There’s no denying that the films of Japanese film company Toho have always inspired George Lucas and the world of Star Wars. They produced many of Akira Kurosawa’s best films (Seven Samurai, Hidden Fortress, and many others) but they also produced the Godzilla films. Godzilla was a science-fiction response to the nuclear testing and culture that came to Japan in the years after World War II. Godzilla is a massive, pre-historic monster resurrected by nuclear tests that rises up from the water and levels cities.
The original film from 1954 (released in Japan as Gojira), ushered in a new wave of monster movies, creating a phenomenon out of “Kaiju” and films that featured massive monsters laying waste to everything in their path. And in the wake of that wreckage was a bit of inspiration for every era of Star Wars.
First, it would be impossible to ignore the influence of Godzilla on Return of the Jedi. The rancor was originally conceived as a man in the suit effect, just like Godzilla, played by special effects wizard Phil Tippet. If you watch the documentary From Star Wars to Jedi, you can see Tippet in action, tearing apart the sets as a full-size rancor. Although the character of the rancor was reduced in size and Tippet provided the performance via one hand instead of his entire body, the man-in-suit effects from the original Godzilla film were undoubtedly an inspiration in having Luke fight a terrible thirty-foot high monster.
But that’s not where the connections to Godzilla stop. For those of you who are fans of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, you’ll remember an episode called “The Zillo Beast.” Set on Malastare, Republic forces led by the Jedi begin testing a new weapon that will neutralize droid threats but leave all biological matter intact. These super-weapon tests unwittingly unleash upon the Dugs an ancient creature thought to be long extinct, a Zillo Beast. Even the name, Zillo Beast, refers to Godzilla. It wreaks havoc across Malastare until the Jedi are able to subdue the monster. It’s one of the most fun episodes of The Clone Wars, allowing itself to be a completely contained monster movie in a regular series episode. Posters for the episode were made and they bear a striking resemblance to the Kaiju movie posters of old.
For those who loved the most recent iteration of Godzilla, they have something extra-special to look forward to. Gareth Edwards, the man behind the camera bringing us a new look at Godzilla, is directing a Star Wars standalone movie to be written by Gary Whitta. How much will it have to do with monsters like Godzilla? No one knows. But we certainly know that if the story called for some great monster fighting action, then Edwards is more than capable to meet that challenge.
For every generation, there’s a lot to love in Godzilla movies. I’ve watched some with my 12-year-old son, and it’s created a healthy fascination with giant monsters.
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