With the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens looming closer, it is a great time to look at the books that inspired the popular space saga.
Over the years, George Lucas has referred to the influences of several films, including John Ford’s classic western The Searchers (1956) and David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962). He also has credited the Depression-era Flash Gordon film serials starring Buster Crabbe and the films Akira Kurosawa, such as Seven Samurai (1954).
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The roots of Star Wars
However, the roots of Star Wars also can be seen in several books, both fiction and non-fiction. A primary influence on Lucas and his creation of “a galaxy far, far away” came from Joseph Campbell’s 1949 non-fiction book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
In this book, Campbell discusses his theories on what qualities and circumstances make the hero archetype found in the world’s great myths and legends. The book was groundbreaking because it combines 20th century psychology with ancient mythology as it examines the life and path of the fictional hero.
It is no stretch to see the traditional “hero story” at work in the Star Wars films, and it is exciting to see the ways heroes of all genres fit largely in the same mold.
Favorite quote: “The usual hero adventure begins with someone from whom something has been taken, or who feels there is something lacking in the normal experience available or permitted to the members of society. The person then takes off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary, either to recover what has been lost or to discover some life-giving elixir. It’s usually a cycle, a coming and a returning.”
Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series also impacted Lucas and his creation of Star Wars. The Foundation series of seven books won the Hugo Award for “Best All-Time Series” in 1966, and the books are often thought of as the best the science fiction word has to offer.
How do they connect with Star Wars? Here are a few examples:
- The series is set some 50,000 years in the future, and people live throughout the Galaxy.
- They are written as a series of adventure stories involving the fall and rise of a Galactic Empire.
- The Empire is at the mercy of corrupt warlords.
- The planet Coruscant in Star Wars resembles Asimov’s planet Trantor.
Favorite quote: “The temptation was great to muster what force we could and put up a fight. It’s the easiest way out, and the most satisfactory to self-respect–but, nearly invariably, the stupidest. ”
Another book series that influenced Lucas had to have been J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. A clear comparison can be drawn between when the original Star Wars heroes are trapped within the Death Star and when Tolkien’s heroes are trapped in The Fellowship of The Ring.
Stormtroopers are the threat in Star Wars, and Orcs are the threat in the novel, but a creative and bold escape plan is needed for both situations. Finally, both dangerous scenarios are resolved after the sacrifice of an older character. That character is Darth Vader in Star Wars, and it is the Balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring.
Favorite quote: “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.”
A third book that shares a close connection with Star Wars is Dune by Frank Herbert. First published in 1965, Dune’s protagonist is young Paul Atreides who has close links with Luke Skywalker. Both young men seek to avenge violence against their families and both live on desert planets with moisture-based economies. Other similarities include the use of mind control and intergalactic politics.
The Dune series, which is set some 20,000 years in the future, now numbers 18 novels. The original novel won the Hugo Award in 1966 as well as the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel.
Favorite quote: “The mind can go either direction under stress—toward positive or toward negative: on or off. Think of it as a spectrum whose extremes are unconsciousness at the negative end and hyperconsciousness at the positive end. The way the mind will lean under stress is strongly influenced by training.”
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is set to open Dec. 18, takes us 30 years into the future after the original Star Wars trilogy and the defeat of the Galactic Empire. We will find our hero Han Solo and his new young allies facing the evil Kilo Ren and his army of Stormtroopers. As you anticipate the film’s release, why not check out one of the books that inspired the epic Star Wars film adventures? And may the Force be with you.