The Cinema Behind Star Wars: Aliens

Learn how one classic movie monster inspired a frightening Star Wars: The Clone Wars villain and more.

With scary movies on my mind lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my favorite scary movies, James Cameron’s Aliens, from 1986. It’s the action-movie sequel to Ridley Scott’s utterly brilliant Alien from 1979, and tells the tale of Ellen Ripley and a squad of Colonial Marines as they investigate LV-426 and the alien threat there.

It’s easy to look at Attack of the Clones and see the design of the creature from Aliens echoed in the Geonosians, as well as the hallways full of them sleeping and moving, but the inspiration expands in magnitude when you look at a number of episodes of The Clone Wars. The first major instance would be the seventh and eighth episodes of Season Two, “Legacy of Terror”and “Brain Invaders.”

In “Legacy of Terror,”Anakin and Obi-Wan descend into the Geonosian catacombs looking for the long rumored Geonosian Queen. As they lead their clone troops down, further into the tunnels, the episode resembles, quite consistently, the suspense-filled action sequences of Aliens, with the clone troopers filling in for the Colonial Marines. When they finally find the Geonosian Queen, she looks very much like the queen alien that Ripley does battle with at the end of the film. That original puppet was a masterpiece of cinema built by Stan Winston studios, and the film went on to win an Academy Award for Visual Effects.

In that next episode, “Brain Invaders,”Ahsoka is traveling with Bariss Offee to deliver medical supplies when the offspring of the Geonosian Queen affect her crew. She’s trapped in the spaceship, fighting for her life, as each member of her crew, including fellow padawan Barris Offee succumbs to the evil aboard the ship. Eventually, like Ellen Ripley in the first Alien film, Ahsoka manages to be the lone force able to defeat the threat that has her trapped.

Perhaps my favorite bit of homage to Aliens from The Clone Wars, however, comes from the fifth season episode “Eminence.” This episode opens in almost the exact same way as Aliens. In both instances, the ship of our protagonist is left adrift until a salvage team cuts open the door to find any survivors. In both cases, a twinkling of blue dust covers everything and the passengers are asleep. Visually, the opening to Aliens and the opening to “Eminence” match beautifully and it’s touches like these that make The Clone Wars one of my favorite television shows of all time.

It’s also important to note that the Alien movies might not well be what we know them to be today had it not been for Star Wars in the first place. Ridley Scott said in The Force is With Them: The Legacy of Star Wars featurette, “[Star Wars] influenced me when I did Alien. I thought I better push it a lot further, make [the aesthetic] feel a lot like truck driving. It turned me around 180 degrees as to what I felt I ought to be doing and what’s interesting is that the next film I made [after seeing Star Wars] was Alien.”

And where the aesthetic of Star Wars inspired Ridley Scott to make the world of Alien more like truck driving, it inspired James Cameron to quit that very profession. Cameron remarked in that same featurette, “I got really energized by Star Wars, in fact I quit my job as a truck driver and said, if I’m gonna do this, I better get going. It gave me a big kick up the back side to get going as a filmmaker.”

It’s hard to imagine what the landscape of cinema would look like today had Ridley Scott not made Alien and James Cameron not entered film at all. Thanks to Star Wars, we’ve been given a whole new world of amazing films.

For those interested in watching Alien and Aliens, it’s important to remember that they are both rated R for monster violence and language. I watched both of them with my kids, though, and while it could be frightening at times, it was definitely a wonderful experience.

Bryan Young is an author, a filmmakerjournalist, and the editor in chief of BigShinyRobot.com! He’s also the co-host of the Star Wars podcast, Full of Sith.

You can also follow him on Twitter.

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