About a year back, I talked about some movies that would not have been made if it weren’t for Star Wars. That was far from a complete list, of course, so in honor of Episode IV’s 40th birthday (yes, it’s been 40 years, Gen X-ers) I’ve decided to talk about some more. These have a bit of a different theme though. Last year’s post was mostly about effects and film-making techniques. This year, I’m going to talk more about executives and directors and people— movies that literally would not have been made were it not for George’s “silly little sci-fi film”. Many of the films listed here are made by people who were inspired directly by Star Wars, or are films that have a symbiotic relationship with Star Wars (even more so that Star Trek). These are films, ultimately, that people decided to make due to the success of Star Wars, or due to the power of its film-making.
This is still talking about the Original Trilogy, of course.
6. Raiders of the Lost Ark
This film, in addition to making certain that Harrison Ford had a career after Star Wars, was thought up by Lucas and pitched to Steven Spielberg on a vacation in Hawaii that Lucas needed to get away from the opening weekend of Star Wars. Spielberg wanted to do a James Bond film after Close Encounters was over (which would come out that fall). Lucas told him that he had something better than Bond. And while the late, great Roger Moore’s For Your Eyes Only has a cool 74% on Rotten Tomatoes, Raiders is Certified Fresh at 94%. No, I’m not saying that one franchise is better than the other, but Spielberg was able to create a brand new, instantly iconic action hero, as opposed to reinventing an old one, so that had to feel good.
This one is a bit harder to trace. Plans for a movie based on Frank Herbert’s Dune series were in the works before Star Wars was even a passing thought in Lucas’ mind. Salvador Dali and Orson Welles were tagged to star in it, with Alejandro Jodorowsky in the director’s chair, but he couldn’t get the funding. At one point, Ridley Scott (yes, that, Ridley Scott) was tagged to direct, which was how he met H.R. Geiger, but left to direct Blade Runner. Finally, they got David Lynch attached to the project. Lynch turned down Return of the Jedi to do it. The book was obviously a big influence on Star Wars, and people more knowledgeable about Dune than I have said as much. I can imagine that the project finally got the money because people thought it would be another Star Wars— like they thought Willow would be. Or Hawk the Slayer. Or Disney’s The Black Hole.
Though speaking of Disney…
4. Iron Man
Comics weren’t doing so great in the late 70’s. Marvel was spinning out of control, and DC would cancel 31 of its titles suddenly in 78, and it was just a mess. Roy Thomas, a Marvel executive who had brought Conan the Barbarian to the company, was approached about a comic adaptation of a movie that would be coming out shortly. Thomas was sold after seeing the iconic Ralph McQuarrie concept art and hearing that the rights came at everyone’s favorite price– free. All they wanted was for the first two issues of the adaptation to be released before the movie. It sold over a million copies, which was four times the amount of books that their top seller, Spider-Man, was selling. Once they were done adapting the movie they didn’t stop, which helped kick-start the old Expanded Universe (along with Splinter of the Mind’s Eye). Marvel and DC both realized just how profitable licensed comics could be, and it saved the industry. So, really, all of the DC and Marvel movies that have come out since then owe a debt to Star Wars.
3. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
(Using Doug Walker’s Disneycember review because the clips available were of very poor quality)
Director Joe Johnson (who also directed the first Captain America film, and designed the Iron Giant) was initially an industrial designer who created exciting products like bus seats. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is one of Disney’s better live action fares, and his directorial debut. In between? He worked for Industrial Light and Magic on Star Wars as an effects artist. He ended up being mentored by Lucas, who helped him pay for film school later on down the line. Many directors cite George Lucas as their inspiration for getting into film-making, but I haven’t found one quite as personal as Johnson’s.
2. Independence Day
Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich were both inspired to go into film-making after seeing Star Wars, and truth be told, this is probably Emmerich’s most Star Wars-like film. There’s the aliens, of course, but the air battles are highly reminiscent of the spaceship battles in Episodes IV and VI. Of course, this is also because of Lucas’ own inspiration of WWII fighter pilots. Art imitates reality. It’s also a high-budget speculative fiction film with lots of action and impressive special effects that had a CGI-heavy follow-up film about two decades later that disappointed fans of the original and was critically panned. So, you know, there’s that.
(The shot you’re looking for is at 3:14)
There’s actually a lot of anime and manga that was inspired by Star Wars, but by far the most famous is Akira. Creator Katsuhiro Otomo lists Star Wars as a major influence for this and it does show in the “used future” aesthetic that borders on cyberpunk, and in much of the action. In this scene, for example, there are several shots that are quite reminiscent of the speeder chase in Return of the Jedi. Considered one of the greatest animated movies of all time, its own influence spreads out impressively as well– from the Wachowskis to the creators of the Clone Wars miniseries (not to be confused with the The Clone Wars TV series).
Any more I should add for next year? Let me know in the comments!