Having had the awful prequels as my introduction to Star Wars when I was a child, I avoided the other films in the franchise for years until I developed more of an interest in film history in my mid to late teens, watched the original trilogy, and fell in love (well, with Star Wars and Empire, anyway). The original trilogy is a potpourri of early and mid 20th century pop culture: the Flash Gordon serials, Errol Flynn swashbucklers, spaghetti westerns, and Kurosawa samurai pictures thoroughly blended with fairy tales and mythology.
Several sources analyze the series’s inspirations, though my favorite of them is the website Star Wars Origins. Compared to the threadbare book Star Wars: The Magic of Myth and the sycophantic Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed (I don’t think I can trust anyone who claims Jar Jar Binks is a well-written character or that presenting a young Anakin Skywalker as “an emo teenager” is a good idea), this site not only thoroughly analyzes Star Wars‘s connections to these sources, but also adds in lessons about storytelling in general, examining why people connect to strongly to these movies:
“For those of us trying to write a story we like as much as Star Wars, how do we even begin? Perhaps the answer lies in Basho’s suggestion: “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” Maybe the key to becoming a skillful storyteller isn’t imitation of the storytellers who have influenced us most, but figuring out what they were trying to achieve, then reaching for the same goal ourselves.
This website is filled with educated guesses as to what might have influenced George Lucas when he created the original Star Wars trilogy. The question is never where Lucas found his inspirations, but rather how he wove them together with such intelligence, insight and compassion. What gives a story the power to touch us? How does the imagination work?”
Even if you aren’t an aspiring storyteller, the site is worth a gander.