Can you feel it? The arrival of Star Wars: The Last Jedi is so close that you can almost see the comforting sight of paragraphs floating through space. It’s pretty surreal to think that we’re currently living in a world where we’ll be treated to a new Star Wars opus every year for the foreseeable future, but knowing that we’re on the cusp of witnessing the eighth episode of the main story arc is especially exciting given that we don’t know what’s going to happen. These are the moments that remind you how exciting and magical cinema can be at times–assuming that the new movie doesn’t suck anyway.
But, let’s face it–it’s going to be great.
The new film can’t come soon enough, and waiting for its release is akin to being a convict serving the last few weeks of a long prison sentence knowing that your significant other will be there to greet you at the other side. However, if you’re looking for some recommendations to hold you over until December 14th, we’ve compiled a list of movies to watch before you see The Last Jedi.
Naturally, it’s imperative that you watch the previous Star Wars films before seeing the new one if you haven’t already. That said, if you’re well up to date with the franchise and are more interested in seeing some off-kilter films that inspired the new one, this movie mixtape should do the trick. Enjoy.
Nowadays he’s preoccupied with a galaxy far, far away, but it’s worth noting just how far director Rian Johnson has come since his impressive 2005 debut, Brick. Adopting the style of a hardboiled detective neo-noir from the 1950’s, Brick tells the story of a teenager (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who infiltrates a high school crime ring while investigating the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend. It’s like the modern-day equivalent of a Dashiell Hammett crime mystery, yet the film is so steeped in the characteristics of classic noir that it feels not of its era. Overall, it’s a strange concoction that absolutely works.
Of course, it’s also worth mentioning Johnson’s 2012 time travel crime-thriller Looper as well, which is one of the most original American sci-fi movies of the 21st century thus far. If Johnson’s current career trajectory tells us anything, it’s that he’s a storyteller with no shortage of fresh ideas. Hopefully he was given enough creative input on The Last Jedi to bring something unexpected and bold to the table. Either way, at least we can take comfort knowing that the new Star Wars is in the hands of a capable, exciting filmmaker with a good track record.
9. Twelve O’Clock High
The Last Jedi is arguably the most anticipated blockbuster of modern times, but when looking for inspiration on how to bring his epic action extravaganza to life, Johnson turned to the cinema of the past for instructions. One of his main influences going into the upcoming Star Wars sequel was the 1949 war film Twelve O’Clock High, starring the ever-so-wonderful Gregory Peck.
Twelve O’Clock High tells the story of a WWII bomber unit struggling to cope with low morale after suffering heavy losses, which results in a new General being brought in to whip them into shape. It is also notable for using real aerial combat footage, which clearly had an impact on Johnson’s vision for The Last Jedi. As he told Empire back in January, “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.”
The action in Twelve O’Clock High isn’t frequent, but when it does hit, it’s very intense. What the film does accomplish well, however, is a strong portrayal of well-realized characters carried by a charismatic ensemble cast. Some of the themes also overlap with the Star Wars saga, such as a band of heroes out to conquer a totalitarian regime.
8. Three Outlaw Samurai
The DNA of Japanese cinema has been present in Star Wars lore since its inception. When George Lucas conceived the idea for his iconic space saga all those years ago, he borrowed ideas from Akira Kurosawa’s epics Yojimbo and The Hidden Fortress, as well as anime space operas like Galaxy Express 999 and Space Battleship Yamato.
Johnson also turned to films from the Land of the Rising Sun while prepping for The Last Jedi, most notably Three Outlaw Samurai. Hideo Gosha’s 1964 action-adventure tells the story of a trio of renegade ronin out to save the kidnapped daughter of a magistrate. But how does this relate to The Last Jedi?
Johnson claim’s that Three Outlaw Samurai’s combination of pulpy spirit and impressive sword-fights informed some of the components he’s incorporated into The Last Jedi. This should also come as good news to fans hoping for some “fun” to be restored to the galaxy following the bleak experience that was Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One.
7. To Catch a Thief
Alfred Hitchcock’s romantic thriller about a former cat burglar and jewel thief (Cary Grant) out to prove his innocence after he gets framed for a crime he didn’t commit also inspired Johnson. The film is renowned for its stunning cinematography and painting-esque visual design of Monte Carlo, and Johnson has stated that the film’s “romantic scale and grandeur” is something he also hoped to accomplish with The Last Jedi.
In The Last Jedi, Rose and Finn visit the casino city of Canto Bight to meet up with a mysterious shady character. From what we know so far, Hitchcock’s vision of Monte Carlo also served as an inspiration for the planet’s design. Additionally, could Rose and Finn’s adventure lead to a romance between the pair?
To Catch a Thief is the perfect combination of romance, adventure, and style–all of which are sensibilities that fit the Star Wars universe and then some.
6. The Bridge on the River Kwai
War has been the central theme in the Star Wars saga, and The Last Jedi is no different. In fact, this might be the most war-centric movie to date, as Johnson has promised a classic war film similar to this epic from 1958, albeit modernized and set in space.
The Bridge on the River Kwai tells the story of a group of British war prisoners forced to build a bridge for their Japanese captors. However, as they’re building the structure, the Allied forces set out on a mission to blow it up. It’s really a story about the madness of war, though, and it’ll be interesting to how the psychological turmoil that arises from conflict will take its toll on the characters in The Last Jedi.
Like The Bridge on the River Kwai, some scenes in The Last Jedi were also shot by a shoreline; therefore, we can probably expect to see some epic battles set against the backdrop of a waterfront.
5. Gunga Din
One of the earliest trendsetters of the modern action-adventure yarn is this 1939 comedy about three unfortunate British soldiers who encounter a tribe of bloodthirsty cultists in 19th century India. Gunga Din’s legacy permeates much of our beloved pop culture, but the film clearly had a significant impact on a young George Lucas as you can see its fingerprints all over Star Wars and Indiana Jones.
As one of the earliest examples of its genre, Gunga Din established many of the tropes we associate with adventure movies. However, the friendship between the three central protagonists coupled with the thrills and excitement of exploring dangerous and wondrous terrains are the core elements which Star Wars has adopted throughout the entire course of the saga’s several films and TV series.
By this point, we’ve firmly established that the new Star Wars movie is heavily-inspired by the golden age of World War II epics. And, in the tradition of keeping up with war movies yesteryear, Sahara is another movie that needs to be mentioned given that Johnson made the cast and crew watch it prior to filming.
In Sahara, we follow a group of soldiers as they make their way through the titular desert in a tank searching for safety and water. Eventually, they find a fort amidst the ocean of sand, only to end up surrounded by German troops which leads to battle breaking out as the exhausting heat further takes its toll.
The inclusion of Sahara suggests that our heroes will find themselves stranded, outnumbered, and forced to contend with an onslaught of the New Republic’s army. Granted, plot details have been kept close to the chest, but at this point it’s safe to assume that the Resistance will find themselves in challenging predicaments.
3. Letters Never Sent
Out of all the films mentioned by Johnson as key inspirations for The Last Jedi, Mikhail Kalatozov’s tense 1960 drama has was one of the first to be mentioned when he started discussing the movie shortly after starting work on the script in 2014.
Letter Never Sent follows a team of Soviet geologists who set out into the remotest depths of Siberia on a mission to uncover some diamonds. However, when the forces of nature turn against them, their quest for riches becomes a simple fight for survival instead.
This is another movie which features protagonists stuck in the wilderness and experiencing dangerous circumstances beyond their control. Are you starting to spot an overlap here? Furthermore, Letter Never Sent is a prime example of how to effectively take advantage of natural landscapes, which is something we know Johnson aimed to do with The Last Jedi following trips to the Irish coast and beyond.
2. Battlestar Galactica
This one is a bit of a cheat as it’s a TV show, but it’s my list and the inclusion of this particular series does serve a relevant purpose. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Johnson claimed the “morally ambiguous” 2004 reboot of the short-lived 1978 sci-fi series helped shaped his vision for this installment of the Star Wars saga, which opens up a new realm of possibilities.
Of course, this is news is quite funny when you recall that George Lucas once filed a lawsuit against the creators of the original series for plagiarizing his space opera (not that Lucas’ ideas were entirely original either, mind you). Sure, the 21st century reboot is a much different beast entirely, but how the tables have turned since Battlestar was the one milking Star Wars for ideas.
That said, I’m really interested to see how Battlestar Galactica inspired The Last Jedi. Will we see members of The Resistance operate in a moral grey area? That remains to be seen, but it still poses some interesting questions in the meantime.
1. Flash Gordon
I saved the best for last — plus we get to end the article on a positive note. There’s no denying that Flash Gordon is one of the most entertaining camp classics out there. And while it’s highly unlikely that The Last Jedi will be this tongue-in-cheek for its entirety, it’s nice to know that Johnson is embracing the Star Wars universe’s lighter sensibilities in addition to thrusting us into much bleaker terrains.
As he told Rolling Stone in the aforementioned interview, “The trailers have been kind of dark–the movie has that, but I also made a real conscious effort for it to be a riot. I want it to have all the things tonally that I associate with Star Wars, which is not just the Wagner of it. It’s also the Flash Gordon.”
When you consider the director’s myriad of influences going into The Last Jedi, it sounds like it boasts all the ingredients of a typical Star Wars yarn–a nice combination of fun and darkness. That said, under the guidance of a filmmaker of this ilk, perhaps there will be a few surprises thrown into the mix as well.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi will hit theaters on December, 14th, 2017.