From childhood, Lucas was inspired by the 1936 serial. Those influences carried on into Star Wars.
From an early age, George Lucas found his hometown of Modesto to be a little boring. Suburban life was good for George, the son of a stationary store owner in the small town, but Lucas was eager for adventure.
In the 1950s, television was beginning to explode in households across the country, and a friend in the neighborhood, John Plummer, had a television set in his garage.
It meant access to another world of story, adventure and escapism, and his favorite was a 1936 serial from Universal Pictures called "Flash Gordon."
The first episode, as featured in Episode II of BLOCKBUSTER, available now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all other podcast platforms, is called "The Planet of Peril."
1. The story is simple and heroic.
What caught George was the story of good versus evil, and an ordinary person (in this case, Flash) thrust into the spotlight to save the day.
This principle would come to be known as the "hero's journey," as described by Joseph Campbell, but as a young age, George hadn't yet begun thinking about the importance of structure and story arc.
In the first episode of this Flash Gordon serial, Flash and his friends are captured by an evil emperor and imprisoned, and Flash has to find a way to free them before they can defeat them and leave.
2. Flash Gordon used massive, sometimes too-big sets.
Flash Gordon recycled props from other, more expensive film productions at Universal, which meant many of the items were repurposed into the story. But one of the results of this was that those higher-quality large props could be used on this serial, which had a very small budget.
A resemblance is noticeable, especially in the "throne room" scene at the end of STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE, and in some of the architecture used.
3. The music was grand.
Similar to the props, the music was often recycled from other films, but the sweeping music allowed the important moments of heroism to be scored with emotionally moving music. The music swells when there's danger, and when Flash must make a decision to save his friends.
George came into STAR WARS insisting that music needed to be a central part, and his friend Steven Spielberg introduced him to John Williams.
Note: Steven nicknamed John "Max," in honor of the great Max Steiner, who composed epic scores in the 1930s and 40s, including 1933's KING KONG.
4. The episodic structure.
Instead of taking a feature film approach on the original STAR WARS, George envisioned a broader story and world. George originally created a treatment that spanned much of his the original trilogy, but felt it was too much for one film.
While The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were far from a sure thing, this indicated George was building an entire world where his story could take place, and where each "episode" could be discussed and debated and re-watched by people wondering what would come next, just as in the Flash Gordon serial episodes.
5. The moving wipes.
One of the most distinctive Star Wars features is the moving wipes in the editing. When transitioning to a new scene, instead of a hard cut or a long dissolve, George adopted a Flash Gordon visual look: wipes that moved across the screen.
It shows these wipes, often parodied as coming from STAR WARS, were actually around long before, but they'd fallen out of favor among editors at the time for seeming too old fashioned.
The creative relationship and long-running friendship between Spielberg, Lucas and Williams is explored in detail in BLOCKBUSTER. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, as well as Spotify and all other podcast platforms.
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