George Lucas’ Star Wars: A New Hope drew on influences from several sources, but John Wayne Western The Searchers was one of the biggest. Wayne may have appeared in everything from romantic dramas to war movies, but he’s still most associated with Westerns. Of the 80 Westerns Wayne starred in, the likes of Rio Bravo and True Grit are considered classics. His crowning achievement is The Searchers, a John Ford adventure about Wayne’s bitter, racist Civil War vet teaming with his nephew to rescue his kidnapped niece. Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg have cited it as one of their favorites, and it’s often spoken of in reverence by other filmmakers.
Lucas has also namechecked The Searchers’ influence on Star Wars. From the basic setup – with both featuring a grizzled veteran and a naive young man setting out to rescue a kidnapped woman – to the many epic landscape shots of sandy deserts, Searchers’ inspiration is plain to see. The most obvious Searchers homage sees Luke finding Owen and Beru’s bodies at their homestead after they’ve been murdered by stormtroopers and their home left burning. This draws on a very similar scene in The Searchers where Wayne’s character returns to his brother’s ranch to the scene of a massacre.
How John Wayne’s The Searchers Inspired Star Wars
In constructing Star Wars, Lucas also looked at old Flash Gordon movie serials and Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. A New Hope was a potpourri of all of Lucas’ favorite movies, with Han Solo being a thinly veiled sci-fi update of a classic gunslinger. The Searchers is the biggest visual inspiration on Star Wars during the Tatooine section, which emphasizes the vastness of the desert and the wear and tear it has on the environment. In the same way The Searchers offered a deconstruction of Western mythology, Lucas was influenced to filter the genre through sci-fi and create something new.
John Wayne’s Hidden Star Wars Cameo
Wayne’s final movie was 1976’s The Shootist, where he played a dying gunfighter, and the actor would pass away three years later. While The Shootist was his final onscreen performance, he actually made a small, uncredited contribution to Star Wars. Sound designer Ben Burtt once revealed (via Star Wars Blog) that alien spy Garindan was created using a synthesizer “… triggered by a human voice.” He later realized the voice track he used came from an old Wayne Western, and while it’s near impossible to tell it’s his voice when Garindan speaks, his voice is mixed in there.
The influence of Westerns on Star Wars can be further seen with Boba Fett, with the bounty hunter’s mannerisms based on Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name. John Wayne continued to inspire Star Wars beyond The Searchers, through family ties. His grandson Brendan acts as the body double for Pedro Pascal’s Din in The Mandalorian; in fact, he played the physical side of the role entirely for the first season’s fourth episode “Sanctuary,” as Pascal was working on another project. Fitting enough, that outing also paid homage to The Magnificent Seven, itself a remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.