By now, it’s no secret that the fantastical world of Star Wars owes a lot to real-world history. Many observations have been made that the original trilogy is basically “World War II In Space,” with more contemporary conflicts defining the imagery and themes of the next two trilogies.
While the broad strokes are common knowledge today, some more specific and thematic influences either went unnoticed or aren’t given much attention. From the dogfights to Nazis, Star Wars really is Space World War II, but there’s a lot more to it than that.
10 The Trade Federation Is The East India Company
A lot has been said about the prequels’ focus on red tape, taxes and politics, which doesn’t exactly inspire excitement among fans. But when the Trade Federation’s historical inspiration — i.e. the Dutch and British East India Companies — is taken note of, things might make a bit more sense.
Ran by the foppish Neimoidians, the Trade Federation was a galactic shipping conglomerate that controlled great economic, political, and military (i.e. battle droid) influence. Though they were on the way out by the time of the prequels, they still held enough sway over the Republic. The East India Companies (also the antagonists of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) also had similar reach, essentially controlling trade and politics through monopolies, blockades, and private fleets.
9 The Republic Is Ancient Rome
Star Wars owes quite a lot to ancient Rome, seen in such things like Naboo’s classic-styled architecture and space versions of Roman entertainment, like pod racing in The Phantom Menace (i.e. chariot racing) and the arena in Attack of the Clones (i.e. gladiators). The biggest Roman takeaway would be the galaxy’s political order and how it changed over the years.
Noteworthy parallels include the reliance on the Senate and titles such as “chancellor.” That said, the most significant echo is the Republic’s transformation from a democracy to a dictatorial empire motivated by conquest, which is what also happened to Rome. Coincidentally, Roman culture greatly influenced the Nazis, the Empire’s main basis.
8 The Galactic Empire Is Nazi Germany
There’s nothing subtle here; the Galactic Empire is just Nazi Germany in space. From the uniforms to holding a rally right out of the Nazi propaganda movie Triumph of the Will, there’s nothing nuanced about the Empire’s Nazi roots. Its return in the First Order can be read as an allusion to Neo-Nazis, though it’s still mostly based on the Third Reich.
Other parallels include: Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine’s relationship being similar to that of Heinrich Himmler and Adolf Hitler’s (respectively), the Stormtroopers’ name and purpose directly referencing the Sturmabteilung, the Empire’s goal of establishing totalitarian rule, and its birth through a dictator convincing a republic to surrender its freedom to fight a manufactured enemy.
7 The Jedi Are The Knights Templar
Truth be told, the Jedi Council and its knights are an amalgamation of historical warriors ranging from Japan’s samurai to China’s Shaolin monks. Their clearest influence would be the Knights Templar, the Catholic military order most known for its involvement in the Crusades.
The similarities between the two orders include: their elite status even within the army, a strict and puritan moral code, self-imposed vows of poverty and chastity, a high council comprised of twelve, and being systematically wiped out for political reasons. Additionally, both wield swords and have a preference for robes.
6 Darth Vader Is A Samurai
Many comments are made about how Darth Vader is a remnant of an ancient order, and this isn’t just a reference to the Jedi. Darth Vader’s look and backstory were based on Japanese samurai, specifically Date Masamune. A feared warlord, Masamune lived in the Azuchi-Momoyama period and even saw Japan’s early modernization. His black kabuto (i.e. helmet) inspired concept artist Ralph McQuarrie’s now-iconic designs.
Additionally, Darth Vader clinging to an old moral code doesn’t only echo samurai at the end of the shogunate. Another parallel is World War II Japanese Gen. Hideki Tojo, a similarly brutal imperial commander who held on to his Pure Land Buddhism beliefs, despite them being considered archaic at the time.
5 The Force Is A Mix Of Different Beliefs & Religions
Pinning down one specific belief system that inspired the Force is impossible, since it’s really more of a collage than anything. A core tenet of the Force is that there’s no one higher being (i.e. a god), but rather an all-encompassing life-force that can be used for good and bad. This is most similar to Shintoism, Taoism (particularly Yin and Yang), the use of qi, and New Age ideas that saw popularity among anti-war and free love movements in the ‘70s.
Given its religious basis, the Force’s lack of specifics unsurprisingly caused too many heated online debates. Doing so ignored the Force’s spirituality and core values, prioritizing pedantic rules and details that only encouraged the kind of faulty elitism that The Last Jedi called out.
4 The Battle Of Endor Is The Vietnam War
Aside from World War II, another conflict that shaped Star Wars was the Vietnam War. Lucas believed that America’s involvement was wrong and that the Viet Cong weren’t the monsters that propaganda claimed they were. This was seen in how the Rebellion is framed as right whereas the Empire (a superpower not unlike America) is depicted as the villain, but it’s more overt in Return of the Jedi.
In the original trilogy’s ending, the primitive Ewoks successfully defend Endor from the technologically superior Imperials who invaded. The Vietnam War ended in the same way, with the guerilla Viet Cong winning against more powerful American forces through jungle warfare.
3 Yoda Is Albert Einstein
Star Wars is filled with wartime influences, but one of its more pacifistic basis comes in the form of Jedi Master Yoda, who was based on physicist Albert Einstein. Originally, make-up artist Stuart Freeborn used Einstein as a visual cue, seen in Yoda’s facial lines and scraggly white hair. Over time, the inspiration would be more than skin-deep.
Both were aging leaders in their respective fields who while wise, hid a jovial persona. During war, they fled their homes to escape persecution. Despite this, they reluctantly taught potentially dangerous forms of warfare (i.e. the Force and nuclear power) to a younger generation for the greater good. That, and people love to quote Yoda and Einstein even today.
2 Emperor Palpatine Is Richard Nixon
Since the Empire is an analogue for Nazi Germany, it makes sense to assume that Emperor Palpatine is based on Adolf Hitler. This is partially correct, since Lucas’ contemporary inspiration was Richard Nixon. Lucas always intended Palpatine to be a politician more than a dark lord, since that’s how Nixon committed his atrocities with impunity until it was too late.
In the original trilogy, Palpatine rules through fear and militarism but he didn’t take control by force; it was given to him. The prequels show how this happened, where Palpatine amassed power by manipulating the Senate, exacerbating an ongoing conflict, cozying with the military, and giving himself authoritarian powers. These parallel what Nixon and Palpatine’s other historical inspirations – Augustus, Napoleon Bonaparte, Julius Cesare, and Hitler – did. Thankfully, no one pardoned Palpatine.
1 The Rebellion Sides With Anti-War Protests & Non-Violence
Despite being about a generations-long war, Star Wars is vehemently anti-war. Originally, this was a reflection of Lucas’ fears and anxieties regarding the Vietnam War and Cold War. Later on, the prequels reflected the War on Terror and the paranoia of a post-9/11 world. Additionally, Lucas believed in fighting evil with non-violence, a rallying cry of anti-war protests. Fighting to preserve freedom, though, is still a must despite peace and non-violence being the final goals.
This is why in the original trilogy, the Death Star (a planet-killing superweapon not unlike nuclear bombs) is heroically destroyed and the Sith is defeated not through strength, but by Luke shunning violence and convincing Darth Vader to return to good. Star Wars’ message has been misconstrued, though, becoming the name of Ronald Reagan’s space-weapons program and with The Rise of Skywalker ending evil by having Rey brutally murder a resurrected Palpatine.