Star Wars is my favorite World War II movie. The saga is headlined by actual World War II veterans and tells the story of dictators, democracy, and empires. It is filled with Second World War sound effects, uses World War II props, features spectacular World War II dogfights, and is backed by a film score straight out of the golden age of Hollywood.
Star Wars might just have more in common with a World War II movie than science fiction flicks. I’ve been making such bold claims for years now, after I started casually seeing references to World War II in various Star Wars books, documentaries, and interviews. One day, I started writing them down, until I had collected hundreds of ideas, stories, and quotes. Armed with these notes and pure excitement, I took the stage at Star Wars Celebration VI to share how “a long time ago” influenced the “galaxy far, far away.” Thanks to Star Wars Celebrations, I’ve shared some of these stories with audiences in the United States and Germany. Now I get to share them with everyone on the Star Wars Blog.
Star Wars was born from numerous influences, but no more so than the period of the late 1930s and early 1940s. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the golden age of film, comics, and science fiction all come from this period. Then it is also no coincidence that George Lucas and the creative team behind Star Wars looked back to this time as they crafted the universe we love. World War II’s influence on Star Wars is more than passive: it was the direct inspiration for many of the things we see in the galaxy far, far away.
Westerns, the Vietnam War, swashbuckling heroes, and classical myths all helped shape Star Wars. So much has been made about the influence of myth in the creation of the saga — certainly Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces was heavily influential to the story of the saga. But George Lucas noted, “I love history, so while the psychological basis of Star Wars is mythological, the political and social bases are historical.” The influence goes all the way back to his childhood.
George Walton Lucas Jr. was born May 14, 1944, the same day that French troops broke through the formidable Gustav line in Italy. His father had attempted to enlist in the war effort, but was turned away for having a family. Lucas grew up in Northern California recalling, “I loved the war. It was a big deal when I was growing up. It was on all the coffee tables in the form of books, and on TV with things like ‘Victory at Sea.’ I was inundated by these war things.” He brought that love for the war with him as he created Star Wars.
World War II was the most destructive conflict of all time. It raged in nearly every corner of the planet. Almost every nation and every people around the world played part of this epic history, yet the narrative that most influenced Star Wars is the Western-allied narrative of the conflict: the story of a struggle for good against tyranny. Lucas admits, “[Star Wars] is the more old-fashioned version of good and evil — the version that those of us who grew up in the ’40s and ’50s had, when there was a strong sense of good and evil because of World War II.” This story of good versus evil shaped the characters and iconic imagery of the saga. Yet, as we learned in Revenge of the Sith, the story (and history) is never so black and white.
Over the following months, I’ll share the connections and parallels between Star Wars and World War II in my ongoing StarWars.com blog series, “From World War to Star Wars.” I’ll look at the direct connections between the war and the films, such as props, sound effects, and filming locations. I’ll also explore the story parallels, digging into how the space-fantasy stories of Star Wars have very real parallels in our own history.
I really do believe that the Second World War shaped more parts of Star Wars than any other single influence. To prove it, my upcoming blog posts will look at Saturday matinee serials, how the war built the Millennium Falcon, a brief history of space opera, the historic British film studios, how the war influenced The Clone Wars, the rise of the Empire, classic film scores, and much more. So dig out those history books: We’re going to look at Star Wars and the Second World War in a whole new way.
Cole Horton is an R2 builder, historian, and creator of “From World War to Star Wars,” an ongoing series of lectures at Star Wars Celebrations. He has also worked as a World War II historian for the Marvel Comics Augmented Reality app. You can find him on Twitter @ColeHorton.