George Lucas’ Star Wars was released on May 25th 1977 (my birth day, but not my birth year!) and it was, and still often is, considered an original masterpiece. This has shockingly been called into question for me, however, after watching Kirby Ferguson’s Vimeo video Remix Inc., a part of his fascinating video series that explores originality and creativity. I’ll wait while you go and watch the videos now.
Welcome back! I hope you enjoyed the videos as much as I did. From watching Ferguson’s video that I mentioned above, I learned that Lucas drew on multiple sources to create his blockbuster film. For example, he uses ideas from Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces and Campbell’s elements of the monomyth, such as Call to Adventure, Supernatural Aid, The Belly of a Whale, Road of Trials, and Meeting with the Goddess. These elements greatly add to Lucas’ story, and are something that many of us can relate to because we have seen them before in other stories.
Just wait, that is not all! I also learned from Ferguson’s video that Lucas relied heavily on elements from the 1930s Flash Gordon TV series, like the famous rolling opening credits and soft wipes. No, soft wipes are not something that you use in the washroom, but are the way that one scene transitions to another when you are watching a film.
Ferguson also explains that Lucas copies many elements of the famous Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, including the concepts of: masters of spiritual martial arts, a low-ranking bickering duo, more soft wipes, beneathh the floor hideaways, and a boastful character getting their arm chopped off. It’s very clear that Lucas must have admired the work of Kurosawa and copied many elements of the director’s work into Star Wars.
Lucas also used many other sources to inspire his creativity when he made Star Wars. Ferguson lists several more sources, such as various war films and westerns like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). There is little doubt that Luke’s home planet, Tatooine, resembles a desert in a western. I think I even recall tumbleweeds blowing by at one point.
Even after watching Ferguson’s video on remixes and learning about how much Star Wars relies on what came before it, I still consider it an original masterpiece for many reasons. For example, even though it copies many approaches used by other directors, draws on common themes that we can easily relate to, and incorporates scenes and ideas used in previous TV shows and films, it remains unique because Lucas creates different characters with backstories that significantly diverge from what has come before. Moreover, he places his characters in space and in a new and exciting world that has never been explored before. For me, original elements like these must be in place to ensure that something is original, even if it’s drawing on the work of others.