The force is with these 10 classic TV influences on Star Wars
Any fan of Han Solo and the Death Star should seek out these vintage westerns and sci-fi adventures from the small screen.
The genius of the original Star Wars is that the film took dozens of things we had seen before — from character archetypes to mythic plots — and fused them into something we had never seen before. George Lucas made his pet project as an homage to the adventure serials of his youth. There were damsels in distress, dastardly villains and cliffhangers.
The blockbuster success of Star Wars: A New Hope led to a rebirth of sci-fi television, with series like Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogersin the 25th Century sending audiences at home to faraway galaxies shortly thereafter.
We instead are going to look backward. Here are ten vintage shows and specific episodes that any follower of the Jedi (or Sith) should seek out.
1. If you love the Death Star… Flash Gordon "Deadline at Noon" and "The Planet of Death"
The evil Empire may have taken its look from the German army, but this early influence was actually, oddly filmed in Berlin. Flash was one of the first heroes to put rockets in the eyes of Boomer kids. "Deadline at Noon" opens with parallels to the first act of Star Wars as entire planets are destroyed in fiery explosions. "Four planets blowing up in rapid succession… Why?" they ask from the cockpit of their spaceship. "Seems to be some mysterious atomic force." The first episode of the series was titled "The Planet of Death." Force… planet of death… sounds familiar, no? You can find this in the public domain at the Internet Archive.
2. If you love the bounty hunters… Wanted: Dead or Alive
In many ways, Star Wars was not so much science fiction as a Western set in outer space. That was especially evident in the wardrobe and guns. Boba Fett and his fellow bounty hunters in The Empire Strikes Back especially seem straight out of dusty oaters. Steve McQueen played the cooler-than-cool bounty hunter Josh Randall on Wanted: Dead or Alive. His belt and holster also bear an uncanny resemblance to Han Solo. Speaking of that lovable rogue…
3. If you love Han Solo and Leia… Gunsmoke "Whelan's Men"
The cast of Star Wars cut their teeth on television before becoming movie stars. We call attention to this particular hour as it features one Harrison Ford. That should be enough to lure those who side with the Rebel Alliance. Yet this Gunsmoke, centered around the tough and confident Miss Kitty, makes us think of the spunk and spirit of Leia, too. Check out other great Harrison Ford roles before Han Solo.
4. If you love the music and droids… Lost in Space "Condemned of Space"
Star Wars would be nothing without its music. Before he became a legendary cinematic composer, John Williams was conducting wondrous music for the small screen. His theme songs for Irwin Allen series laid the groundwork for what you hear in Star Wars, none more so than Lost in Space. For the third season, Williams upped the tempo of the theme, as the show itself moved towards more adventurous space exploration plots. In the season premiere, the Robinsons, at last, leave their planet. Remember the introduction of Darth Vader? Looks quite similar to this shot of the Robot. Listen to more early TV work of John Williams.
5. If you love X-Wing Fighters… Black Sheep Squadron "The Fastest Gun"
To create the mesmerizing battles between the X-Wings and TIE fighters, Lucas looked to the dogfights of classic war films like Hell's Angels. Though it aired around the time of Star Wars, and can not be considered an influence per se, Black Sheep Squadron (then called Baa Baa Black Sheep) features a similar spirit and style. Pappy and his Black Sheep are a real life version of Wedge Antilles and his Red Squadron. "The Fastest Gun" comes packed with some gripping aerial shoot-outs.
6. If you love the ships and Mos Eisley… Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
Before Irwin Allen lost the Robinson family in space, he crafted this sci-fi heavy submarine adventure. Though the series began rooted in Cold War sea suspense, in its later seasons, fantastic monsters and aliens invaded with greater frequency. In "Journey with Fear," pictured here, the villain brings to mind Greedo and other Mos Eisley cantina creatures. In that episode, crew members are sent from the deep oceans to the far reaches of Venus.
7. If you love the attack on the Death Star at the end of 'Jedi'… Star Trek "The Doomsday Machine"
Yes, Star Trek fandom and Star Wars fandom can coexist. The rivalry has been overblown, as millions love both. Certainly, there are some key differences, but when looking at the Original Series, a few episodes jump out for those who prefer more photons than philosophy. The titular "Doomsday Machine" is another early weapon that operates like the Death Star. Though here it is shaped like a cone, not a moon. This one abounds with Enterprise space action.
8. If you love the Dark Side… The Twilight Zone "The Little People"
There is a corrupting evil in the depths of space. That point is proven in this seminal Twilight Zone, as two astronauts land on a planet with inhabitants the size of insects. One of them deems himself a god. But beware the lure of the Dark Side… there is always a bigger baddie out there.
9. If you love the practical special effects… Land of the Giants
Oh, giants and tiny people — that reminds us of a third Irwin Allen delight. This visual marvel utitlizes Star Wars–like techniques of matte paintings and optical effects. This huge kitty have has a bit of a Rancor look to it. If you decry CGI, Land of the Giants is pure candy.
10. If you love the design… Space: 1999 "Breakaway"
Space: 1999 hit screens a couple years before Star Wars, and its interiors and fashion share a similar aesthetic. It was the same era, after all. The interiors of Moonbase Alpha have the same clean lines and creamy colors of Cloud City and a Star Destroyer.