The Cinema Behind Star Wars: Joss Whedon

Learn how the DNA of Star Wars surfaced in various projects by the acclaimed writer/director, and vice versa.

The influence of films and television can often be a long circle, and so can the DNA that runs through the course of a particular filmmaker’s work. If you look at George Lucas, you can see threads of Star Wars begin in THX-1138, with his explorations of the Empire, then thread through American Graffiti, with his look at the rebellious youth who have a problem with authority. Sometimes the inspiration from one franchise can lead into another, and follow that filmmaker through their career to the point where they make a mark on the genre and it comes back to influence later episodes of Star Wars.

I’m talking specifically about Joss Whedon and the bio-feedback loop that crossed between Star Wars, Whedon’s work, and then back to Star Wars.

We’ve talked before about how the Alien universe took inspiration from Star Wars, but we haven’t talked about how Joss Whedon was tasked with writing the fourth installment of the series, Alien: Resurrection. Although many say Resurrection is the worst of the franchise (including Whedon himself), I think there’s a lot to love there and there’s a lot to learn, as well. It’s important in tracking the sensibilities of Whedon as a writer and a storyteller, finding the themes that interested him as a writer and as a master builder of characters. This was the third feature film he provided work on the script for and it contains the DNA that would later become Firefly. It showed us how interested Whedon was in exploring the themes of a team aboard a ship, dealing with problems that are seemingly beyond their control. The crew of the ship also contains many characters that aren’t what they seem. Winona Ryder’s secrets as Call could be compared to Ron Glass’s Shephard Book or even Summer Glau’s River Tam. Ron Perlman’s Johner could be compared to a more uncouth version of Adam Baldwin’s Jayne Cobb.

Whether you like the movie or not, it’s still important in the development of Whedon as a writer and part of his DNA. I happen to find more to love about the movie than not. It’s fun and much better than it’s given credit for.

gha-nachkt

It’s important to note as well that Ron Perlman from Alien: Resurrection went on to play Gha Nachkt, the overweight Trandoshan who delivered Artoo-Detoo to General Grievious in The Clone Wars.

Han-and-Chewie

Taking the next step in Whedon’s influence down this path, it’s important to see the influence of Han Solo, Chewbacca, and the Millennium Falcon on the entire Firefly series. The show itself could easily be pitched in response to Star Wars: what happens if Han and Chewie were on the losing side of the war and had to crew up their ship to handle their odd jobs throughout the galaxy? It’s an influence that isn’t lost on Star Wars fans who also identify as Browncoats.

Solo in Carbonite

It’s also apparent when you realize that Star Wars ships were seen in episodes of Firefly — an Imperial Shuttle even appeared in the pilot. Additionally, Nathan Fillion, who played the very Solo-like Captain Mal Reynolds, worked to slip in a figure of Han Solo in carbonite in as many scenes as he could manage.

SABINE, KANAN, EZRA, ZEB, HERA

Many comparisons have been drawn between the Western-like structure of Firefly and the makeup of its crew and Star Wars Rebels and the crew of the Ghost. In fact, one of the best episodes of Firefly is “Out of Gas,” where the Serenity is out of fuel and the life support systems go out. The “out of gas” motif is something the Ghost crew is constantly struggling with. In fact, the crews of both ships are almost constantly poverty-stricken because of the political situation and the calm respites of having enough are few and far between.

ketsu-onyo

And it’s no wonder that Gina Torres who played Zoe Washburne on Firefly, was tapped to play the enigmatic Ketsu Onyo on Rebels. Ketsu was partnered with Sabine during their time as free agents before Sabine joined Hera’s Ghost crew.

Star Wars Rebels - Seventh Sister

Another Joss Whedon show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, found its way into Rebels as well, with Sarah Michelle Gellar, the title character, getting cast as the sinister Seventh Sister. 

And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Alan Tudyk. He played Wash, the pilot of the Serenity in Firefly and will be making his Star Wars debut as K-2SO in the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars story. If the droid is anything like Alan Tudyk, he’s sure to be a highlight of the movie.

For those looking to watch this path of Star Wars DNA winding through Joss Whedon and back again, I think a rewatch of Alien: Resurrection is in order. It’s important to watch it in the context of a proto-Firefly, to see what Whedon was interested in. It’s rated R by the MPAA for strong sci-fi violence and gore, some grotesque images, and for language. I’ve watched the Alien movies (all four of them) with my kids from around the time they were 10 and older, so it’s definitely a parental choice to make to determine if your kids are ready.

I would insist that Firefly is a must watch for any fan of science-fiction and Westerns blended together, and the influence back and forth between Star Wars and this series is nothing short of entertaining and fun to watch. Firefly is rated TV-14 in the US, though I would argue it’s suitable for younger audiences, too. Serenity, the movie that caps off the series, is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for sequences of intense violence and action, and some sexual references.

Availability: Alien: Resurrection is widely available on DVD and Blu-ray, and is available to stream on most streaming platforms for a modest fee. Firefly is widely available on DVD and Blu-ray and available to stream for free on Amazon Prime. Serenity is widely available on DVD and Blu-ray and is available to stream on most streaming platforms for a modest fee.

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 SithFollow him on Twitter @swankmotron.

TAGS: ,