Whether you've seen them all or not, there's no denying [Star Wars](tag:2395282) has been a staple of pop culture for the best part of the last forty years. When George Lucas set out to make what would become his greatest success, few could have expected it to make the impact it did. Everywhere you go today, four decades later, the logo can be seen, emblazoned on everything from apples to birthday cakes.
But behind every story is another meant to be forgotten. Despite its successes, Star Wars was far from an original product. Although taking a lot from real life, such as the Nazi symbolism to depict the Empire, George Lucas also "borrowed" several aspects from dozens of books and movies. He then carefully slotted them together to create his own masterpiece. Star Wars' connections to many other pop culture phenomena are evident throughout the saga, particularly in A New Hope, and in some cases it seems like Lucas just stole an idea and used it himself.
While every story draws inspiration from something, Lucas didn't always do a great job in keeping it subtle. You'll probably recognize some of these stories immediately.
1. Flash Gordon
George Lucas has no shame in admitting that Star Wars was his response to not being able to remake the classic Flash Gordon serials from the 1930s. The entire Star Wars franchise harks back to the show, from Cloud City to even the iconic opening crawl. Yes, Lucas didn't come up with the idea for that opening crawl. It had already been a defining feature of Flash Gordon over forty years prior.
Flash Gordon was unique in its approach at the time, posing as a fantasy story that substituted science and technology in the place of magic. However, it retained a mystical aspect which also translated over into Star Wars as The Force.
Even the prequels took inspiration, with the Gungan city of Otoh Gunga being heavily based on the underwater city from the show.
2. The Hidden Fortress
It doesn't take a genius to realize Star Wars takes a lot of inspiration from classic samurai movies. From the robes to the lightsaber duels (particularly Obi-Wan's final duel with Darth Vader), the whole thing reeks of classic Japanese theatre.
Lucas named his primary influence as the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa and his 1958 movie, The Hidden Fortress. In effect, Lucas took the aesthetics and themes of Flash Gordon and pasted them over the story of The Hidden Fortress. Kurosawa's film also contained the basis for many of Lucas' characters, including two squabbling peasants that evolved into R2-D2 and C-3PO and an all-powerful General with Darth Vader-like undertones.
The Hidden Fortress is not the only film of Akira Kurosawa's that bears similarities to Star Wars, however. The film Yojimbo included a scene very similar to the cantina sequence in A New Hope in which several known criminals team up against the hero. The scene also ends with a blade being wielded and an arm on the floor.
Lucas was a huge fan of samurai movies and it shows in his own work, but the deeper origins of Star Wars in fact lie a little closer to home.
3. Joseph Campbell
Now, technically speaking, it's unfair to say Lucas stole Campbell's idea as it was Campbell's job to lend it to him. Additionally, the two men were good friends, meaning Lucas and Campbell would have likely collaborated on their ideas together.
Joseph Campbell was a mythologist who is known for essentially plotting out the key features of a modern myth in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces. In it, he declared that all myths from all time periods were based on the same basic aspects. In creating the Star Wars universe, Lucas followed Campbell's guidelines to the letter.
Campbell's writing lists many key features that appear in every myth, such as the mentor in Obi-Wan Kenobi or the two worlds shown as Tatooine and The Death Star.
Long before Star Wars ruled the sci-fi nest, there was Dune. Written by Frank Herbert in the mid-1960s, Dune was the definitive science fiction novel. Fifty years on it still hold up brilliantly and it stands as a testament to the true potential of science fiction.
Also it got majorly ripped off by George Lucas.
While the ideas taken from Flash Gordon, The Hidden Fortress and The Hero With A Thousand Faces can be seen on the surface as merely taking inspiration, the aspects taken from Dune are just blatantly stolen. The book is set on a desert planet, like Tatooine, inhabited by farmers who survive by farming moisture, like Uncle Owen, and primal natives that wrap themselves up to protect them from the sand, like Tusken Raiders.
Dune also features a mythic order with the power to control minds, a princess in trouble and huge sandworms which are definitely nothing to do with that space slug from The Empire Strikes Back.
Its influence is also seen in the prequel trilogy, with the Trade Federation in The Phantom Menace being uncomfortably similar to the Spacing Guild of Dune in its power and control over supplies.
Despite its flaws, Star Wars has managed to secure its place in history as one of the greatest science fiction film series ever. Knowing it wasn't totally original doesn't take anything away from the movies and, if anything, enhances the enjoyment, knowing that there's another story behind the one you're watching.
With The Force Awakens just around the corner, it's probable that we'll be seeing a lot more inspiration from these sources in the near future.
Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens is released on December 18, 2015.
Sources: Star Wars Origins