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The "New Gods" comic series from DC Comics first appeared in 1971, six years before the first Star Wars movie was released.

The similarities are striking. Luke Skywalker is the protagonist in the first trilogy, and he is initially unaware that the primary antagonist, Darth Vader, is his father.

The primary protagonist in the New Gods series has always been Orion, who originally didn't know that his father was Darkseid, the main antagonist.

The New Gods have the Source, Star Wars has the Force. The Dark Side of the force is a recurring theme of Star Wars, Darkseid is pronounced "Dark Side".

Darkseid's helmet even looks like Darth Vader's helmet.

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    Probably just a coincidence. But Harry Potter definitely ripped off Star Wars. Aug 28, 2016 at 0:06
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    Lucas ripped off/was inspired by so many sources that he basically made a new thing by copying several elements and then changing the setting and the details. It's a common creative technique. Put together enough things copied from elsewhere and the result has both the legal and artistic illusion of originality. Aug 28, 2016 at 2:56
  • @ToddWilcox Well, in the alleged words of the father of modern art, "good artists borrow, great artists steal." The more you study great and innovative artists, the less tongue-in-cheek that quote sounds.
    – Misha R
    Sep 24, 2018 at 6:08

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According to "The Secret History of Star Wars" by Michael Kaminski:

As mentioned earlier, Lucas was no stranger to comic books and not only was he an avid collector, but he bought reams of them looking for inspiration while writing Star Wars, and was even the co-owner of a comic book store in New York City. Jack Kirby was one of the most influential comic book artists in the history of the medium and was regarded as a legend by the 1970s, when he was as prolific as ever. It is here, in 1970, that he began his most epic creation, loved by serious collectors but largely ignored by mainstream audiences: his Fourth World serial, an epic of interconnected science fiction tales which formed a growing narrative and ran from 1970 to 1973, the year Lucas began writing Star Wars. The series would serve not only as an immediate influence on Star Wars, but perhaps a later influence, either consciously or residually, on the future shape of the saga in its sequels. For example, in The New Gods saga, a number of obvious influences immediately jump out. For instance, the villain of the series is named Darkseid (“dark side”). The hero (Orion) battles Darkseid, armed with a power which flows throughout the universe and is known as The Source (in other words, The Force) only to discover that Darkseid is in fact his own father.

As for visual inspiration, Darkseid was a hulking, caped, armoured character, adorned in black, with large boots, gauntlets and a helmet-like head.

The second Jack Kirby creation is Doctor Doom, one of the most memorable villains from the popular Fantastic Four series. Once a brilliant scientist and friends with the leader of the Fantastic Four, he became bitter with jealousy and was horribly scarred in a laboratory accident. He emerged as Doctor Doom, sworn enemy of the Fantastic Four and forever encased in a large iron suit, complete with a fluttering cape. Not only is his visual design very similar to Darth Vader’s but the character’s backstory is as well; it may be argued that this is coincidental, as masked characters in literature are often encased in their coverings to hide deformities, reaching back to 1909’s Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, but being such an important villain in the comic book world Doctor Doom’s influence may very well have been a conscious one. Supposedly Lucas himself has admitted the influence, though I am ignorant to such a reference. Doctor Doom first appeared in 1962, though the character would not gain prominence until the mid ‘70s.

It may be surmised in counter-point that these three characters were not necessarily deliberately copied by Lucas, but rather were swirling around in his subconsciousness as he prodded McQuarrie into the final Vader design, a mental catalog of villains and images that he had absorbed in his thirty years of viewing such material. On the other hand, the fact that Lucas provided McQuarrie with comic books (and showed a very hip awareness to the contemporary comic book scene at the time) and 1930s pulp pages for design references may demonstrate that these similarities are very much intentional.

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    I also think people also tend to overestimate how well and how much Lucas had planned out the first trilogy. Lucas' original draft for Star Wars II had Luke talking with the ghost of his dead father -- who was clearly not Darth Vader. So the whole Orion-Darkseid father-son conflict couldn't have been an inspiration for the overall storyline. Aug 25, 2018 at 17:00
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    ^ agreed. Kasdan rarely gets enough credit for ESB and Jedi
    – NKCampbell
    Sep 24, 2018 at 15:04
  • @jeffronicus just because he didn't copy it originally doesn't mean he didn't copy it eventually
    – OrangeDog
    May 18 at 22:01
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It can't be ruled out entirely but there are other works that contain some of those basic ideas. Lucas says that a lot of his ideas about the Force come from a book called Tales of Power by Carlos Castaneda published in 1974 the same year Lucas wrote the rough draft of Star Wars. Castaneda claims to have been trained by a Yaqui sorcerer. Among the sorcerer's many teachings is the idea that we are all "luminous beings". Those words are put into Yoda's mouth in The Empire Strikes Back.

Darth Vader, being a masked villain, is in line with a trope common to the 1930s serials Lucas was inspired by. The plots of a lot of them concerned the hero's attempts to learn the true identity of the bad guy causing all the problems. One these serials The Fighting Devil Dogs has a masked villain called The Lightning that the book The Secret History of Star Wars asserts was an inspiration for the development of Vader.

Ralph McQuarrie says that he got the idea for the mask because he thought Vader would need it to breathe in space as they are boarding the ship. McQuarrie also said that Lucas told him to add a samurai helmet. So while it's possible The New Gods was consulted as well it appears the similarities may be the result of parallel thinking.

As for the father twist, there's prior art for that as well including the aforementioned The Lightning. He is revealed to be the father of the lone female character. There is another movie from 1932 called Tombstone Canyon that has the most dead on similarities.

The hero comes to town because an old man has written him telling him he has information on who his parents were. In the meanwhile a mystery villain known as The Phantom Killer is causing trouble for a local rancher and his gang. The old man, described as a "queer old fella" (vs "strange old hermit") is killed before he can tell the hero what he knows. At the end the hero and The Phantom Killer learn that they are father and son. The father is fatally wounded saving his son's life and the last thing he wants to do before he goes is to look at his son.

A film critic named Michael H. Price claims that it was on the basis of this movie that he knew the father twist was coming well before the credits rolled on his first viewing of Star Wars in 1977. So again while Kirby's influence can't be ruled out here there's other precedents that Lucas could have pulled from.

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  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. You've got lots of nice details here; do you have access to any direct quotes you could insert instead of paraphrases? (Like McQuarrie's remark about Vader's mask.)
    – DavidW
    May 18 at 22:06

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