No film series has such a clear love for cinema of the past like Star Wars. From A New Hope‘s ode to Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress to The Force Awakens‘ western feel, the franchise lovingly celebrates film history. Director Rian Johnson packs so many film references into Star Wars: The Last Jedi that it demands multiple viewings to spot them all. Some sequences are direct homages while others are more subtle, resonating thematically or tonally. If you’re looking to turn kids or teenagers into full blown movie nerds, we can’t think of a better place to start than Episode VIII. Not only does a knowledge of cinema foster a deeper love and appreciation, it allows audiences to think more critically about the art of the world. We’ve compiled a cinematic cheat sheet of the films The Last Jedi draws from to highlight how this film brings something new to Star Wars while simultaneously honoring the past:
The deep red of Snoke’s throne room recalls a variety of different images, including Twin Peaks‘ famous red room. According to The Last Jedi‘s production designer Rick Heinrichs, the visual comparison is intentional. “It’s funny you mentioned Twin Peaks because we definitely had a picture of [the red room] on our mood board in the art department,” Heinrichs told Nerdist. “Mood boards are there for reference and inspiration. They’re really just for me and Rian to have a discussion over in the early stages. Then we print them out and put them up throughout the room. The set designers and illustrators will sometimes just be walking around and their eyes will light up when they see an image on there. It will engage them in a new path that they hadn’t thought of before.”
In The Art of The Last Jedi book, VFX director James Clyne cites the opening of Billy Wilder’s 1960 film as a reference point in designing the look of the common area onboard the Mega Destroyer. “There’s a scene in that film where its’s just rows and rows of desks… so again, not reinventing the wheel but paying homage and playing off of that.”
In the film, a member of the underground resistance contacts refugees looking to flee the city to America by pretending to show them a ring for sale. He opens up the ring, revealing the cross of Lorraine, a symbol of the Free French. Similarly, Rose Tico reveals her allegiance to the child laborers on Canto Bight by opening up her ring, revealing the rebel insignia.
One of the greatest Technicolor films of all-time, the 1947 psychological drama centers around a group of nuns who live in an isolated valley in the Himalayas. The Last Jedi‘s costume designer Michael Kaplan revealed in The Art of the Last Jedi that he wanted concept artists to draw on the look of the nuns for the caretakers on Ahch-To.
More of a fun easter egg than reference: listen closely when the police officers arrest Finn and Rose on Canto Bight for parking violation “27 B stroke six.” In Terry Gilliams’ 1980’s sci-fi flick Brazil, two vigilante handymen show up to fix the air ducts in main character Sam Lowry’s apartment. He asks them if they have filled out a 27B/6 form first, pointing out repairs can’t be done without proper paperwork.
At first glance, it would appear the trippy mind sequence that takes place in the cave on Ahch-To must have involved lots of CGI, but think again. Heinrichs explained, “At the end of the day we needed such a significant amount of replayability in terms of the way they had to do the multiple versions of Rey. If you study it, it’s actually pretty clever. They’re not mirror images of each other, they couldn’t be because the perspective changes on each of the elements. They were photographed. There were essentially multiple cameras on Rey (Daisy Ridley) as she acted the scenes, so that is really her in all of those images.” The mirror image of Rey’s recalls a sequence in a hall of mirrors from the classic Citizen Kane, wherein Orson Welles‘ character memorably walks down a hallway with multiple reflections of himself in the background.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
The fighting style of the Praetorian guards during the big throne room duel draws influence from one of the best martial arts scenes ever put on film. “A key scene Rian asked us to reference was the dojo fight in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. So there was certainly a Chinese influence in there,” says prop concept designer Matthew Savage in The Art of The Last Jedi.
Heinrichs was the production designer for numerous films before The Last Jedi, including the Coen brothers’ Fargo. When designing the visual look of the battle on Crait, he drew inspiration for the blasts of deep red from a darkly comic moment from the 1998 film. “[The battle of Crait] is obviously a very graphic depiction of a violent battle that happens, the red on white and the rooster tail. I was actually thinking of telling Rian that I was inspired by the end of the movie Fargo which I had actually done, the wood chipper scene.”
The Master Codebreaker’s attire on Canto Bight, a white tux with red plom bloom lapel, may recall Indiana Jones’ look in the opening Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom for most. But, the look goes back even further, to the spy movie era of the 1960s. Sean Connery’s James Bond famously sports the accessory in Goldfinger. Justin Theroux’s codebreaker gets his fashion inspiration from the best.
A major source of inspiration for the Indiana Jones trilogy, Johnson selected this as one of six films to screen at Lucasfilm prior to starting work on The Last Jedi. He told Uproxx‘s Mike Ryan, “It’s the closest of all the things we watched that has, I think, that sense of kind of poppy adventure.” The 1939 adventure film follows three British sergeants and their water bearer, who are captured and must escape the Thuggee, an Indian cult in colonia’l British India. Finn and Rose’s Canto Bight mission then Imperial capture mirror the lighter, pulpier tones of Gunga Din.
The Bridge on the River Kwai
Another film chosen by Johnson to screen for the Lucasfilm Story Group, The Bridge on the River Kwai is widely considered to be one of the greatest war films of all-time. Tonally, the film’s relationship between the two main characters (played by Alec Guinness and William Holden) mirrors an officer and soldier duo in The Last Jedi. Speaking to Uproxx, Johnson remarked, “You can see it reflected a little in the Admiral Holdo and Poe thing, the uneasy kind of tension between them. You know, William Holden is kind of the hotshot American–versus Alec Guinness, the sort of stiff upper lip commander. And it’s something that is a common thing in war movies.”
The ripples of the water as the fathiers approached during the Canto Bight sequence invokes the same visual used in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster to visualize the giant Tyrannosaurus rex’s approach.
Kagemusha and Ran
Akira Kurosawa‘s 1980 samurai epic (which was partially funded thanks to George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola) has a vibrant color palette throughout the film, particularly the blood red used in battle scenes. (The vibrant color of the armies also makes an appearance in his film, Ran.) The art department looked to Kurosawa’s samurai films as a source of inspiration for Snoke’s throne room. “We used this concept of the red as a kind of regal quality, as a bit of a surprise and mystery. That’s what happens when you withhold a color like that in a movie. All of a sudden, a new environment is both a surprise and frankly kind of a delight. The red puts across this sense of Snoke as a regal being and also that this is a throne room. This is not where the little people go about doing their business, this is essentially where he projects his power to the universe,” Heinrichs recalled.
Letter Never Sent
At first glance, this 1960 Soviet adventure drama seems like an odd choice for one of Johnson’s six movies screened in preparation for filming The Last Jedi. In the movie, a group of geologists embark on a quest to find diamonds in the forests of central Siberia. They succeed in finding the diamonds, but a raging forest fire traps and cuts off the scientists from their food and supplies. The group must battle the harsh elements in a fight to survive. In like fashion, The Last Jedi places its actors in the natural world in key settings, most notably Luke Skywalker on Ahch-To.
Another Kurosawa-helmed classic, Rashomon revolves around four characters who provide subjective, contradicting accounts of the same incident. This same plot device is mirrored in The Last Jedi when Luke and Kylo Ren recall the fight resulting in the destruction of Skywalker’s new Jedi Order.
Another war film screened by Johnson, this 1943 drama starring Humphrey Bogart focuses on a group of American soldiers in the Libyan desert. Forced to retreat, they find refuge at an abandoned fortress but must defend it from a large German detachment making their way there. The battle of Crait sequence has a similar visual and tonal feel, depicting soldiers keeping watch in their trenches as the looming First Order army approaches.
Three Outlaw Samurai
In lieu of picking a Kurosawa film, Johnson chose Hideo Gosha’s 1964 samurai flick as part of his screening series. The uneasy camaraderie between the three samurai mirrors the unlikely team up between Rey and Kylo Ren in the throne room duel sequence.
To Catch a Thief
Canto Bight’s Monte Carlo casino vibe draws heavy inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock‘s 1955 caper film set in the equally decadent French Riviera.
Twelve O’Clock High
In the climactic final sequence of this 1949 WWII classic, members of the U.S. Army’s Eighth Air Force go on a dangerous bombing mission to Berlin. Parts of the scene include actual combat footage shot by Allied cameras. This footage was a source of inspiration when filming the Resistance bombing sequence in the opening of The Last Jedi.
Hitchcock’s masterpiece uses a familiar technique (also seen most notably in Jaws) to highlight Jimmy Stewart’s characters fear of heights: the dolly zoom. The same technique is employed at the very end of the Canto Bight chase with Rose and Finn by a cliff.
The Wild Bunch
Poe Dameron’s dialogue during the mutiny sequence should sound familiar to movie buffs: it’s a riff on a very famous line spoken by William Holden’s character in the Sam Peckinpah directed 1969 Western epic.
Last, but certainly not least, The Last Jedi‘s most direct homage appropriately celebrates at film that was the Star Wars of its day. The highest grossing film of 1927, the American silent era film Wings includes a scene at a Paris nightclub with a now famous long tracking shot over the club’s patrons. Johnson pays loving homage with his own long tracking shot in the Canto Bight Casino.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is now available for purchase on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital everywhere. What was your favorite moment from the film? Let us know in the comments below!
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Michelle Buchman is the social media manager at Nerdist Industries. She’s also a huge cinephile. Feel free to follow and chat movies with her on Twitter, @michelledeidre.