A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Was Star Wars based on Flash Gordon?

Dear Straight Dope:

I once heard that Geroge Lucas initially wanted to update the Flash Gordon franchise, but couldn't get the rights. Therefore, he went ahead and eventually hammered out the Star Wars concept. As the theory goes, this is why (at least in spirit) the trilogy looks so "Flash Gordon-y" (their description, not mine). Is this true?

The force must be with you, Steve. Here it is, straight from Lucas' first Hollywood boss and fellow USC graduate, Francis Ford Coppola: "George wanted to do Flash Gordon ... he met with the people who owned it, and they didn't take him at all seriously. So he took the Flash Gordon trailers -- the diagonal titles that talk about the universe at that point [he means the opening story synopsis that seems to recede from the viewer as it scrolls up] -- and sort of combined it with a Stanley Kubrick '2001' world and created his own 'Flash Gordon.' " Lucas says the characters of "Star Wars" are not originals but "tributes."

To add to the intergalactic mix, Lucas says, "I realized we had no myths, and what I needed to do was create a modern kind of myth." Lucas studied mythology, partly thorugh the writings of Joseph Campbell. He also found fodder for "Star Wars" in a little-known 1958 Japanese film entitled "Hidden Fortress," which is a humorous story about a reformed general and two surly farmers escorting an undercover princess to claim her throne. Hmmmm, that sounds a bit familiar, doesn't it?

Remember that Lucas had a rough go of it early in his career. He lucked out by winning the Warner Brothers scholarship that would place him with Francis Ford Coppola (working on the movie "Finian's Rainbow). But Lucas' first movie "THX:1138," an independent version of his award-winning student film which Coppola had recommended, was a big bomb for Warner Brothers. The studio demanded Lucas and Coppola pay them back to the tune of nearly $500,000.

As a result, Coppola had to take a job directing a little film called "The Godfather" (guess you could say they made him an offer he couldn't refuse). Lucas, taking Coppola's advice to "write from your own history," got Universal Studios to back his next film "American Graffiti," which netted $50 for every $1 invested and made Lucas a millionaire.

Suffice to say, Lucas saw Hollywood as the evil empire.

Now, reduce the main Star Wars character's last name to an initial, and his name becomes Luke S. Lucas.

And you know what young Skywalker did to the evil empire when the force was with him ...

One last tidbit: Star Wars launched the career of Harrison Ford. But do you think Ford was destined for stardom? Not hardly. Ford wasn't the first choice in Lucas's casting of either Han Solo or Indiana Jones. Christopher Walken was the leading contender for the first role, and Tom Selleck was the top pick for the second.

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Staff Reports are written by the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board, Cecil's online auxiliary. Though the SDSAB does its best, these columns are edited by Ed Zotti, not Cecil, so accuracywise you'd better keep your fingers crossed.

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