If you’re looking to obtain a crash course in cinema history, look no further than Star Wars.
The series owes much of what makes it feel so grandiose and enthralling to the cinema of the past. From rebellious outlaws to epic duels, Star Wars‘ cinematic influences cover all eras and genres of film history. Continuing this tradition, the newest entries in the franchise display their influences proudly. While The Last Jedi draws heavily from samurai cinema and World War II epics, the standalone movies get to tap into more varied and sometimes unexpected sources of inspiration. To celebrate the home video release of Solo: A Star Wars Story, we scoured the galaxy to bring you a cinematic cheat sheet of the film’s influences that serve as a journey through film history, from the femme fatales of film noir to good ol’ fashioned Westerns:
McCabe and Mrs. Miller
Robert Altman’s 1971 American anti-Western is perhaps the single biggest influence on Solo. From cinematographer Bradford Young’s lighting to the look of the sets, the film emulates the naturalistic look of McCabe and Mrs. Miller in every shot. “When I first met Bradford with Phil [Lord] and Chris [Miller], it became very obvious that we were going to be using a lot of what felt like natural lighting. Low lighting, nothing too heavy,” Solo production designer Neil Lamont told Nerdist. “A large part of what Phil and Chris wanted, and how they wanted us to feel… they got us to look at McCabe and Mrs. Miller and films of that kind.”
Han Solo’s giant furry coat on the snowy planet Vandor is also drawn from Warren Beatty’s character in McCabe. In The Art of Solo book, costume designer Glyn Dillon cites the iconic look, “They wanted a big fur coat for Han, akin to the one Warren Beatty wears when he rides into town with his little bowler hat. It’s a fantastic look – really big and dramatic.”
At the start of the film, the audience encounters young Han Solo as a member of the White Worms, an Oliver Twist-like gang in the seedy underground of Corellia. Along with ’70s punk pioneers like Blondie and The Clash, the look of the White Worms draws inspiration from the greasers in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 adaptation of The Outsiders.
One of the best and most underrated heist flicks of the ’70s, Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway revolves around a convict (Steve McQueen) who, when denied parole, enlists his wife (Ali MacGraw) to strike a deal with corrupt businessman to get him out of jail. In exchange for his freedom, the pair must pull one last bank heist. Solo‘s Qi’ra and Han share a similar dynamic at the start of the film, a pair of lovers on the run who must steal in order to secure their freedom.
The Corellia chase sequence has numerous influences, but it’s hard not to first think of the muscle cars and street races in George Lucas’ seminal 1973 coming-of-age classic American Graffiti when the speeder engine first lights up.
Bullitt is perhaps the greatest caper movie of all time, and Han channels his inner Steve McQueen cool as he dodges the White Worms through the streets of Corellia. The Solo sequence echos the legendary 11 minute long chase scene through the streets of San Francisco in the 1968 film.
The memorable Thunder Road race towards the end of Grease serves as another reference point for Solo’s escape through Corellia. In The Art of Solo, Lucasfilm design supervisor James Clyne remarks, “We knew there was a speeder chase, so I showed an image from the movie Grease for inspiration: the two cars racing in the LA River basin… We knew that Star Destroyers were going to be built on Corellia. I thought, ‘How fun would it be to do a ‘Thunder Road’ kind of thing?'”
Solo co-screenwriter Jon Kasdan cited the Corellian hounds, also known as Sibian hounds, as a loving tribute to the Death Dogs in Ron Howard’s 1988 fantasy film Willow.
Walter Hill’s ’70s crime thriller (also a huge influence on Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver) serves as a source of inspiration for the look of Han’s speeder on Corellia. On an episode of The Star Wars Show, Lucasfilm senior art director Gary Tomkins cites The Driver as an early influence for the muscle car look and feel of the vehicle.
The Godfather: Part II
Han’s arrival at the Coronet spaceport deliberately mirrors another famous moment on film. “We wanted the sequence to feel like the Ellis Island sequence in The Godfather: Part II,” Jon Kasdan wrote in his list of factoids on Twitter.
Cross of Iron
In the Mimban scene, Imperials are at war fighting on the planet’s muddy terrain. The smuggler Beckett and his crew of fellow scoundrels steal the clothes of dead soldiers in order to blend in. Solo costume designer David Crossman looked to Sam Peckinpah’s WWII epic Cross of Iron when designing Beckett’s military disguise, as stated in The Art of Solo.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Listen closely as Han and Beckett walk together after the Mimban battle and you may hear a familiar line of dialogue from the second Indiana Jones film.
Paths of Glory
Beckett and Han’s walk through the trenches of Mimban mirror a famous sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 anti-war film Paths of Glory. Jon Kasdan stated on Twitter, “We wanted Mimban to evoke Kubrick’s Paths of Glory and put Han into the most hellish possible war environment.”
The Defiant Ones
An Academy Award nominee for Best Picture in 1959, The Defiant Ones follows two escaped convicts (played by Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier) who are shackled together and must cooperate in order to survive while on the run. Solo uses the same visual, chaining together Han and Chewie ; they must work together and trust each other in order to escape Mimban.
Chewbacca and Han Solo are the ultimate romance, and that’s by design. Kasdan told Empire Magazine his father Lawrence instructed him to look at the Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn comedy-romances of the 1940s as inspiration for Han and Chewie’s sassy rapport. Tracy and Hepburn’s zingy repartee with one another is a key trademark of all nine films the real-life couple starred in together on screen.
An often-forgotten caper flick starring Walter Matthau, 1973’s Charley Varrick is cited as a film with direct story influence by the Kasdans on Solo: A Star Wars Story. After robbing a bank, criminal Charley Varrick (Matthau) and his accomplice Harman Sullivan discover the bank they rob is involved in a money laundering scheme, leaving them with much more dough than they anticipated. Varrick tells Sullivan the mob will follow them ruthlessly until they get their money, and advises laying low for a few years. Sullivan insists on spending his share wildly, and Varrick double-crosses him. Sounds a bit like the leader of a certain gang and their coaxium haul, doesn’t it?
Every Star Wars film needs at least one Akira Kurosawa reference. Solo‘s nod to the master of Japanese cinema is subtle. Look closely at the back of Enfys Nest’s swoop bike; the red banners affixed on the back are meant to recall the red flags of the army in Kurosawa’s King Lear adaptation Ran.
The Wild Bunch
The train heist is one of the most memorable and enthralling sequences in Solo. Aboard the locomotive, Han and Chewie must uncouple a section of the train containing the coaxium shipment. The moment echoes the train robbery in Sam Peckinpah’s classic Western, The Wild Bunch.
Only Angels Have Wings
Howard Hawks’ 1939 American drama revolves around a cocky pilot named Geoff Carter (played by Cary Grant) who runs a tiny airline out of a remote South American trading port. Carter and his band of flyboys must often fly routes in violent weather conditions with dangerous shipments. On one such flight, one of Carter’s pilots makes a failed attempt to transport a case of nitroglycerin and ends up dropping the shipment, much like Han does in Solo after the train heist goes awry.
To Have and Have Not
When Han sees Qi’ra again aboard Dryden Vos’ yacht after years apart, she’s changed. No longer an orphan girl stealing as part of the White Worms, she’s a sophisticated member of the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate. Her new look brings to mind the femme fatales of the 1940s, including Lauren Bacall’s iconic black dress in 1944’s wartime adventure film To Have and Have Not.
“One of the inspirations for Dryden Vos was Robert Prosky’s character [Leo] in Michael Mann’s Thief,” Jon Kasdan revealed on Twitter. Both characters are ruthless, high-level bosses in crime syndicates who will make life difficult for anyone who gets in their way.
The Wages of Fear and Sorcerer
The 1953 French-Italian thriller The Wages of Fear from Henri-Georges Clouzot and its subsequent American remake, William Friedkin’s Sorcerer, revolve around a dangerous mission in Central America. A group of four down on their luck men are hired to drive two trucks loaded with nitroglycerin across mountain dirt roads en route to its final destination. The men must be careful on their journey, one major bump or jump could set off an explosion. In Solo, the gang are tasked with carrying an equally volatile shipment of coaxium to Savareen for refining before the hyperfuel unfreezes and explodes.
2001: A Space Odyssey
The interior designs of the Millennium Falcon were heavily influenced by the minimalistic interiors of the spacecraft in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi masterpiece. Circular hallways, white padded interiors, and lo-fi LED display panels are all key characteristics of both films’ lived-in space-age look. Unsurprisingly, several members of the creative team on 2001: A Space Odyssey went on to work with George Lucas at Pinewood Studios for A New Hope.
Out of the Past
One of the best film noir movies ever made, Out of the Past stars femme fatale Jane Greer playing Kathie Moffat, a tough, ruthless woman who will stop at nothing to get what she wants–including killing her former boyfriend Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum). The Kasdans based Qi’ra’s “survivor” attitude and instincts partially on Greer’s character. “She sees things more clearly than Robert Mitchum does. And we wanted that quality for Qi’ra,” Kasdan said in an interview with Empire.
Beckett’s untrustworthy mantra and loner outlook parallel Robert DeNiro’s character Neil McCauley in Michael Mann’s Heat. “We wanted Beckett to be cut from the same cloth as Neil McCauley,” Kasdan remarked on Twitter. “We wanted Beckett to embody a moral cynicism that Han would, later in life, outwardly project but never possess.”
The control room on the spice mines of Kessel feels rooted in lo-fi technology, and that’s by design. Solo computer graphics supervisor Andrew Booth explains in The Art of Solo, “If you imagine that Rogue One was 1976/1977, what we’ve done with Solo is gone back to the mid-sixties.” In particular, the computer graphics team referenced the look of the control room in Michael Crichton’s 1973 Westworld. Both rooms utilize clunky, more lo-fi technology for a lived-in look.
Production designer Neil Lamont recalled Kessel as the biggest challenge of the film in terms of design. “Everybody has got their own idea of what the spice mines of Kessel are going to be,” he told Nerdist. “How can we do something that feels of the right scale, has got sets within, it’s not just a mine…it’s also got a control room, it’s also got a coaxium vault. What style can we bring to that whole thing to make it feel cohesive? That’s a really big challenge. To make a set feel cohesive. Hopefully, we sort of pulled that off with this whole feeling of a little bit of, cold war manufacturing, is what we tried to invoke.”
The Magnificent Seven
The shoot out during the escape from Kessel highlights Han Solo at his most space cowboy, mirroring Steve McQueen’s effortlessly cool, tough-shooting cowboy in John Sturges’ classic Western The Magnificent Seven. The 1960 film itself is an American remake of Kurosawa’s Japanese epic, Seven Samurai.
Back to the Future
Needles? Where heard that name before? If Back to the Future has taught us anything, it’s this: don’t ever race Needles. It never leads to anything good.
Han’s signature jacket draws influence from the King of Cool himself: Steve McQueen. Costume designer Glyn Dillon states in The Art of Solo, “It felt very ‘Han Solo’ straight away. Adding the black yoke on the shoulders and a little bit of Star Wars detailing didn’t feel too challenging. That was a good hit for your hero look.”
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Han Solo’s arc throughout the entire series is partly inspired by various Humphrey Bogart characters. At the beginning of Solo, viewers meet a young boy fighting to survive. Han wants nothing more than to get back to the girl he loves. By the end of the film, his character is more akin to Bogart’s performance as Fred Dobbs in John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. In an interview with Slashfilm, Jon Kasdan articulated the similarity, “I think that why my dad responded so strongly to Han as a character when he saw A New Hope is he recognized an archetype of a Bogart-type character that really has a through line to [Treasure of the Sierra Madre] and to a lot of Westerns and stuff like that where it’s the guy who says, absolutely I will never help anyone ever and you know in the end he’s gonna do it begrudgingly.”
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
Beckett, Han, and Qi’ra’s showdown with Enfys Nest on Savareen is a classic Western showdown, most often seen in Sergio Leone films. Leone’s well-regarded spaghetti Western The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly highlights a similar stand-off during the film’s final scene. Listen closely and viewers may even hear an audio cue reminiscent of Ennio Morricone’s distinct score.
Cool Hand Luke
The design for the chrome eyepiece of Enfys Nest’s helmet comes from the prison guard character Godfrey in 1967 prison drama Cool Hand Luke. Godfrey, nicknamed “The Man With No Eyes” by the inmates, rarely takes his sunglasses off in the film, much like Enfys and her helmet in Solo.
The Hot Rock
Solo models its story structure much like the 1972 caper film, The Hot Rock. In both, a group of criminals set forth to steal a valuable object, but things don’t quite go according to plan. The Hot Rock‘s thieves attempt to steal a diamond, but the police intervene early and one of the criminals eats the diamond to avoid being caught. When the group attempts to bust the same man out of jail after being captured, the situation goes increasingly awry each time they attempt to fix it. The crew in Solo encounters a similar set of obstacles that stand in their way as they keep trying to steal a shipment of coaxium for Crimson Dawn.
At the end of Solo, audiences finally get a taste of the seasoned scoundrel Han exemplifies in A New Hope. Instead of Beckett making a move, Han shoots first (!!) in order to ensure his survival. The move mirrors the end of another famous Western, 1952’s High Noon. Gary Cooper plays a small town sheriff who is called to duty to protect the town from a group of local criminals recently set free. At the end of the film, he draws first, killing the criminal and protecting his lady love.
In an interview with StarWars.com, Lawrence Kasdan remarked on Han’s change stating, “He’s not living in a romantic fantasy of chivalry. And this is one of the reasons he’s such a popular character. The reason he caught my imagination from A New Hope is because he represented a kind of very practical, cynical, ‘I’m gonna survive this scene’ attitude. And not some, ‘Oh, I can’t possibly draw on him until he draws.’ That’s from High Noon or something.”
Production designer Neil Lamont agreed, remarking to Nerdist, “We’re in High Noon at the end of the movie and it’s the culmination of the whole thing. In Fuerteventura [the Canary Island, Spain where the scene was shot on location], on that set out in the middle of nowhere. It’s quite a task to put it together.”
Solo: A Star Wars Story is available to purchase digitally now and arrives on Blu-ray/DVD on September 25. What was your favorite moment from the film? Let us know in the comments below!
Images: Lucasfilm, Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, MGM, 20th Century Fox, Hen’s Tooth Video, The Criterion Collection, United Artists,
Michelle Buchman is the social media manager at Nerdist. She’s also a huge cinephile. Feel free to follow and chat movies with her on Twitter, @michelledeidre.