The Cinema Behind Star Wars: Guardians of the Galaxy

By now everyone and their cousin has surely seen Marvel’s new film, Guardians of the Galaxy. The reviews for the film have been unanimous in their praise and it’s certainly well-deserved. For me personally, I haven’t had this much fun watching an adventurous space film since Star Wars was last on the big screen — The Phantom Menace 3D for anyone counting.

It’s no surprise that the film would remind people of our favorite galaxy far, far away. James Gunn went out of his way to make the film like Star Wars, telling Den of Geek, “This was intentionally my version of Star Wars. When I was first considering doing the movie, the chance to make something like that was one of the things that got me on board. Not just Star Wars, but Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and other movies like that. The stuff I loved as a kid. I wanted to make a movie that made people feel the way they made me feel.

“And it’s not that I wanted to make it actively resemble something that already exists, but all of them were all in the mix. It’s forward-looking. That’s what it shares with those movies more than anything else. Raiders and Star Wars and the like were updates of the 1930s serials, and my hope with Guardians is that we’ve done something similar, looking back at those movies while making something new.”

That’s exactly what this column is all about, tracing the DNA of films that led into Star Wars, and in some cases the films we love that father a new generation of filmmakers and their films. In an interview with NPR, Gunn further confesses, “I grew up loving big budget spectacle films — I mean, Star Wars changed my life as a kid. You know, the most relevant films today are truly spectacle films. Those are the films that people go to see in the theaters today.”

The similarities between the films are mainly in structure and tone. In both, we’re given glimpses of worlds we can barely process before our heroes are off to the next place. And, like most Star Wars films, the final battle plays out in a variety of arenas: ship-to-ship combat, personal combat between family members, a ground battle. And this all culminates in the potential destruction of an entire planet. Chris Pratt’s character, Star-Lord, is very much in the Han Solo mold, a guy out for no one but himself and finds that deep down he’s really an okay guy. And let’s be honest, would Rocket Raccoon ever have been possible on screen without the vicious but adorable Ewoks paving the way? And the fact that Rocket gets a Chewbacca-like sidekick in Groot? Perfection. And don’t even get me started on the George Lucas inspired post-credits scene.

More than anything, Guardians of the Galaxy is fun. Perhaps the biggest influence Star Wars seems to have had on it was that they condensed every funny moment from the saga and delivered it to us in concentrated doses.

But things don’t end there, and that doesn’t mean Guardians of the Galaxy won’t end up influencing Star Wars still. Gary Whitta, one of the screenwriters working on a Star Wars stand alone film has been tweeting about his love of James Gunn’s film all weekend, calling it, “Everything I love about going to the movies. It was like having a fun and escapism catheter inserted. In a good way.”

But until we find out if Guardians of the Galaxy continues to influence Star Wars as much as Star Wars influenced it, we have an incredibly fun space adventure in the cinemas to go see. And we have Star Wars fan James Gunn to thank for it.

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.