“Nothing in this world pops into your head fully formed. It’s an accumulation of all the things you’ve seen, and then when you go to regurgitate it into . . . your own thing, you take all the best parts.” – George Lucas
We see Star Wars as an original, ground-breaking science fiction universe that sprang from George Lucas’s head fully formed. And it did spring from his head, of course, but the world is built from a mixture of inspirations and elements. Some of Star Wars’ DNA comes from the Western genre. Tatooine, the desert planet, is a sci-fi analog of the American Southwest, complete with farmers leading hardscrabble lives just beyond the authority of any government or law. The hills are populated by a native people with violent intentions—an unfortunate holdover from Westerns. Han Solo is a classic gunslinger with his leather vest and low-slung holster.
Yet Lucas didn’t set out to make merely a Space Western. Another key inspiration came from the work of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. In Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, an epic story is told from the point of view of two peasants, which Lucas credits as his inspiration for R2-D2 and C-3PO.
The most personal and unusual ingredient in Star Wars, though, is Lucas’ love of California hot rod culture, which he explored in his 1973 film American Graffiti. It’s seen on Tatooine as Luke Skywalker races about in his landspeeder, and amplified greatly in The Phantom Menace’s pod racing scene. Even in the run on the Death Star trench, Lucas sends his hot rod spaceships in a race down what is essentially a narrow, urban street. Lucas had planned to include yet another hot rod scene in which Luke would race his friends on Tatooine in a little craft called a Skyhopper. The scene was never filmed, but we get a glimpse of the Skyhopper in Luke’s garage, and he plays around with a model of one in the same scene (probably the special effects model that would have been used had that sequence been shot.)
This all might sound simplistic. No, Star Wars is not literally Westerns + hot rods + Japanese peasants. Each of those elements, and others, is translated into a futuristic equivalent that all fit together to create a new world that feels unique, fresh, and ingenious.