From World War to Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Just as World War II impacted every corner of our world, the events of Star Wars: The Clone Wars seemed to touch nearly every corner of the Star Wars galaxy. The six seasons of Star Wars: The Clone Wars gave us a deeper look into the far-reaching implications of a galactic conflict that had only been glimpsed in the Star Wars films. In 2008, George Lucas said that the upcoming Star Wars: The Clone Wars was “like Band of Brothers only with Jedi,” but little did we know then just how much the award-winning show would draw from history as inspiration. With the complete series of The Clone Wars now on Netflix, now is a great time to look back at just how World War II inspired the galaxy’s greatest conflict.

The inspiration starts at the beginning of each and every episode of The Clone Wars. Rather than open with a rollup or crawl like the films, the television episodes were introduced by a narrator. “The narrator is very much a newsreel feel,” explained supervising director Dave Filoni. Tom Kane, voice of the narrator and Yoda, among others, provided some insight into the narrator’s voice in 2008, saying, “This came straight from George. [The serial is] the genesis of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark and was what he grew up on. The Western serials and the radio dramas and TV shows that impressed him as a young man is what he wanted to bring to the movies.” Kane’s own inspiration for the voice was a classic one. He says, “It’s a voice that I’ve done and do quite often for commercials and stuff — we call it the “March of Time” voice,” referring to The March of Time, a popular and groundbreaking radio news program from the 1930s and early 1940s. The March of Time was one of the most popular radio programs in America throughout the great depression and World War II.

I  asked supervising director Dave Filoni if historical events like World War II influence the story, look, or sound of the show to which he responded, “On all levels — it always does. You can just take it from a design standpoint and say, ‘A B-17 bomber is a really awesome looking airplane, how can we apply that?’ A Heinkel bomber has got all the essences of the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. I think that influence has always been there even the way that Star Wars is filmed. It’s chase plane footage, so we’ve used that all the time when we’ve actually been editing flying sequences, and we were just talking about doing it again just the other day. It’s always present.”

Filoni also recalled how integral World War II was to creating the sound of The Clone Wars, noting that Matthew Wood and David Acord used thousands of sounds, including airplanes to bring the world of Star Wars alive. The director even noted, “They had P-51 Mustangs up there when they were recording Red Tails recording those engines. Those sounds may eventually make their way into The Clone Wars so it’s that experience — it’s part of why Star Wars, I think, really works. It is a galaxy far, far away, but it feels relatively close and it can feel very familiar. It’s that familiarity that you connect with, but it’s done in a way that you’ve never even imaged before.” Filoni even said, “That’s what I think is really special. What George did that was so great is he added just the spectacular, the imagination to it, the adventure to it. We try to capture some of that in what we do with Clone Wars every episode.”

And capture the essence of World War II they did: everything from ship designs to plotlines were inspired by the war at one point or another. Take for instance the humble Naboo scout carrier from Season One’s “Blue Shadow Virus.” Russel Chong recalls his inspiration for the ship, “I adapted this design from a Doug Chiang concept George gave us. To give it the Naboo look, I gave it more flowing, organic lines. Since it’s a scout craft, I used the PB4Y Catalina — a World War II observation plane — as the basis for the observation windows on the side.” The Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat was one of the most widely used seaplanes of World War II. They served as anti-submarine planes, search and rescue craft, and patrol bombers for the United States (among others). Their distinctive waist gun blisters were also used as observation windows.

The World War II-era PBY Catalina inspired the blister windows on the Naboo scout carrier from Star Wars

The World War II-era PBY Catalina inspired the blister windows on the Naboo scout carrier.

The Naboo Scout Carrier

The Naboo Scout Carrier.

One of my favorite World War II-inspired stories is found in the Umbara arc in Season Four. Writer Matt Michnovetz explained that multiple war films inspired the story.

“George came up with the story,” explained Matt, “and he came into the room and pitched us this idea. He draws a lot of inspiration from classic movies. As a writer on the show, part of your homework is to go and look at the inspiration for these things. He wanted to do a battle from the movie The Longest Day. We had a couple of those. He wanted to base the story a little bit around an old Jimmy Cagney movie called What Price Glory, which is a great source of inspiration of this, as well as The Caine Mutiny.”

The battle on Umbara is just one of many that was inspired by the war or modern war movies. As you watch, or rewatch, The Clone Wars on Netflix, keep an eye out for such classic war imagery.

Cole Horton is an R2 builder, historian, and creator of From World War to Star Wars, a series of lectures at Star Wars Celebrations. He has also worked as World War II historian for Marvel Comics Augmented Reality app. You can find him on Twitter @ColeHorton.