Star Wars: World War II in SPACE!

Star Wars IV: Victory Celebration

There’s a fair amount of analysis on the web on how Star Wars, Episode IV, borrows from many sources, including, of course, Nazi Germany.

The fascist aesthetic of Imperial architecture and its uniforms is unmistakable. Palpatine’s rise to power has close parallels to Hitler’s path to dictatorship: appointed chancellor to break a political stalemate (one of Hitler’s making) before, of course, seizing power. So, too, many names come from World War II, especially from the German side (Hoth, for instance).

Here are a number of other World War II parallels, most of which were probably quite intentional on Lucas’ part, although perhaps some were just part of the consciousness of “what war should be like.”

Nuremberg Rally, 1934

Tatooine was, of course, filmed in Tunisia. North Africa was a secondary front but it played an out-sized morale boosting role in Britain and the U.S as (arguably) the birthplace of allied resistance, if more in the imagination if not in reality. It also inspired a number of iconic Star Wars elements:

  • The allied forces complained heavily of thieving, scavenging locals (think Jawas)
  • The Sand People inspiration is perhaps more diffuse but North African raiders have a long history, even if they didn’t figure so much in World War II. Turning farther east, Arab nationalists fought in desert robes reminiscent of both Jawas and Sand People in the Middle East in both wars.
  • Pilots crashed in the desert (like the droids at the start). Many died, some made it out. A few wrote stories about it or inspired fiction, like Flight of the Phoenix.

Battle for Britain provides a rich source of analogs: love the chatter between the rebel pilots, the wing leaders, color-coded squadrons, the command center back at home base? That is all very much inspired by the British defense of the home isles in 1940, from the command and control center (Fighter Command) to the banter between pilots, terminology used, and, of course, the dog fights. There are even historical cases of Fighter Command radio operators (usually female) controlling loved ones in battle, and sadly, losing them in combat as well, including a woman who listened to her fiancee’s death, live.

How about the Millennium Falcon? While it must be based more on a tramp freighter than anything else, the two quad laser canons sure look like defensive machine guns on a B-17. I’d say they are a mix of the turret guns and the waist guns (maybe more turret gun in appearance and waist guns in positioning, in that the two gunners were opposite of each other.) Similarly, the headsets that Luke and Han wore while battling the TIE fighters is reminiscent of the B-17 crew’s gear.

While storm troopers were a creation of the World War I German Army, they certainly lived on in spirit into World War II. Serried ranks of Storm Troopers, especially in later movies, look quite a lot like soldiers at the immense Nuremberg rallies of the 30s. With their height and uniform appearance, as well as the clone angle, they also echo Nazi race ideas.

The age of battleships ended in World War II and while they played second string to aircraft carriers, the battleships are as iconic of that war as are the very similar Star Destroyers. Said Star Destroyers don’t quite rise to an aircraft carrier equivalent (to me) and neither does the Death Star but certainly the TIE fighters dueling with rebel fighters takes a cue from the great air battles of the Pacific War, as do the mix of anti-ship and air-supremacy aircraft of both sides.

None of this is meant to detract from Star Wars in any way. I quite enjoy how Lucas mined World War II for ideas. It adds a whole layer of verisimilitude as well as just being plan fun to spot. And in the mid-70s, when Star Wars came out, World War II was a whole lot closer in living memory than it is now, so much of this must of been accepted with little comment at the time from those who fought the war, many of whom would have been in their 50s.

What World War II analogues do you see in Episode IV or the later movies?



2 thoughts on “Star Wars: World War II in SPACE!

  1. That’s a fascinating analogy, not one I had thought of before. Do you feel that WW II had a special resonance for Lucas? Because his other significant series, Indiana Jones, is also set around that era.

    If you’ll permit me a blog self-reference, maybe it’s that Nazis are a villain you can kill with impunity? And fascists like the Empire fit that same mold?

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      I think WWII did have a special resonance for him. He was born in 1944 and, given his interest in movies, I suspect he would was raised on WW II movies. I’m not sure how much of the WWII elements were intentional but some of it must be, maybe most of it.

      The Nazis certainly make the ultimately bad guy for both Raiders of the Lost Ark and the later Star Wars episodes which continue to draw on it, although they draw on other themes, too, of course.

      I quite agree that they are a villain you can kill with impunity. The faceless stormtroopers and the droids also fall into that category.

      One of the very morally awkward aspects of the later Star Wars movies (for me) is how gleefully the noble Jedi cut apart droids- even though the movies make it clear through R2D2 and C3PO that droids have feelings and are as much a sentient being as humans. Some droids may be simpler but since Lucas chose to have even his battle droids in Star Wars I make jokes, he has imbued them with some moral value as a sentient being which makes slaughtering them willy-nilly immoral.

      So, I think the droids were created as battle fodder that nobody would feel bad about being killed but they blurred the lines, even more so than for stormtroopers (at least until the most recent movie when storm troopers are finally humanized).

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