When it was first released in 1956, John Ford's latest western The Searchers didn't set the world on fire. But it wasn't long before it started its long crawl back into the limelight. And by the late 60s a new generation of film makers, including George Lucas, found renewed inspiration in it.
Following the adventures of spatio-temporal agents Valérian and Laureline as they hurdle through time and space, righting wrongs and getting out of tight jams, Mézières and Christin's trend-setting comic series was lightyears ahead of its time.
With a career stretching almost 60 years, Akira Kurosawa remains one of the most influential directors in the history of the medium. The pinnacle of his popularity however was perfectly timed with a batch of impressionable USC students ready to take on the world, and his impact on George Lucas in particular is the stuff of legends.
The Mos Eisley cantina isn't just a hive of scum and villainy, it's also where a hole number of very specific Western of Samurai influences converge in rapid succession. Here's a video intercutting the various sources with Star Wars itself.
Inarguably one of the greatest stories of tragic love ever cast onto the silver screen, Casablanca was something of an unexpected classic. Endlessly imitated and parodied, it even found its way into significant portions of Star Wars.
In the slipstream of Lucas's student version of THX 1138, John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon managed a similar trick, when they stole their short film from the vaults of USC and padded it out for a feature film release. Though little known as much more than a distant cult classic, Dark Star would become the predecessor to Alien, and fling off visual ideas to both Star Wars as well as Star Trek.
Luke's speeder is another distinct design in a world filled with them. As it turns out, Flash Gordon flew, and 'died' in one very similar to it half a decade before Luke. Perhaps they both shop at Wioslea?
Fair-haired, square jawed and irresistible to women, Flash Gordon is the great American hero personified. Alex Raymond managed to upstage Buck Rogers in the comic strips with his sense of adventure, and ever-changing perils.
Edgar Rice Burroughs might have stood on the shoulders of earlier 'officer adventures on Mars' tales, but his distinct style and sense of storytelling has cemented his place in the history of adventure stories. Here we meet John Carter and his martian bride to be, Dejah Thoris, and their planet-spanning escapades.
Swept by magic carpet to the glorious planet of Mars, no sooner has Lt. Gullivar Jones fallen for the beautiful Princess Heru of the Hither people before she is kidnapped by the hideous Tither people. Gullivar pursues in bumbling fashion, in an adventure across the jungles and rivers of Mars. John Carter takes notes.
Mars captured the imagination of a world which was in the throes of massive sociopolitical changes and coming to terms with equally massive technological progress. From it sprang the grand space adventure genre, sword and sandal.
The reveal of Darth Vader as Luke's father remains one of the greatest twists in cinema history, and one that sits at the heart of why the Star Wars saga is popular even to this day. But this wasn't always the way the story was meant to play out. In fact, it wasn't until the second draft of Star Wars II that the idea manifested itself. So where did it come from?
Despite being substantially older than Star Wars, the Hero's Journey, also known as the mono myth, will forever be a part of Star Wars lore. But did Lucas actually employ it to 'design' Star Wars, or did he stumble upon it, and only later use it as a structuring tool?
The first American fairytale, in its greatest silver screen presentation; a marvel of color and staging when it was first released in 1939. Perhaps not surprisingly, the first true American fairytale fueled another great American fairytale; here's how.
Torn out of his days cruising the streets of Modesto, American Graffiti is Lucas's love letter to a long since dead mating ritual. Seeming perhaps a sidestep in relation to Star Wars, when compared to the science fiction worlds of THX 1138, it was crucial in shaping the populist approach with which Star Wars conquered the world.
Not long out of USC, Coppola's production company American Zoetrope, started its life with Lucas's first feature film, THX 1138. An alienating film about social politics, consumerism and other hot button topics of the 60s, it is a remarkable first picture, and one that in many ways can be thought of as the art house version of Star Wars.
It's a common refrain amongst critics and even certain groupings of film fans, that the films of Spielberg and Lucas effectively killed the important and much more serious films that were finally gaining ground in the 70s. One critic, Philip Kerr certainly thought so, and I couldn't help but rebut his poorly researched and thought-through claims, even if I'm late to the party on this one.
WWII was an enormous influence on all kids of the 50s and 60s, and Lucas was no exception. From the general good vs evil nature of the conflict to the specifics of war epics like The Guns of Navarone and air-heroics of The Dam Busters and 633 Squadron, it seems entirely possible that Star Wars would never have existed if not for the war.
Before Star Wars, before American Graffiti even, a young film maker is interviewed for a PBS special. Remarkable for being the perhaps earliest video of George Lucas, and for Lucas's persistent vision, much of which he lays out for Gene Youngblood.
Easily the most famous piece of propaganda in the world, Leni Riefenstahl's film glorifying the Nazi party was a watershed moment for Hitler's third reich, and remains today a chilling reminder for the horrors that ensued.
Drawn by Howard Chaykin who would work on the very first Star Wars poster as well as the Marvel comic book series, Cody Starbuck, cutlass in one hand and a six-shooter in the other, is often thought of as an x-rated precursor to Han Solo.
A 24 minute documentary on the radio DJ Bob Hudson, AKA The Emperor, who would late become the template for Wolfman Jack in American Graffiti. Features a young John Milius in his signature Zoetrope-days sombrero.
One of the earliest and greatest influences on the young film maker, Arthur Lipsett was an avant-garde Canadian working at the National Film Board. His style had a tremendous impact on Lucas's early films, and his films indirectly named The Force.
Lucas went to see Forbidden Planet for his 12th birthday, and never looked back. The equivalent to what Star Wars would become for later generations, it was indeed an Amazing! Never Before Seen! science fiction extravaganza, and it left its DNA all over Star Wars.
Christopher Frayling his biographer, called him 'the first post-modern film maker', and as such Sergio Leone has had an arguably underrated and largely overlooked influence on Star Wars . A lengthy discussion of Leone's approach to film making, and how a samurai became a cowboy who became a bounty hunter in a galaxy far, far away.