Media Index
By Richard Bruce BA, MA, and PhC in Economics

Long Ago, In a Galaxy far, far away....
Where Did the Opening Words of Star Wars come from?

Star Wars starts with the logos for Fox and Lucasfilms, but the very first thing that is specific to the film are these words, "Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away...." Then we see the words star wars and after that the famous crawl giving us the back story. Why did Star Wars start with these words? There is an obvious answer, and a surprising, not so obvious answer.

First the obvious, it was traditional that fairy tales start with the words, "once upon a time, long long ago in a land far, far away." So Lucas is saying this is a fairy tale, or myth, set in another galaxy. Lucas is telling us this is science fantasy, not hard science fiction.

It has become something of a tradition for some Star Wars fans to tell pollsters that their religion is Jedi. Occasionally religious conservatives worry that Star Wars encourages a false spirituality that will put children in contact with devils. Both groups maybe ignoring the point Lucas is making, its a fairy tale, do not take it seriously.

This much is obvious, or at least to the generation that first saw the movie. Young people today may not be as familiar with this traditional beginning to fairy tales. Nevertheless, let us proceed to the more surprising and speculative points.

Sergio Leone-Once Upon a Time

Star Wars was first released in 1977. Nine years before, in 1968, Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West was released. Sergio Leone and his film could not be ignored by a film student and director like Lucas. It seems likely Sergio Leone's use of Once Upon a Time, prompted George Lucas to use the rest of the standard opening line of fairy tales in Star Wars.

Lucas is not the only director that was inspired by others. Sergio Leone may have gotten the idea for the title from a Broadway play that came out in 1959, Once Upon a Mattress. This play was based on the fairy tale the princess and the pea, but the title suggested the subject might be adult.

Of course all of this happened when The Lord of the Rings was very popular. Tolkien took the children's fairy tale genre and turned it into the subject for an older audience. Both Sergio Leone and George Lucas seemed to have been influenced by the Tolkien trend. They both created films in trilogies. Sergio Leone produced a trilogy of films that had titles that began with the words "Once Upon a Time." It was an unusual trilogy because the stories had neither characters nor settings in common. They were not sequels or prequels.

Once Upon a Time...The Revolution

The last film in Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time" trilogy came out after Star Wars. But the second film in the series, Once Upon a Time...the Revolution, came out before Star Wars. It was released in 1971, and therefore could have influenced Lucas as it came out six years before Star Wars. This film is commonly know by two other titles, Duck, You Sucker, and A Fist Full of Dynamite.

Note that the original title, Once Upon a Time...the Revolution, has an ellipses, three dots. Movie titles rarely have ellipses. I went through a list of 500 titles of top films on IMDb, Internet Movie Data base and only found one title with an ellipses. So is it coincidence that both Star Wars and Once Upon a Time...The Revolution, start with a reference to the standard opening line for fairy tales and follow it with an ellipse? Not likely.

But the similarities do not stop there. What follows in both cases is a type of war: revolution, or star wars. Furthermore, the story in Star Wars: A New Hope, is a rebellion which could also be called a revolution. So we have three elements in common, the standard first line of fairy tales, an ellipses, and words meaning some type of war, and each of the three elements is lined up the same order. It appears that Lucas was not just influenced by the earlier film, he seems to be very intentionally giving credit to the earlier film.

Lucas Credits His Sources With Clues

Lucas seems to consciously credit his sources. Darth Vader is based on a couple of comic book villains, Dr. Doom, and Darkseid. Dr. Doom's full name is Dr. Victor Von Doom. So his initials are D. V. V. D. of course Darth Vader's initials are D. V. I believe Lucas is intentionally giving credit to Dr. Doom, and his creators.

Darth Vader is also based on Darkseid whose name is pronounced dark side. I have written an essay on the various ways that Lucas credits his sources, Jack Kirby and comic books.

But I am not the only one to note how Lucas credits his sources. As a film student Lucas was enormously impressed by a short Canadian film, 21-87, by Authur Lipsettis. As a film student he made several short films in the same style. He referenced this film in his first feature film THX 1138. THX 1138 is set in the future, in the year 2187, the exact numbers of the earlier film. Princes Leia's prison cell on the Death Star is numbered 2187. His repeated use of these numbers from the title of a film we know he admired enormously makes it clear that Lucas leaves clues to credit the films and other creations that influenced him.

So it is a reasonable quess that the ellipses following part of the standard opening line of fairy tales followed a war or revolution is a intentional crediting of his sources.

Star Wars was Unique and Special

Before beginning, it should be that Star Wars is based on many sources, including many movies, comics, and science fiction. It would be silly to think of Star Wars as simply a remake of Once Upon a Time...The Revolution in a different environment.

Furthermore, even if Star Wars was a complete copy of some other source, which it is not, the thing that made Star Wars so special was not the plot, the characters, or the dialogue, it was the special effects. Suddenly a world similar to what we had read about and/or seen in books, comics, and animation, was right there on the screen. As a young man I can say it was a mind blowing experience. The world had changed, there were new possibilities. Over the course of the last few decades we have seen those possibilities come to fruition.

I have not seen Once Upon a Time...The Revolution myself. This is based on the plot summary from Wikipedia. As mentioned above both Star Wars and Once Upon a Time...The Revolution are about revolts or revolutions. In both the films are about loyalty and commitment to the revolution under the strain of facing the overwhelming power of the established order.

Adjusting to Changes in Status

Both films start with the capture of people who formerly had high status, but whose status means little in the new situation. The high status people cling to what no longer helps or protects them. In Once Upon a Time...The Revolution a coach with wealthy passengers is robed by a bandit family lead by Juan Miranda. In Star Wars Princess Leia, a Senator acting as a diplomat is captured by Darth Vader's Star Destroyer.

In both cases a high status young woman insults her captors. In The Revolution Juan the bandit leader rapes her in retaliation. In the case Leia, she is tortured and her home planet, Alderaan is destroyed, though it is not clear that this has anything to do with her insulting her captors.

In both movies the high status woman insults a low status man. In the case of The Revolution as I have just said the young woman insults the peasant bandit Juan and he rapes her. In Star Wars Leia repeatedly insults Han Solo. Ultimately Han and Leia become involved romantically. The rather proper and conservative romance between Leia and Han is not a near equivalent of the rape of the rich woman by Juan, but that does not mean Lucas was not influenced or inspired by the earlier movie.

In both films there are two major male protagonists, one a cynical guy on the wrong side of the law and very much interested in money, not the revolution, the other a more innocent character who is loyal to the revolution.

John in Various Languages

In Once Upon a Time...The Revolution the innocent is named John, and the cynical is named Juan, Spanish for John. So both of the main characters are named John, but in different languages. Sergio Leone extends the name game by sometimes calling John, Sean, the Irish or more generally Gaelic form of John. In Star Wars the cynical character is Han Solo, Han is one of several ways to say John in German. Lucas appears to be extending the name/language game by adding another version of John in still another language?

In addition to his little game with the first names John, Juan, and Sean, Sergio Leone gives both of his protagonists last names that begin with M: Miranda and Mallory. Did Leone's little game with initials inspire Lucas to play his game with the initials of Doctor Victor Von Doom and Darth Vader.

Government Slaughters Family, Survivor Joins the Revolution

In both movies we see a character devastated by the slaughter of their family by government soldiers. In Star Wars this happens twice, with both Luke and Leia. But what is perhaps most similar is when Luke returns home to find his uncle and aunt killed and when Juan finds his whole family slaughtered. In both cases Juan's and Luke's reaction is similar. Juan joins the revolution to seek vengeance. Luke had initially refused Obi-Wan Kenobi's offer to train as a Jedi, but after he found his adoptive parents slaughtered by the Storm Troopers he changed his mind and joined Obi-Wan and therefore the rebellion. So in both stories one of the major characters is motivated to join the revolution in pretty much exactly the same way.

Freeing Political Prisoners

In Once Upon a Time...The Revolution Juan found out that John is an explosives expert and tries to gain John's cooperation in robbing a bank with explosives. John communicates with the revolutionaries and cooperates with Juan's bank robbing plan. What Juan does not know is that there is no money in the bank, it is actually being used as a prison for political prisoners. They free the political prisoners and Juan finds himself suddenly a hero of the revolution.

In Star Wars Han is hired to provide transportation for Luke, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the two droids. When they get to Alderaan they find that what at first appeared to be a moon is the Death Star. Was this inspired by the plot twist in Revolution that a bank turns out to be a political prison? Perhaps, but maybe not.

Han Solo, the cynical equivalent of Juan, finds himself unexpectedly in a dangerous plot to free a political prisoner. This is much closer to the plot of Revolution. He also finds himself unexpectedly a hero of the rebellion, just as Juan finds himself unexpectedly a hero of the Mexican Revolution.

The discomfort of both Juan and Han may be in intentional contrast to the high status characters who suddenly find their former high status means little, and maybe held against them. In a rebellion or a revolution your status can change quite suddenly.

Blowing Up Structures and Killing Soldiers

In Once Upon a Time...The Revolution Juan and John volunteer to stay behind to slow down the soldiers with two machine guns and dynamite. In Star Wars Luke blows up a Tie Fighter with the space equivalent of a machine gun. It seemed like a strange weapon for a aspiring Jedi Knight. While the machine guns do damage in Revolution the real victory comes when John Mallory blows a bridge that many soldiers are crossing. In Star Wars Luke destroys the Death Star with more than a million soldiers on board.

In Revolution the leader of the Government soldiers, and the chief villain of the movie, Colonel Gunther Reza, escapes in an armored car. In Star Wars Darth Vader escapes in his special version of the Tie fighter, the Empires equivalent of a fighter plane.

A Tale of Two Colonel's

As it turned out Darth Vader was not quite the only survivor. The general that lead the land attack on the Rebel base on the ice planet, Hoth, in The Empire Strikes Back, General Maximilian Veers was also there. He had not quite reached the Death Star so he narrowly survived. At the time of the Battle of Yavin, where the Death Star was destroyed, Maximilian Veers was still a Colonel, just like Colonel Gunther Reza.

One thing that impresses me about this is how unnecessary it is. Did General Maximilian Veers need a backstory, and even if he did, did he have to be the only prominent character on the side of the Empire beside Darth Vader who survived the destruction of the Death Star. The only point seems to be draw a connection to the earlier movie, Revolution, and particularly the scene where the bridge is blown up.

General Maximilian Veers was known for his use of armored vehicles, the famous AT-ATs or Walkers. Note that Colonel Gunther Reza escaped in an armored car, an armored vehicle.

Lucas seems to be using Maximilian's name to draw a connection to the earlier movie. Colonel Gunther Reza's first name is German, and the last name is Mexican or more generally Hispanic. Maximilian is German name. It is presently one of the most common names in German speaking Austria. But if you Google Maximilian the first person who comes up is Maximilian the First, Emperor of Mexico. In America the first person we think of when we hear the name Maximilian, is Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico.

Maximilian was a younger brother of the Austrian Emperor. The French and other European powers took advantage of the American Civil War by invading Mexico. They were involved in installing Maximilian, a European royal, as emperor of Mexico. The result was a rebellion, not the same one as the Mexican Revolution that is the setting for Once Upon a Time... The Revolution, but the name Maximilian is a symbol of conservative Mexican oppression.

In all of this Lucas seems to be using the name Maximilian as one of his clues giving credit Revolution

Torturing Rebels

Both movies involve torturing people to find out where rebels are hiding. In Revolution the revolutionary leader Dr. Villega is tortured and reveals where the rebels including Juan's family is hiding. This is how Juan's family is wiped out. The theme also is part of a flash back concerning John Mallory's memories of Ireland. Nolan, a close friend is tortured by the British, and betrays the movement. John kills two British soldiers and his friend Nolan. These crimes force him to flee, which is why John is in Mexico.

Princess Leia is similarly tortured but she only gives up the location of an abandoned rebel base, and then only when Alderann is threatened. Of course she ultimately gives away the location of the Yavin base because they put a homing beacon on the Millennium Falcon. So when she goes to Yavin that leads the Imperial fleet to the base.

Still the theme of the government torturing rebels to find out where rebels are hiding is in both movies. Of course given that these are movies about rebellions, or revolutions that is not too surprising.

Suicide, Accepting Death

Suicide or at least the voluntary acceptance of death is a big theme in both movies. In Revolution Dr. Villega stays on a train loaded with explosives that is rammed into a government troop train. This in spite of John Mallory, who knows that Villega betrayed the revolution under torture, encouraging Villega to jump off the train. Ultimately, John Mallory is shot by Colonel Reza and John blows himself up. This theme seems to be reflected in Obi-Wan's decision to turn off his light saber while facing Darth Vader.

In a flash back to John's earlier life in Ireland it is suggested that Nolan and John loved the same movie, which might have inspired the competition between Han and Luke for Leia. Of course that is a fairly common theme.

A Major New Cinematic Source for Star Wars

Nevertheless, there are many similarities between the two movies. It seems likely that Once Upon a Time...The Revolution was a major source for Star Wars. Once again there were many other sources: Kirby's Fourth World comics, Kirby's work at Marvel particularly Dr. Doom, Samurai Movies, particularly Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress, Frank Herbert's Dunne, Flash Gordon, Tolkien's, Lord of the Rings, and many others. Still this maybe a major new source, that has remained hidden.

I also have a web page on the influence of Kirby's Fourth World, the Source of the Force. It is quite popular which is naturally why I wrote this page.


Last edited September 2, 2015

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