5 WTF Origins Of 'Star Wars' Iconic Aspects
Everyone knows by now that Star Wars came about when George Lucas took Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress and combined it with a bunch of old film serials and just a sprinkle of magic (which, for legal purposes, was definitely not cocaine). With such a bizarre formula being the driving force behind it, it's consequently hard to imagine that anyone could ever recreate the success of the original trilogy nowadays, meaning that, much like the Star Wars prequels, J.J. Abrams' upcoming Episode VII is pretty much dead on arrival, right?
Well, not necessarily, because there actually is a way to save the movie, and it's as simple as all of us pitching in and mailing Abrams whatever random crap we find lying around our rooms. Why? Because that's how the original trilogy came up with its most iconic elements: by taking inspiration from a collection of the most random things imaginable, including ...
Planes, Models, and Hamburgers
Han Solo's ship, the Millennium Falcon, is arguably Star Wars' most famous creation that people don't want to have sex with (and if you disagree, try Googling "Ewok porn" and then get back to me).
"Did you hear that, Chewie? It sounded like millions of voices yelling out:
Eew, eew, there is no God, eew, eew!"
Hell, some might even argue that the spaceship is actually a character in its own regard, considering how it has its own backstory, and how you could never confuse it for any other vehicle out there. Unless of course you're talking about the insides of its cockpit. Then you could totally confuse it for the ship's real-life inspiration, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress.
Not having done anything like Star Wars before, George Lucas admits that he had to watch hours of World War II footage to get a feeling for what a proper dogfight would look like. That's when he first encountered the B-29, a propeller-driven heavy bomber used during the end of World War II. Lucas loved the design so much that he decided to copy it (together with its greenhouse-windshield gun turrets) while coming up with the Falcon's cockpit. Later, Lucas even used a slowed-down recording of a P-51 Mustang fighter to simulate the flight sound of Solo's ride.
But the aeronautical Frankenstein approach to the design did not end there. In the middle of production, the Star Wars staff noticed that their original model of the Millennium Falcon was a little bit too similar to the ship from the Space: 1999 TV series, forcing them to scrap it at the last minute. Seeing as they were already suffering from a terminal case of lack of money at the time, the crew resorted to using spare parts from plastic World War II model airplanes. Taking part of the fuselage here and a hatch there, the modelers kept adding to the design until they ended up with the badass ship we all know today. A badass ship that, by the way, was ultimately based on a half-eaten hamburger.
"Meh, we'll get it in post."
An Old Bugs Bunny Cartoon (Maybe)
Have you noticed that R2-D2 and similar robots seem to be the only non-humanoid droids in the whole original trilogy? Almost every other mechanical being in Star Wars is bipedal and has something approaching a head and a pair of limbs, while R2-D2 and his kind look more like mecha-versions of the Wheelers from Return to Oz.
You have to wonder: Why make this one robot into the shape of a trashcan on wheels? Personally, I always thought it was because the character's bleeps and boops were just him swearing and getting censored, so it made sense for him to look like a metal container filled with garbage. But if you subscribe to an unconfirmed Internet theory, R2-D2's design might have been lifted from a 1960 Bugs Bunny cartoon, "Lighter Than Hare."
In this Merrie Melodies animated short, Yosemite Sam is an alien (sure, why the fuck not) who comes to Earth to kidnap an earthling and decides that it has to be Bugs, sending a robot named ZX29B to fetch him.
"God, I hope this rabbit isn't green and packing heat."
And, yup, you can't deny that that sure looks a lot like a cartoon version of R2-D2. It's not just that both characters are identified by numbers and letters, because that's always been common when it came to fictional robots. It's not even that ZX29B doesn't really talk, because, again, that could be chalked up to a huge coincidence. But if you take both of those traits, add "looks like a rolling garbage can" to it, and repeat it three times in front of a mirror at midnight, you will successfully summon a Lucasfilm lawyer who will appear behind you holding a cease-and-desist notice written in your own blood.
The garbage can comparison is actually quite apt, because one of the only things that ZX29B does in the cartoon is get confused for a trash receptacle by Bugs.
As I said before, though, the theory is wholly unconfirmed, and the official word is that R2-D2 was based on the robots from the 1972 film Silent Running, despite them looking nothing like the droid. Besides, a lot of you might think that Lucas would never steal anything from Bugs Bunny, of all things, to which I say: Look, seeing as Star Wars' former influences already include a Nazi propaganda film, adding some Merrie Melodies to its ingredients list will hardly do anything to damage its reputation.
An Alaskan Malamute
Star Wars went through a lot of changes from its conception, like with Han Solo's trusted companion, Chewbacca, who initially looked more like Yoda's distant cousin who's just been released from prison after the police found all that ... "stuff" on his computer.
"A-all of those images are legal! In the countries they were taken in!"
But even in the very beginning, George Lucas evidently envisioned Chewbacca with enough hair to lose your car keys in, suggesting that, with his monstrous strength and communicating in nothing but roars, the character's inspiration must have come down to a cross between a brown bear and a methed-out hobo. In reality, though, Chewie owes his existence to the exact opposite of an anthropomorphic ursine junkie, namely Lucas' fuzzy-wuzzy Alaskan malamute named Indiana.
Who also inspired the name of Indiana Jones because, man, screenwriting is easy!
When asked about his inspiration for Chewbacca, Lucas freely admitted that it all came down to his dog, who had always been by his side whenever he was writing the script for Star Wars or driving his car. The latter was especially important because Alaskan malamutes are huge creatures, meaning that whenever Lucas got behind the wheel, he always had a loyal mountain of fur next to him in the passenger seat. From there, it was a straightforward road to coming up with a co-pilot character for Han Solo who would sort of act like a dog that you could actually get drunk with.
Begging the question: Is Solo just an idealized stand-in for Lucas,
and how many people did his dog kill with a bowcaster?
Even Chewbacca's name supposedly comes from the Russian word "sobaka," which means "dog." So (and I can't believe I'm saying it), I guess this means we should be happy that a few decades ago some guy seriously endangered the life of his pet by improperly transporting it in his car.
An Episode of Star Trek
I've often heard Star Wars and Star Trek described as the Democrat and Republican camps of geekdom, which I've never agreed with because there actually are some basic differences between the two sci-fi franchises.
Star Wars is ultimately a story about the opposing forces of rationality (science, technology) and the unknown (the Force), perfectly embodied by the Jedi, who are basically laser sword-fighting alien wizards. The original Star Trek, on the other hand, concentrates almost entirely on technology and progress, emphasizing how they will usher in a brand new multicolored, multi-limbed galactic renaissance. Consequently, there's very little mysticism or supernatural belief in it.
Except for the impromptu masses held in Kirk's bed.
But that's not to say that everything about Star Trek was always hopelessly logical. Just look at the 18th episode of Season 2, "The Immunity Syndrome" (1968), where the Enterprise receives a barely audible distress call from the USS Intrepid, a ship piloted by a crew of 400 Vulcans. Before they can go to their aid, though, the signal suddenly goes off, and we cut to a visibly shaken Spock telling McCoy and Kirk, "The Intrepid ... it just died."
He later explains that he somehow felt the 400 Vulcans aboard the Intrepid dying all at once, despite it having been established that Vulcans are only touch telepaths. And yet Spock was still able to feel their immense psychic turmoil thanks to some mysterious link between him and his kind. Or, in other words, he felt a great disturbance in the Force.
That's right. Some fans have noticed the eerie similarities between Spock's lines in "The Immunity Syndrome" and Obi-Wan Kenobi's famous quote that he utters after Vader blows up Leia's homeworld of Alderaan: "I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced."
"Almost as if they all killed themselves after accidentally looking at hardcore Ewok porn."
So in both of the Star universes, we get a character who defies all logic by sensing a mass extermination that was seemingly hurled through light-years of space directly into his mind, and which then ends up delegated to the vague realm of "Maybe it's magic, maybe it's something they are born with (maybe it's Maybelline)." No one from the Star Wars production team has ever confirmed this connection, but the evidence is definitely there and looking more damning than your hot cousin in a skimpy bikini.
Then again, maybe it was an accidental ripoff? Whatever you might think of him, George Lucas is obviously a huge sci-fi fan, so it stands to reason that he could've borrowed from one of the greatest sci-fi shows ever without realizing it. That, however, can't be said about ...
The John Carter Novels
So ... the John Carter movie.
Sorry, sorry! I didn't realize there were any Hollywood executives in here!
Yeah, one of the most hyped-up movies of 2012 really failed to deliver, didn't it? Somehow, the tale of a hopping Taylor Kitsch fighting Martians like a more deranged Bugs Bunny received really mixed reviews and didn't even come close to making back all the money sunk into it, despite its incredibly badass source material.
Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1917 book A Princess of Mars, which inspired the movie, was actually one of the first and greatest examples of the Swords and Sandals in Space genre, eventually influencing some of the most famous examples of modern science fiction. And you can bet that that also includes Star Wars, to an almost uncomfortable degree.
In fact, when you listen to a basic summary of Burroughs' world, it almost sounds like a drunken, typo-prone 13-year-old trying to describe Lucas' movies. For example, in the of Mars books, Martian chieftains were given the title of "jed," while the equivalent of their lieutenant was referred to as a "padwar." (The movie, shockingly, never uses those terms.) You can already see the amazing similarity between that and Star Wars with its warrior Jedi and their student padawans, and that's not even mentioning the Sith, which in Burroughs' world was the name of an evil species of giant hornets.
Which in Lucas Land were made into evil, sentient prunes.
But that's not all: The Star Wars banthas seem to be named after the Martian banth, a sort of hairless alien lion (alion). Conversely, the yeti-like wampa from The Empire Strikes Back is based entirely on a Martian creature called an apt in everything but its name, from their white, hairy appearance to their snowy environments and the two horns/tusks on their heads:
Finally, there are the boobs.
The most famous boobs in Star Wars obviously belong to Princess Leia while in her Slave Girl outfit (though in all fairness, her only mammary competition was probably Porkins). Well, even that design traces back to the John Carter novels and the heroine Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins in the movie) as depicted in the art of Frank Frazetta.
Who sadly and thankfully never learned what the real purpose of armor is.
George Lucas never tried to deny that without Burroughs' books, Star Wars would never have that distinctive feeling of an archaic-futuristic world of science and sorcery, teaching the world a valuable lesson that the only difference between "ripping off" and "being inspired by" is about 60 years.
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.