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Force-Fed Inspiration

'Star Wars' has influenced movies ranging from 'The Usual Suspects' to 'Toy Story.' Don't believe it? Just ask these filmmakers.

May 02, 1999|RICHARD NATALE | Richard Natale is a frequent contributor to Calendar. Times staff writer Susan King also contributed to this report

Some movies change the way we look at movies ("Citizen Kane"); some become must-see events ("E.T."). But few films have had the profound personal and cultural impact of the original "Star Wars."

With the opening of the long-awaited prequel "Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace" just 17 days away--but who's counting?--we asked some Hollywood types about how the first "Star Wars" rocked their world and influenced their films.

John Lasseter

Director ("Toy Story," "A Bug's Life")

Here at Pixar, a majority of animators and filmmakers and effects people of a certain age--almost 100%--were influenced to do this because of "Star Wars." For me, I was already at Cal Institute of the Arts studying animation. I saw "Star Wars" the first week and waited five hours in line in front of the [Mann's] Chinese. Seeing the film was one of the two great moments in my life in determining what I wanted to do. The first was finding the book "The Art of Animation" in my freshman year of high school and realizing that people could make cartoons for a living. Seeing "Star Wars" reinforced my desire.

What excited me is what it did for me as an audience member. It was a thrilling experience, and by the climax I was literally shaking. I looked around and thought, "I believe that I could do this with animation too--reach kids, adults and teenagers." "Star Wars" was smart in how it combined the cinematic elements you'd seen before but with a twist. It felt familiar but it was like nothing you'd ever seen before.

Kevin Smith

Writer-director ("Clerks," "Chasing Amy," "Dogma")

The "Star Wars" movies taught me the importance of creating one's own universe or mythology. The big influence [of "Star Wars"] on the films I've done is how closely related the characters I've written are to the characters from my other films. Just like in the "Star Wars" movies, everyone in our flicks knows each other. And with our latest film, "Dogma," the Lucas influence is probably the most noticeable in the complete fantasy world we created, which is inhabited by angels and demons rather than Jedi knights and Death Stars. And putting aside professional influence, I got married at Skywalker Ranch, for cryin' out loud. Talk about the Force.

Adam Rifkin

Writer ("Mousehunt," "Small Soldiers"); writer-director ("Detroit Rock City")

I was always a huge movie fan since I was a little kid and making movies with my friends. But "Star Wars" was the first time in any of our collective experiences that we saw the culture at large around us becoming obsessed with a movie. We had our own movies we were obsessed with like "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" and the "Godzilla" movies. "Star Wars" was the first time it wasn't just us.

We sensed the phenomenon around us, which made it so exciting, because suddenly we weren't outcast movie nerds. The whole world suddenly became movie geeks. It was exciting to see that a movie could influence the entire world. That's why we would wait in line and why we bought all the paraphernalia. My favorite horror magazine started doing articles about how George Lucas was influenced by some of the same movies as I was.

It was also the first time a movie for my generation didn't speak down to us. Other movies for us would treat you like an idiot. . . . You had to pay attention. It had a mythology. We felt so cool because we could understand it and get into the mythology.

Michael Bay

Director ("Armageddon," "The Rock")

There are a couple of seminal movies in my life, and "Star Wars" was one of them. It was a low-budget movie but so inventive, a western in space. I remember when I saw it--I was 12--and I was totally intrigued by how they got the visual effects. It was a whole new world of filmmaking. When I was 15, I got a little summer job working at Lucasfilm, filing art work for the "Star Wars" trilogy. I remember that the plans of how they made Yoda's house really intrigued me. . . . I got to see how they did the magic. And to a kid that's pretty exciting.

Gale Anne Hurd

Producer ("Aliens," "The Terminator," "Dante's Peak")

In college I'd loved movies but couldn't see myself pursuing a career in film. I was a sci-fi enthusiast, but other than [Stanley] Kubrick's "2001," it was clear that Hollywood didn't take the genre seriously. Then the "Star Wars" phenomenon hit; I lined up opening weekend at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco and took the ride of my moviegoing life. Lucas showed me it was possible to make a technologically inspired, compelling and emotionally satisfying fantasy film. Within a year I was in Hollywood working for Roger Corman, hoping to mount my own science-fiction film, and in 1984 that dream came to pass when I produced my first film, "The Terminator."

Andrew Fleming

Director ("The Craft," "Dick")

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