The Cinema Behind Star Wars: Blade Runner

Star Wars influenced how Earth looked in the future, and Earth influenced how Star Wars looked in the past -- the circle is now complete.

Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Ridley Scott brought us the film Blade Runner in 1982, just one year before the release of Return of the Jedi. It tells the story of a blade runner named Deckard, whose job is to find four rogue replicants that have made their way to Earth and “retire” them before they cause any more problems or kill anyone else.

It’s a film that explores the rights of androids and corporate interests and the death penalty with brilliant nuance. It also gives us Harrison Ford in what might be his third most iconic role ever. There are several Star Wars easter eggs hidden throughout the movie — FX artist Bill George happened to be working on his own five-foot high Millennium Falcon that, with some tricks of lighting, ended up becoming a few different buildings.

Coruscant

The landscape of this alternate-future Los Angeles offers the most direct inspirations on later Star Wars films. Starting with The Phantom Menace, the iconic landscapes of Blade Runner served as a first draft for the sweeping vistas of Coruscant, from the buildings reaching to the sky and the space lanes of flying vehicles. While both films were inspired by Metropolis (a silent film from 1927 that we wrote about previously), Blade Runner serves as the 2.0 version and the prequels refine the ideas further into the 3.0 iteration.

Naboo starcruiser on Coruscant

Whether he was paying homage to a well-made film or returning a favor for the inclusion of the Millennium Falcon, George Lucas saw fit to include two police cars from Blade Runner in the travel lanes of Coruscant.

Jedi Temple

One of the most prominent buildings in Blade Runner is the corporate headquarters of the Tyrell Corporation — the company that manufactures the replicants and makes questionable decisions about them. Is it a coincidence that the base of the Jedi temple — which becomes the command center for the clone armies — is roughly the same shape as the iconic building?

Zam Wesell

Even more similarities can be drawn to the underworld of Coruscant as seen in Attack of the Clones and episodes of The Clone Wars that take place near level 1313. (We wrote about the connection of Blade Runner to those episodes previously.) The giant neon advertisements that dot the landscape of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles are beautifully mirrored in the views we get when Anakin is pursuing Zam Wesell, and the pipes and towers belching flames across the Los Angeles cityscape can be seen in the industrial zones that Zam leads Kenobi and Skywalker through during the aerial sequence.

The entire chase scene from Blade Runner, where Deckard runs down and retires the replicant Zhora, has the same look and feel of Anakin chasing down the Clawdite bounty hunter in Attack of the Clones.

Cad Bane

It wasn’t just landscapes that provided visual flourishes for Star Wars, either. Deckard’s apartment, with its classic noir lighting, is highly reminiscent of Cad Bane’s apartment as seen in The Clone Wars episode, “Hostage Crisis.” The venetian blinds create blown-out backgrounds overlooking the techno cityscapes in both instances.

Thematically, Blade Runner deals with the morality and ethics of cloning, issues that get raised in episodes of The Clone Wars like “Deserter” and the entire Umbara arc. But the most direct story parallel might be the similarities between the villain in Blade Runner, Roy Batty (played by Rutger Hauer), and Anakin Skywalker. Both Roy and Anakin are working to prevent the deaths of those they care about. Batty wants to know how to stave off the deaths of his fellow replicants, particularly Pris, played by Daryl Hannah. He’s willing to murder just about anyone to save her, and even marches on the Jedi Temple-like Tyrell building to kill the man who created him. Anakin goes on a similar quest, seeking to save his wife Padmé (played by Natalie Portman) through the worst means possible. While Roy’s rampage ends relatively fewer lives than Anakin’s, the effect is still the same.

Much like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ridley Scott re-cut and re-released Blade Runner over the years, making alterations to better conform the film to his initial vision the same way George Lucas had been upgrading Star Wars. There was a director’s cut released in 1992 and a so-called “final cut” released into theaters after significant digital remastering in 2007.

For those of you interested in watching the film, my recommendation would be the 2007 release. Be advised that it is rated R for violence and brief nudity. In my opinion, Blade Runner is a film that should be required viewing for fans of science fiction.

Availability: It’s shown frequently in revivals on the big screen and if you can see it there, do it. Otherwise, it’s readily available on DVD and Blu-ray and can be streamed on most online video services.

Bryan Young is an authorfilmmakerjournalist, 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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