Friday, 15 November 2013

Plagiarism Or Inspiration? The Curious Case Of Star Wars And Flash Gordon

A common refrain I heard from many people about the Bollywood superhero movie Krrish 3 (which I reviewed here) was about how much of it was plagiarised from Hollywood movies. I could see the specific elements that were borrowed, but I still liked the movie very much. (Personally, I don't mind if a person builds an original Lego sculpture with borrowed Lego blocks. I only draw the line at sculptures borrowed in their entirety.)

Anyway, all those charges of plagiarism reminded me of a similar case I thought I knew of.

For many years now, I have believed that George Lucas stole some of his ideas for Star Wars from Flash Gordon. After all, Flash Gordon dates back to the '50s, while Star Wars was only released in 1977, right?

I'm not so sure now. The tidbits I'm about to share with you are from one particular Flash Gordon comic book called "The Space Invaders", the Indian edition of which you can read online by following the link. On closer examination today, it looks like this issue only appeared in print in 1982, which means the inspiration must have worked in the other direction. I seem to have done George Lucas a grave injustice in my mind for 30 years!

To save you the trouble of reading the entire comic, let me post certain extracts for you.

1. Do you remember the scene where Darth Vader punishes one of his fleet's captains for letting the rebel ship escape?

"Apology accepted, Captain Needa"

Take a look at the relevant section from "The Space Invaders":

Baron Dak Tula of the Skorpi has the very same telekinetic power to kill, and uses it in similar situations

On page 13, Dak Tula refers to Flash Gordon as "the one great knight" who faced him and lived. Was that inspired by the term "Jedi Knight"?

2. How about that telepathic conversation between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker?

From 9:25 to 9:30 - "Luke"..."Father"..."Son"

The Baron and Flash Gordon can communicate mentally too.
What are these "powers" that Flash has acquired since they last met? And the Baron represents the "dark powers", rather like "the dark side of the Force"

3. Darth Vader escapes the destruction of the Death Star

From 3:10 to 3:20 - Darth Vader's ship is hit and spins out of control, but he escapes the explosion of the Death Star

A minor difference - Baron Dak Tula's ship is not just hit, but destroyed, and he teleports himself to safety

It's fascinating how ideas from works in Science Fiction and Fantasy feed off each other, but I guess we shouldn't be too surprised. The book "The Seven Basic Plots" makes the point that there are very few original ideas for storylines to start with. That's why so many stories and movies leave us with a sense of déjà vu.
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