The Force Awakens remixed A New Hope. The Last Jedi borrowed from Empire Strikes Back. Now, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker draws inspiration from a George Lucas movie of the past. But not Return of the Jedi. Nope. For some reason, and I really don’t know why, Rise of Skywalker is clearly indebted to … Indiana Jones.
I can see why J.J. Abrams and the creators of the new trilogy drew on the original trilogy. Relaunching such a popular series is a tough burden to take on, so of course you’re going to mine the source for inspiration. But The Force Awakens went a bit far, blow-by-blow rehashing A New Hope’s Force-sensitive nobody stuck on a desert planet tale beat for beat. Luckily vibrant new characters like Rey, Poe, Finn and Kylo Ren elevated the flick beyond its derivative story.
For the second in the new trilogy, writer and director Rian Johnson also looked back to the originals. He borrowed the structure of The Empire Strikes Back, splitting up the characters on missions to a shady city where betrayal lurks and a remote planet for Jedi lessons. But unlike Abrams, Johnson used this structure as a springboard to audaciously twist the story in bold and exciting new directions.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Official Trailer (2019)
Now the new trilogy wraps up with Rise of Skywalker. Abrams is back in charge, working on a story credited to him and Chris Terrio, Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow. Following the pattern, you might expect they’d look to Return of the Jedi for some saga-ending parallels.
And yes, Palpatine is the main villain. Lando Calrissian takes charge of the Millennium Falcon. It all builds to a combined ground assault and space attack as the Death Star looms. There’s even a couple of Ewoks!
But that’s not the only early-1980s Lucasfilm movie starring Harrison Ford that influences the story of Rise of Skywalker. I first noticed something was up in the sequence where Chewbacca is loaded onto a troop transport that promptly explodes. I spotted it immediately: that’s the Marion truck gag from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
So I knew Chewie wasn’t really dead, just like Marion survived when the truck in which she was imprisoned blew up in Raiders.
Next thing you know, Poe Dameron in his brown outfit seek out his embittered ex in a sketchy bar in a snowbound mountain town while villains lurk in the shadows. It’s exactly like Indy running into his angry ex Marion in her Nepalese tavern in Raiders.
The adventures of action archaeologist Indiana Jones shared DNA with Star Wars from the very start. 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, directed by Steven Spielberg, was based on a concept cooked up by Star Wars supremo George Lucas. The script was written by Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. John Williams did the instantly recognisable music for both sets of films, among various cast and crew members who worked on the two series. There’s even a wealth of Star Wars references hidden throughout the Indiana Jones films, including hieroglyphs depicting C-3PO and R2-D2 on the set of Raiders, and Temple of Doom‘s Club Obi-Wan.
Once I’d noticed it, I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark parallels everywhere in Rise of Skywalker. Our heroes search for a mysterious relic across deserts and into subterranean caves. They’re guided by an inscription on an ancient relic, which reveals a secret location when it’s lined up with an ageing ruin. They fall into a pit with a snake. There’s even a scene where Rey leans close to examine an artefact, mirroring the famous moment when Indiana Jones squares up to a golden idol sitting on a pedestal. In both cases, swiping the trophy activates a trap.
And that bit where Pryde unexpectedly blasts Hux before turning to the camera? That’s just like the famous moment when Indy unceremoniously dispatched a swordsman. 100 per cent Raiders.
Finally, Rise of Skywalker ends in a dank cavern where the forces unleashed by the main villain are turned back on him, melting his head in the process.
See? Raiders all the way.
Clearly this can’t be coincidence. Sure, lots of films and TV shows send their characters off hunting ancient artifacts in caverns, and such plots can be described as just being a bit Indiana Jones-y without meaning they’re a direct rip-off. But Rise of Skywalker lifts — sorry, homages — entire beats from Raiders. The Chewie truck thing is exactly the same, the world of Kijimi is designed to look exactly like Marion’s Nepal, and the Emperor’s whole damn face melts off!
What does this mean? I’ve no idea. All I know is, after the criticism of Force Awakens’ derivativeness in rehashing A New Hope, Abrams and co. skilfully avoided the obvious trap of ripping off another Star Wars movie. Great job, guys!
Originally published Dec. 18.