Those searching for clues about the next Star Wars movie should catch up on their classic cinema.
The Last Jedi writer-director Rian Johnson told Empire magazine that three specific films influenced his work on the highly anticipated Star Wars installment, due out in December of this year. Each film, he said, informed The Last Jedi in some way:
Twelve O’Clock High was a big touchstone, for the feel and look of the aerial combat as well as the dynamic between the pilots. Three Outlaw Samurai for the feel of the sword-fighting, and the general sense of pulpy fun. And To Catch A Thief was a great film to rewatch, for the romantic scale and grandeur.
Every Star Wars film has its influences. Asked a similar question in 2015, The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams said his Star Wars entry was inspired by filmmakers Terrence Malick, John Ford, and Akira Kurosawa. George Lucas’s original trilogy was said to be heavily influenced by (critics might say derivative of) Flash Gordon, Dune, and Lawrence of Arabia, among others.
But Johnson’s influences for The Last Jedi are especially fascinating. They’re three very different types of films with distinct tones, from three different decades. What we can discern from Johnson’s list is that the next Star Wars film will be a pulpy, romantic adventure with Samurai-worthy fight choreography and lots of aerial combat.
Here’s a taste, and details on how to watch each movie:
Twelve O’Clock High (1949)
Thirteen years before he played the iconic attorney Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, Gregory Peck played a World War II fighter pilot in Henry King’s Twelve O’Clock High.
In 1998, the United States Library of Congress added the film to its National Film Registry reserved for “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant motion pictures. You can watch it on YouTube, iTunes, and Amazon Video.
To Catch a Thief (1955)
Alfred Hitchcock, the “Master of Suspense,” was best known for thrillers including Psycho, Vertigo, and Rear Window. To Catch a Thief was one of his lighter, funnier, more glamorous films.
Starring the first-rate duo of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, Hitchcock’s romantic caper follows a jewel thief who’s seduced by a wealthy jewelry owner in the French Riviera. Rent it on YouTube, iTunes, or Amazon Video.
Three Outlaw Samurai (1964)
Star Wars owes a lot to Samurai cinema. The very concept of Jedi was influenced by Samurai, and the trilogy’s lightsaber fighting choreography took a lot from works of Japanese filmmakers in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly Akira Kurosawa.
Johnson looks likely to continue the trend, this time delving into Hideo Gosha’s first feature, Three Outlaw Samurai. Gosha’s film might not be quite as well-known to Western audiences as some of Kurosawa’s films are, but it’s still part of the Criterion Collection. It doesn’t appear to be available to stream (legally) online, but you can order a DVD or Blu-ray directly from the Criterion Collection.