The Cinema Behind Star Wars: Battleground

Once at a writing retreat I asked Star Wars author Aaron Allston what his favorite film was.

Battleground,” he said.

I think you can tell a lot about people by what their answer is and Aaron was no exception. For one, this was a film I’d never even heard about. I wrote it down right then in my notebook and vowed to find out why one of my favorite writers would find worth in this movie more than all others.

Released in 1949, Battleground is considered largely to be the first important film made about World War II after it happened. As we’ve gone through this series of cinematic influence, it’s been unsurprising that movies regarding World War II rate highly on influences for the Star Wars films, but Battleground took me a bit by surprise.

The film follows a tight-knit group of soldiers (including an impossibly young Ricardo Montalban) as they make their way to the Siege of Bastogne in the midst of the Battle of the Bulge.

Watching the film, readers of Aaron Allston’s Star Wars books will instantly see the connection. Each of the soldiers in the company has a reason for being there, some more secret than others, they laugh and play and joke in a manner that one is sure would leave a wry grin on Aaron’s face.

But more importantly, the film instills the company of soldiers with a group dynamic that’s felt through the Wraith Squadron books and it’s hinted at in episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. None of these soldiers exactly want to be there and they’re willing to show their vulnerability to each other in small ways, chipping off pieces of their macho exterior the more they get to know their comrades.

More than anything, the film strikes the balance between funny and grim in a way I wasn’t quite sure was capable from war films in the ’40s and ’50s. It’s a balance that Aaron struck in everyone of his Star Wars novels, particularly his last. Star Wars: Mercy Kill gives us the most dichotomous Star Wars novel I’ve read in recent memory, full of the same bittersweet emotions masked by comedy that Aaron seemed to respond to so well in Battleground. The film (and Aaron’s books) permeate an absurdity to war and a deep personalization of every person fighting it.

The emotions stirred in Aaron’s passages about Piggy’s mercy killing match exactly the emotions one feels when watching the fate of Ricardo Montalban’s character play out.

“When you watch it, I think you’ll see why, and I think you’ll like it, too,” he told me at the time.

I never got the chance to speak with him about the film, but he was right. I loved it quite a bit, and it gave me a window into how he wrote the team dynamics in his Wraith Squadron books.

Battleground isn’t rated, but it’s suitable for anyone old enough to sit through a two-hour, black-and-white war movie.

When you watch it, I think you’ll see why it was a favorite of Aaron Allston’s, and I think you’ll like it, too.

Bryan Young is an author, a filmmaker, journalist, and the editor in chief of Big Shiny Robot! He’s also the co-host of the Star Wars podcast, Full of SithYou should follow him on Twitter or Facebook.