene Gesserit start to make their way in in a big way.  While it's true that many of these elements are not unique to Dune, it seems outrageous to think that Lucas wasn't influenced by them, although from a plot perspective, Anakin as the Muad'dib doesn't really play a direct role until the prequels.  And even that isn't unique.
  • The Jedi actually became the Jedi first by migrating out of being space samurai or "Templers" [sic=Lucas' use] into being Lensmen (complete with needing to use a kiber crystal, or lens, to focus their powers) and only after that got toned down a bit into being a kind of hybrid of the Lensmen and the Bene Gesserit.
  • The plot itself gradually became considerably less like The Hidden Fortress, specifically by grafting a Where Eagles Dare infiltration of an enemy fortress into it, the grafting of plot elements from the third Lensmen book (secret plans to an enemy super-weapon, tractor beams, a single-fighter attack on the super-weapon to destroy it.
  • While the idea of small fighters destroying the super weapon was probably influenced by Galactic Patrol, the more specific inspiration seems to be The Dam Busters + 633 Squadron; the whole Death Star attack has almost every detail from its plot derived from 633 Squadron in particular, and Lucas made no secret of the fact that he really wanted to have WW2 dogfights in space (he used footage from both of those two films to show his special effects department what he wanted the space ship dogfights to look like.)
  • Many elements of the cantina scene in particular and Han Solo in general are a call-back to the Westerns that Lucas admits to watching a ton of growing up in the 50s and early 60s and seeing as an important "mythology" for his generation that he wanted to recreate for the next one; although he doesn't seem to pinpoint any one of them in particular.  Although some commentators have noted a number of resemblances to The Searchers that they think is probably subconsciously important.
For AD ASTRA I'd probably substitute the Kurosawa stuff—not that I don't like it, but still—with some swashbuckling and Medieval influences: stuff that's certainly in the canon of Western civilization.  Ivanhoe, The Black Arrow, Rafael Sabatini and Alexandre Dumas, etc.  Rather than the psionic knights being like samurai who gradually grew Lensmen-like superpowers and a somewhat Bene Gesserit-like organization and approach, they are elite warriors not unlike Medieval knights, with more modest psionic powers.

Here's a curious aside; one of the earlier drafts had not only an opening crawl, but also a closing one, telling people to be on the lookout for the sequel.  The text of this closing crawl is
...And a thousand new systems joined the rebellion, causing a significant crack in the great wall of the powerful Galactic Empire.  The Starkiller would once again spark fear in the hearts of the Sith Knights, but not before his sons were put to many tests... the most daring of which was the kidnapping of the Lars family, and the perilous search for:
"The Princess of Ondos."


Keith Sloan said...

I'm enjoying these posts. One minor thing on the Death Star attack from Star Wars -- I've always understood it was largely based on the Battle of Midway, down to the ill-fated torpedo bombers (Y-wings) followed up by the more successful dive bombers (X-Wings). Although the movie Midway came out a year before Star Wars ('76), it seems unlikely to have been a major influence given the timing. However, Lucas went to film school at USC, which had a very strong Navy presence (the Navy regularly sent senior enlisted photographers there). Lucas was friends with many of the Navy chiefs (I'm told by someone who was there that he had three CPO friends in particular, hence C3PO). I don't disagree with 633 Squadron and Dambusters being big influences, but would add The Battle of Midway to the list.

Gaiseric said...

Could be. But Dam Busters and 633 Squadron are the ones that he used footage of to show his special effects team what he wanted, and both have plots that read almost exactly like the trench run segment of Star Wars.