The Cinema Behind Star Wars: The Godfather

The Godfather had a profound influence on the landscape of American cinema after its release in 1972, and the Star Wars universe was no exception.

 

The Godfather is a masterful exploration of the human side of the mafia and the toll it takes on ones soul and family and was directed by Lucas’s longtime friend and mentor Francis Ford Coppola.

 

The underworld is a prominent feature of the Star Wars universe, from bounty hunters and mercenaries to the bumbling criminal bureaucrats of the Trade Federation and the criminal largesse of the Hutts.

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Perhaps, the obese slug Jabba the Hutt is a more physical representation of Don Corleone’s soul, but we don’t have to dig that deep to find inspiration from The Godfather in the Star Wars universe. Aside from the obvious analogues between the Hutts and the Five Families as seen in The Godfather, perhaps the most direct influence is in the staging and editing of a number of key scenes.

 

In A New Hope, the conversation between Greedo and Han, clearly two enemies willing and able to kill each other, is remarkably civil. The most interesting interactions in any film are always when good guys and bad guys can sit and have a discussion, even if blasters are involved. The Godfather gave us one of the best examples of this ever, with young Michael, his jaw still wired shut from the beating at the hands of McCluskey, having a conversation with the corrupt cop and Sollozzo. Like Han, the youngest Corleone knows the situation is “him or me” and brutally shoots the bad guys down in cold blood.

 

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But the Godfather-like level of violence with Jabba’s men doesn’t end there. Jabba himself is a victim of Star Wars-style justice inspired by The Godfather. Luca Brasi, one of Don Corleone’s chubbiest chief enforcers is garroted by an assassin in a climactic scene of betrayal. The shots and expressions of Luca Brasi being strangled match — to a tee — Princess Leia choking Jabba with her own chains of slavery in Return of the Jedi.

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But that’s not all for the Godfather homages with the Hutts. The most blatant might be Marlo the Hutt, created for The Clone Wars series, Marlo is named for Marlon Brando, and resembles closely Marlon Brando’s Don Vito Corleone from The Godfather. Marlo the Hutt is on the Hutt council, which itself takes cues from the Five Families in The Godfather.

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Revenge of the Sith boasts what might be the most elaborate homage to The Godfather during the formation of the Empire sequences. In The Godfather, Michael Corleone presides over the christening of the next generation of Corleones, which is intercut with shots of his enforcers assassinating the remaining mob leaders that stand in the way of his consolidated control of the criminal underworld. The same could be said of the birth of the new Galactic Empire, with Palpatine presiding. According to George Lucas on the Revenge of the Sith commentary, that sequence was specifically intercut with Anakin killing the leaders of the Trade Federation as an homage to the Best Picture winner of 1972.

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But before George Lucas could weave The Godfather into Star Wars, before he was even able to make American Graffiti, he was able to influence The Godfather first.

George Lucas worked on The Godfather, filming tidbits and insert shots for the film. But he also came up with creative solutions in the editing room for Coppola, helping shape the film as we know it today. According to Coppola, it was Lucas who helped design the incredibly tense scene in the hospital. There was no footage captured of the empty hallways in order to build the suspense of the second attempt on Vito Corleone’s life. It was Lucas who suggested they search all the short ends of film before the takes began in other shots of the hospital, and they cobbled together the empty hallways that way. No one in the audience knew the wiser and it became one of the most memorable sequences in the film.

 

It’s proof positive that creativity is cyclical, constantly breeding more creativity. Great films inspire more great films, and it never ceases to amaze me how much great film winds up influencing Star Wars.

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