The war movies that inspired the spinoff prequel and more.
All Star Wars movies are mashups of preexisting stories, including those on the big screen. Gareth Edwards, director of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, knows this history well and carries on its tradition in his new spinoff prequel installment. “That’s what was brilliant about George [Lucas],” he says in a recent interview, “he knew that if you take something that’s familiar and just push it a bit left or right of where it’s normally at, so you can’t recognize it but it still instantly communicates what it has to…that’s kind of what Star Wars is, taking those things we’re all subconsciously familiar with and just giving them a twist so it’s exotic or futuristic.”
For Rogue One, he’s focused on the second word in the title of the franchise, working with familiar war movies and their tropes and giving them a sci-fi twist in a story that connects to the rest of the Star Wars Saga. Below is a list of a number of directly acknowledged influences on the movie and a few additional recommendations that we consider essentials (consider A New Hope a given), all fitting in with the continued appreciation of older cinema and other kinds of films through our love of Star Wars. There are spoilers for Rogue One here, of course, so be sure to see that before you read further.
The Guns of Navarone (1961)
This classic World War II movie follows a similar kind of suicide mission in an effort to destroy relatively immense super weapons (“the guns of Navarone”) before the Axis Powers take out thousands of Allied soldiers stuck on an island. The mixed-expertise commandos here also take on disguises, first with a ship that can get them through the enemy territory and later with uniforms. The team even splits up with two of them tasked with the primary objective while the rest create a diversion. Of course, this isn’t the first Star Wars movie to remind viewers of Navarone. As the master of the franchise’s influences, Bryan Young, has written in the past for StarWars.com, Return of the Jedi in particular owes a lot to the plot, which originated slightly differently in a 1957 novel by Alistair MacLean. There is a confirmed link to Rogue One, however, as effects supervisor John Knoll, who came up with the idea has cited Navarone as one of his sources of inspiration.
The Dirty Dozen (1967)
Here’s another World War II movie from the same era that has been heavily referenced as an influence. But it’s also just one of the biggest sources of inspiration for Hollywood genre movies lately, and unlike fellow descendants Guardians of the Galaxy and Suicide Squad, Rogue One doesn’t deal with a team comprised of prisoners. Only Jyn Erso really fits the bill of the commando of convicts sent on a mission to take out a gathering of high-ranking Nazis. If that also sounds like Inglorious Basterds, that’s fine as it also influenced Quentin Tarantino (as did eight more movies ‐ including Kelly’s Heroes and The Big Red One, which stars Luke Skywalker actor Mark Hamill ‐ worth seeing after Rogue One). The Dirty Dozen is also adapted from a book, by E.M. Nathanson.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War epic was initially supposed to be directed by George Lucas, so it’s only fair that the post-Lucas Star Wars movies pay it tribute. We saw a very familiar shot of TIE Fighters in front of a sunrise in The Force Awakens, and now Rogue One is also making claim to its influence. Apocalypse Now, which features Star Wars actor Harrison Ford, is officially one of Gareth Edwards’s favorite movies of all time (as is Star Wars), and he’s been dropping its name lately, while actor Diego Luca claims he personally watched it every month while shooting and Lucasfilm’s Pablo Hidalgo revealed the movie’s U-Wing ships were modeled after the Bell UH-1 Iroquis helicopters iconically featured in that Force Awakens-inspiring shot. “When we started doing a war film,” Edwards told Blastr, “[Apocalypse Now] was one everyone felt very passionate about.”
Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982)
It’s fun to see how Star Wars movies of today are influenced by sci-fi films that came out after A New Hope. Two such releases directed by Ridley Scott are among the titles Edwards looked at before making Rogue One. The former’s stamp can be seen in the scenes on the dark planet Eadu, where the mission locates kidnapped scientist Galen Erso. As for the latter, he tells us “the interiors of Blade Runner, that aesthetic” can be seen in there. “It feels like that 70s timeless sci-fi that hasn’t dated.”
The Atomic Cafe (1982)
“When not close enough to be killed, the atomic bomb is one of the most beautiful sights in the world.” That line from an old US Army film featured in The Atomic Cafe came to mind during Rogue One while villain Orson Krennic is looking down upon the Death Star’s uber-nuclear destruction of the desert moon Jedha. I also thought of it at the end while Jyn and Cassian are watching the explosion heading their way and it does indeed look beautiful. The Atomic Cafe is a sardonic masterpiece collecting archival footage from bomb testings, newsreels, and military and educational films on nuclear weapons like the infamous “duck and cover” short. It was just added to the National Film Registry this week.
This non-narrative documentary by Ron Fricke (who had shot the more well-known Koyaanisqatsi) is another of Edwards’s favorite movies of all time. He’s also listed it among the films he included in his preliminary book of images pulled to inspire the look of the movie. He told The Playlist where it comes through, “Obviously, stylistically, we went handheld, but Jedha you feel it a little bit more.” Although he seems to mean the way those sequences were shot, that decision may have related to the fact that Jedha was a sacred place and relates to parts of Baraka featuring temples and other religious places.
Saving Private Ryan (1998) and The Thin Red Line (1998)
These two competing Best Picture-nominated World War II movies both had a acknowledged influence on Rogue One in their own ways. Certainly the latter, Terence Malick’s adaptation of the James Jones novel, was a visual reference for the final battle on Scarif, in which a place that looks like paradise is the setting of deadly combat. The former, Steven Spielberg’s more-accessible chronicle of a special Europe campaign mission, was name-checked early on as what this Star Wars movie would basically redo but in space. Here’s another quote Edwards gave to The Playlist:
Obviously, it goes without saying that ‘Saving Private Ryan’ was an influence. [Steven] Spielberg from a directing point of view is my hero who I grew up with and ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is a phenomenal piece of work, and so yes, there’s a fair bit of [its influence] in the film. It’s a mixture of stuff and these movies are all my kind of heroes.
It’s also another movie that Bryan Young has written on in one of his Cinema Behind Star Wars columns as an influence on the whole franchise, with recognition that Saving Private Ryan and Rogue One share a visual effects supervisor in Neil Corbould.
End Day (2005)
Most people know about and have probably seen Edwards’s two previous features, the low-budget Monsters and the Godzilla reboot. Both deal with a feeling of the end of times with their stories of giant creatures causing destruction. Generally, though, he seems to have a fascination with apocalyptic scenarios. One of the projects he worked on as a visual artist was about the atom-bombing of Hiroshima. And this early TV docudrama he wrote and directed depicts various cataclysmic disasters, including a mega-tsunami and an asteroid collision. In the context of British doomsday specials it’s no The War Game, but it’s still interesting to see where Edwards’s head has been for a long time, the final moment with Jyn and Cassian being part of a career tradition.
Within a Minute: The Making of ‘Episode III’ (2005)
You’ve probably seen all the other Star Wars movies, but what about all the documentaries about the making of those movies? Of all those I rated earlier this week in another post, Within a Minute deserves the most recognition again because it’s one of the best, and it’s relevant for two reasons. The simplest is that it focuses on a sequence set on Mustafar, a planet that also shows up in Rogue One. The bigger reason is that the doc is all about how many people, big and small, are involved in the production of a Star Wars movie, and I thought a lot about that while watching the new movie, which is all about how there are tons of people who contributed essential elements to the destruction of the first Death Star, besides those main good guys we meet in A New Hope. Just think of all those craftspeople and artists as a similarly under-appreciated squadron of heroes.
Flash Point (2007)
One of the standouts ‐ if not the best part ‐ of Rogue One is definitely Donnie Yen, as the blind Force-faithful Chirrut Îmwe. And his relationship with Jiang Wen’s Baze Malbus is also terrific. The best recommendation for the pair of them is Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, as they’re another duo influenced by the peasant characters Tahei and Matashichi, this time bringing them back to Asian roles. But we’ve previously highlighted that movie for its original influence on Star Wars and the peasants being the basis for R2-D2 and C-3PO. So, let’s just go with something starring Yen, since it’s likely he’s not well-known to a lot of people seeing Rogue One and he’s one of FSR’s favorites. One good place to start is with Flash Point, because our Rob Hunter named one of its fight scenes the best martial arts sequence of all time.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
It wasn’t just World War II and Vietnam War movies that inspired Rogue One. Others that have been cited include The Battle of Algiers and Black Hawk Down and this film depicting the raid resulting in the death of Osama Bin Laden. Zero Dark Thirty has more specific significance because like Saving Private Ryan it shares an important crew member. “Our cinematographer Greig worked on Zero Dark Thirty so that seeped in,” Edwards told The Playlist. Just replace the head of al-Qaida with a hard drive with blueprints on it, and it’s the same movie, right?