Recommendations that inspired Rian Johnson in the making of ‘Episode VIII’ and more.
Another Star Wars movie brings with it many influences and homages, some of them intentional and some of them not. Rian Johnson, writer and director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, is a huge movie buff and so looked to a number of classics when plotting and designing his episode of the Saga. His cinephile mind also may have even worked in some allusions subconsciously.
Below is a combination of movies Johnson has directly cited as inspiration for specific shots or scenes or overall plot or tone and films that I thought of during the movie and that fans should see afterward.
William Wellman’s silent World War I film, winner of the first Oscar for Best Picture, has had a long history of influence on the Star Wars franchise. George Lucas was a fan and modeled some of the dogfight sequences in the first movie around those in Wings — he is said to have even spliced footage of the aerial battles into his movie to help with the editing process.
In the decades since then, Wings has been introduced at screenings, including by Academy president Tom Sherak, as “the Star Wars of 1927.” In 2012, when the film was restored by Paramount Pictures for a new print and home video release, Oscar-winning Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt (who also worked on The Last Jedi) was brought in to record sound effects based on the 90-year-old instructions for the original live accompaniment screenings.
For The Last Jedi, the influence on the space battles is probably continued, but there’s one tracking shot during the establishing montage of the Canto Bight casino that is directly inspired by one in Wings in the Cafe de Paris scene (see the GIF above). And in case it wasn’t obvious enough for a number of viewers familiar with Wings, Johnson confirmed the homage on Twitter.
Twelve O’Clock High (1949)
At the Star Wars Celebration event in summer 2016, Johnson revealed a handful of movies that he had the Last Jedi cast and crew watch before starting production. The various titles gave fans much to ponder about what to expect. Not only is Twelve O’Clock High the first of the titles he named, but Johnson said that this is foremost the one that had the greatest influence on The Last Jedi.
Now that the new Star Wars is out, we can see why, and how. Twelve O’Clock High is about an American bombing unit during World War II. The opening sequence with Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) commanding the bombing of a First Order Dreadnaught ship is the most clearly analogous. While not leaning on absolute parallels, both movies do involve differing opinions of how to lead missions, hotshots ignoring orders to abort, and numerous casualties during the campaigns.
Twelve O’Clock High was a big touchstone,” Johnson reiterated in an Empire interview early this year, “for the feel and look of the aerial combat as well as the dynamic between the pilots.”
For more on the rest of Johnson’s homework assignments, we wrote about all six in another post last year. The other five include David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai (which I recommended to watch after seeing Return of the Jedi), Hideo Gosha’s Three Outlaw Samurai, the Soviet adventure Letter Never Sent, 1939’s Gunga Din (which also heavily influenced the Star Wars prequels), and 1943’s Sahara. All of them should additionally be added to your list of movies to watch.
In the tradition of the Star Wars franchise since its beginnings, The Last Jedi is heavily informed by samurai movies (see Johnson’s recommendation of one above), particularly those by Akira Kurosawa. The first movie covered The Hidden Fortress and The Seven Samurai and the prequels were informed by Throne of Blood — it’s not all about the Kurosawa’s samurai titles, however, as the Clone Wars series paid tribute to Stray Dog, among others, and The Force Awakens took inspiration from High and Low.
Rashomon would seem to be a difficult one to influence Star Wars because its most notable aspect is its structure. The film retells the same events three times based on the varied accounts of a few characters with differing perspectives on the story. Johnson manages to overcome the difficulty by employing flashbacks to one moment — the fall out between Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) —reworked three times based on three different explanations of what happened.
Other Kurosawa movies are also referenced in The Last Jedi, including the 1980s releases Ran (which is why this was made) and Kagemusha (in Snoke’s lair), the latter of which is especially already significant to the Star Wars franchise given that George Lucas was able to help his hero get it made thanks to his clout and the money brought on by his popular space operas. Basically, you should just watch everything by the legendary Japanese director.
The Caine Mutiny (1954)
Many films could be recommended as a tie-in to the brief mutiny segment of The Last Jedi. There is plenty of insurrection in naval stories and even sci-fi — for the latter, don’t watch movies like Space Mutiny (unless via MST3K), stick to TV like the Battlestar Galactica reboot (which must have inspired half the plot of the new Star Wars movie). But of all of them, I like The Caine Mutiny best and think it’s not endorsed enough these days.
Most mutinous plots in movies involve crews challenging a tyrannical captain, but in this film the situation is more complicated. Yes, Humphrey Bogart’s Queeg is overly harsh in his command of the men of the U.S.S. Caine, but he also exhibits mental instability. The men who relieve him of his post are later put to trial for the act, but they’re found to have been justifiable in their mutiny.
Johnson probably wasn’t personally inspired by The Caine Mutiny (Vice Admiral Holdo isn’t close enough to Admiral Halsey, right?), and many critics and fans have focused on the Last Jedi‘s mutiny moment’s dialogue nod to The Wild Bunch over anything else. Poe’s act is probably the most well-meaning of its kind since the one here, though, mistakenly thinking Holdo (Laura Dern) is endangering her crew.