The Bodyguard, starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, is a film that came out in 1992 and is far more important to Star Wars than you would ever guess. Written by Lawrence Kasdan, this was the screenplay that got him the attention of Steven Spielberg and eventually got him his work in the world of Indiana Jones and Star Wars. “But it came out in 1992, and Raiders and Empire came out in the ‘80s,” I can hear you saying, but sometimes filmmaking can be a lot more complicated than that. The Bodyguard tells the story of Frank Farmer, played by Kevin Costner, a former Secret Service agent who is pressed into service to protect an international pop star named Rachel Marron (Whitney Houston) who is receiving regular death threats. She’s been nominated for a Best Actress Oscar and they’re certain the plot to murder her will unfold there.
This was a screenplay Lawrence Kasdan actually wrote in the ‘70s. It was in development as a vehicle for Steve McQueen and Diana Ross at Warner Brothers. The development process for it was a nightmare, and it was called repeatedly “the best unmade screenplay in Hollywood.” The film wouldn’t get made for a long time, but it lit a fire under his agent, and he pressed to sell more of his screenplays. His next sale was to Amblin Entertainment, Steven Spielberg’s production company, which became the first film to come out of that studio. That was the open door he needed to land Raiders of the Lost Ark.
At one point during the movie, Farmer takes the actress on a date and, naturally, they go to the movies. What do they see? Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. (Fun fact: Yojimbo translates directly to “body guard.”) Kurosawa was a chief influence on Lucas (we’ve done half a dozen columns on Kurosawa movies and their influence on Star Wars) and in the ‘70s, access to those movies was limited. Toshiro Mifune, the star of Yojimbo, was who Lucas’ first courted to play Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The character of Frank Farmer is one that we see in Star Wars often. The reluctant hero who doesn’t want to help but ends up needing to just do his job. That he also falls for the girl makes the character all the more reminiscent of Han Solo. In fact, the sniping between Frank and Rachel in The Bodyguard could be seen as the proto-Han and Leia in The Empire Strikes Back. The Bodyguard, for all of its period cheese, showcases the sort of sensibilities in thrillers and relationships that would lay the groundwork for what would come for Kasdan next. You also realize how much of a remarkable journey Kasdan went through to become the writer that brought us Lucasfilm productions from Raiders of the Lost Ark all the way to The Force Awakens.
It’s films like this that make up that hidden tapestry behind the Star Wars movies. I love finding these connections that bring films you’d never guess into focus behind the greatest space film saga of all time. The Bodyguard is rated R by the MPAA for language. It’s a fairly tame ‘90s movie by all other standards. It’s not a timeless film either, but is a must-watch if you’re a completist for the work of Lawrence Kasdan and are interested in seeing the beginning threads of what led us to some of the best moments in Star Wars.
Availability: The Bodyguard is widely available on DVD and Blu-ray and available for a modest rental fee on most streaming movie sites.