Did George Lucas Swipe Darth Vader From A Cult Musical
It's well-known that George Lucas generously borrowed from other works while making Star Wars, be they Kurosawa's Samurai adventures, or Flash Gordon serials, or Frank Herbert's Dune -- to the annoyance of Herbert himself. But it also seems like Lucas may have casually ripped off one of his buddies, fellow director, and beard enthusiast: Brian De Palma.
Famously, De Palma was one of Lucas' filmmaking friends, along with Steven Spielberg, to watch the rough cut of the original Star Wars. According to Spielberg, De Palma offered Lucas some creative criticism afterward that amounted to yelling: "I DON'T UNDERSTAND YOUR STORY! THERE'S NO CONTEXT! WHAT IS THIS SPACE STUFF? WHO CARES? I'M LOST!" Other reports claim that he also asked: "What's all this Force shit? Where's the blood when they shoot people?" De Palma disputes that he was quite so harsh; not only did he see the promise in the film, but, along with screenwriter Jay Cocks, De Palma rewrote the opening crawl, gifting Lucas with the more concise version we know and love today.
But another iconic aspect of Star Wars may owe a debt to De Palma's work -- and no, we don't mean how General Grievous' raging coke dependency was a nod to Scarface. We're talking about Darth Vader. Three years before Star Wars hit theatres, De Palma made the box office flop (unless you were in Winnipeg) Phantom of the Paradise, a rock version of The Phantom of the Opera that subsequently became a beloved cult favorite.
The titular Phantom is a guy who becomes disfigured and dons a black cape, helmet, and voice-distorting computer which he wears on his chest -- sound familiar? Sadly, though, Vader never belted out any groovy '70s tunes while pounding on a synthesizer the size of a Volkswagen.
According to William Finley, who played the Phantom, Lucas admitted his artistic thievery to Paul Hirsch, the editor of both Star Wars and Phantom of the Paradise, who pointed out the similarity.
Finley also claimed that De Palma confronted Lucas about Vader's resemblance to the Phantom, and Lucas just laughed it off. Of course, the two directors were good friends, so the issue never ended up in the courts -- unlike the case of the dude who claimed he invented the Ewoks ...
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Top Image: Lucasfilm