Originally created 01/30/97

George Lucas' influences are of mythic proportions



"Guerre Stellari." "Krieg der Stern." "Gwiezdne Wojny." Whatever its title around the world, "Star Wars" is a spectacular mishmash with martial music, a mulligan stew of myths buried deep in the psyche, a pastiche of old comic strips, monster flicks, swashbucklers and shoot-'em-ups.

Growing up in Modesto, Calif., in the '50s, George Lucas was glued to his family's black-and-white TV set. Biographer Dale Pollock writes in "Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas" that his favorite show was "Adventure Theater," a half-hour of old movie serials, broadcast nightly on the town's only channel.

Years later, Lucas tried to buy the rights to one of those serial's heroes for what he called "this big sci-fi/space adventure/Flash Gordon thing." But Federico Fellini, who owned the Flash Gordon rights, wanted more than Lucas could pay, so the mogul-to-be borrowed the blaster guns, costumes and deco sets and invented his own hero - Luke Skywalker (known at first as Luke Starkiller).

Critic Roger Ebert writes that he hasn't had many out-of-body experiences at a film (meaning his imagination forgot it was in a movie theater), but he had one at "Star Wars":

"The golden robot, lion-faced space pilot, and insecure little computer on wheels must have been suggested by the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow in `The Wizard of Oz."'

Others see the robot comedy team of C-3PO and R2-D2 as a space-age Laurel and Hardy. But Lucas has always given the nod for the android buddies to Akira Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress" (1958).

He saw the adventure classic, the first Japanese movie in Cinemascope, in film school and never forgot its opening with two foot soldiers, one short and one tall, slogging along in a desolate land. Then along come an outcast samurai leader, a proud, warlike princess and a fortress that must be destroyed. As critic Ebert puts it, "Seeing The Hidden Fortress is like visiting the wellspring of the Force."

Chewbacca, Han Solo's hairy Wookiee pal and co-pilot, was modeled after Lucas' Siberian Husky, which looked like a person to the owner.

After a near-fatal car crash in 1962, Lucas discovered the writings of Joseph Campbell dealing with the myths of the world. In "Star Wars," he used all the standard mythological figures. It's no accident that journalist Bill Moyers held a famed series of interviews with Campbell, "The Power of Myth," at Lucas' ranch.

Over the last two summers of his life, Campbell, who died in 1987, talked with Moyers about stories told through the ages to explain the universe and humankind's place in it.

"A movie like `Star Wars' fills a need for spiritual adventure," the master storyteller said. He likened wise man Obi-Wan Kenobi to old Japanese sword masters. "He gives him (Luke) not only a physical instrument but a psychological commitment and a psychological center. He has him exercising with that strange weapon and then pulled the mask down. That's real Japanese stuff."

Another mythical archetype is mercenary Han Solo, Campbell said. "He was a practical guy, a materialist, at least that's how he thought of himself, but he was a compassionate human being. The adventure evoked a quality of his character he didn't know he had. He thinks he's an egoist, but he really isn't. That's a very lovable kind of human being, I think."

But the most stellar thing about "Star Wars" is its message, aimed at the young, about accepting responsibility. According to Skywalking, "The message of `Star Wars' is religious: God isn't dead, he's there if you want him to be. `The laws really are in yourself,' Lucas is fond of saying; `the Force dwells within."'