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The question is simple. I have seen bits and pieces in Lord of the Rings that remind me of Star Wars. This is hardly surprising, as both works are epic moral sagas about a struggle between ultimate good and ultimate evil; this in itself could easily account for the similarities, and for all I know, this is indeed the only explanation necessary. But to use a concrete example, one of the Elvish words for Middle-earth is "Endor"; of course, Endor is also where Ewoks live. Even this, though, could be coincidence.

The only way one could prove a substantial link between the two sagas would be if Lucas himself spoke about it.

To be clear, I am not saying that the vague parallels I think I may have seen are really there - It is entirely possible that I am imagining things, and making connections where none in fact exist. That is why I am asking if Lucas has ever spoken about Tolkien's work. I am not presupposing that I am right. As I see it, there are two possible explanations:

  1. The parallels I think I see are not intentional, and are mere coincidence- epics about good and evil are obviously going to share some general themes, and that is what is going on here.

  2. The parallels I think I see are really there, and Lucas was indeed inspired and influenced by Tolkien.

Again, the only way to resolve this issue is by turning to what, if anything, Lucas himself has said about Tolkien.

I know Lucas has spoken at some length about his influences, but as far as I can recall, he mostly talks about Kurosawa (I hope that is the right name- I mean the guy who made Seven Samurai), and old sci-fi serials like Flash Gordon. I've never seen him say anything about Tolkien or other relatively serious literature.

So has George Lucas ever mentioned being influenced by, or taking ideas or inspiration from, Tolkien's work?


Note 1: I thought I remembered seeing a question along these lines on this site a while ago, and before I began writing this question, I tried to find it, but nothing turned up. If this is a duplicate, I apologize, and please feel free to close it. I really did try to make sure it wasn't a duplicate.

Note 2: I have no intention of getting involved in a fight between Tolkien fans and Star Wars fans, and I am not in any way accusing George Lucas of any wrongdoing. Like most of my generation, I grew up in love with the original Star Wars trilogy, and it remains near and dear to my heart. I came to love Tolkien's work later in life, and that process is still ongoing, but I have nothing but good things to say about either legendarium. As it happens, I also adore Steven King's Dark Tower saga; there are MANY clear parallels between LotR and the Dark Tower series, far more apparent than the ones between LotR and Star Wars; King admits to being heavily influenced by Tolkien, and I don't think less of him for it. There is no value judgment here.

Note 3: As I said, the possible parallels I see are vague, and common to many moral sagas. Good can triumph only through the redemption - intentional or otherwise - of an evil character (Gollum, Vader). A descendant (Luke, Aragorn) must avoid the pitfalls that led his ancestor (Isildur, Vader) astray. A humble rural boy (Luke, Frodo) must confront a great evil (Sauron, Vader/Palpatine). Heroism is found in the most unlikely characters (Ewoks, smugglers, hobbits, trees). Good intentions + Pride = Evil outcomes (Vader, Sauron, Saruman). Jealousy, envy, vanity lead to the Dark Side (Saruman, Vader). The lowliest people (hobbits, Luke, Ewoks, Han Solo, Strider) are revealed to be far superior to great leaders (Sauron, Saruman, Denethor, the Emperor, Vader). Frail old "men" possess great power (Gandalf, Obi Wan, Yoda). Knowledge is power (Jedi, Elves, Gandlalf). Evil is the easier path, and tempting; good is humbler but stronger (The Dark Side, the Ring, Luke's crisis before the Emperor, everyone's temptation by the Ring). Succumbing to evil physically changes a person (the Emperor, Gollum). Doing the right thing the wrong way is as bad as doing the wrong thing (Anakin's fall, Luke's crisis before the Emperor, the temptation to use the Ring against Sauron). A good man can be turned evil by studying evil powers (Anakin's fall, Saruman's fall). The hero (Luke, Frodo) fails in the end, and a bad guy (Gollum, Vader) saves the day. The villain is ultimately defeated because of his overconfidence (Sauron never imagined that someone would destroy the Ring, Palpatine never imagined that Vader would choose his son over his master). And so on.

10

As I mentioned in a comment on the question, lots of people claim that Lucas discusses Lord of the Rings as an influence in interviews, but I've been unable to find any.

For example Moongadget.com, a fansite devoted to tracking Lucas' cultural influences, has a page devoted to Lord of the Rings. They claim (emphasis theirs):

Lucas has often cited The Lord of the Rings as a major influence on Star Wars. The superficial stuff is the most obvious, but the subtle lesson Lucas learned from Tolkien is how to handle the delicate stuff of myth.

However a 2014 Salon article exploring Lucas' early Star Wars drafts hints not-so-subtly at the influence with a line from the third draft (a version of which can be found at scifiscripts.com):

Still, Kenobi brings with him a new element to the script: comedy. Luke is attacked by Tusken raiders just before he meets Ben; they leave him handcuffed to a giant spinning wheel. Kenobi approaches with a “good morning!”

“What do you mean, ‘good morning’?” Luke responds. “Do you mean that it is a good morning for you, or do you wish me a good morning, although it is obvious I’m not having one, or do you find that mornings in general are good?”

“All of them at once,” replies Kenobi.

The Salon article goes on to mention that this is lifted word-for-word from The Hobbit, though the characters are swapped from what we would expect (I don't think it's uncontroversial to say that Luke has more in common with Bilbo than with Gandalf):

"Good morning!" said Bilbo, and he meant it. The sun was shining, and the grass was very green. But Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his shady hat. "What do you mean?" he said. "Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is morning to be good on?"

"All of them at once," said Bilbo.

The Hobbit Chapter 1: "An Unexpected Party"

  • Wow! Good thing he didn't use that script- he would have been sued up the wazoo. – Wad Cheber May 19 '15 at 19:12
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    Doing a Google search of "George Lucas Tolkien", all I find is results like the ones you mentioned- people saying Lucas has frequently admitted to having been influenced/inspired by Tolkien, but offering no references to prove their claims. – Wad Cheber May 19 '15 at 20:25
  • @WadCheber I'd happy to see those references myself. On the other hand, consider a Gedankenexperiment, would you prefer a high-profile hoax writeup that can be found on the internet over gossip based on something that Lucas said people he met in person? – n611x007 Sep 11 '15 at 11:04
  • Nobody would be "sued" since Tolkien is long out of copyright, isn't it? But secondly, that's not so much "copying" the hobbit: it's a humorous reference to it (there are any number of such examples in film and books). But moreover and overwhelmingly, it's almost certainly nothing more than a throw away on-production joke by Lucas, while he was still working out what dialog he wanted there, or what he wanted to happen in the scene. I have no idea whether G.L. (actually) claims he was influenced by Tokein. (I can't see the slightest, vague, any-whatsoever similarity stylistically.) But... – Fattie Nov 17 '15 at 4:30
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    @JoeBlow Tolkien's works are most assuredly not out of copyright, and certainly were still protected when that script was written in the 70's. But otherwise you're right; it doesn't mean much. Personally I think the similarities are more coincidental; I recall reading that Lucas was influenced by the writings of Joseph Campbell ("The Hero's Journey"), and Campbell's theories were based on the same sorts of myths and legends that Tolkien would have based his work off of – Jason Baker Nov 17 '15 at 4:38

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