For our fourth installment of Star Wars Week at EphBlog, we look at some of the expertise and opportunities at Williams to study, well, not Star Wars, but its influences.

Williams is well-supplied not only with expertise in Star Wars matters, but in the influences that helped shape Star Wars as well.

If you’re a Star Wars fan, you probably know that R2-D2 and C-3PO owe their existence and role in the story to Akira Kurosawa’s film The Hidden Fortress. And for those with an interest in Kurosawa, Professor of Comparative and Japanese Literature Christopher Bolton teaches COMP/JAPN 153: Japanese Film, which was offered to Williams students this fall. (A 200-level version of this class has been offered previously). Or, for students on campus for Winter Study, Robert Kent ’84 has taught a series of Winter Study classes based on Aikido. Some of these courses, such as 2013’s PSCI 16, Aikido & The Art of Persuasive Political Speech, have featured a Kurosawa component. And in the not-too-distant past (most recently, Spring 2011?), English Professor Lynda Buntzen taught ENGL 404, Auteur Cinema and the Very Long Film. One presumes that the film viewing took place outside of class! And then there’s John Sayles ’72, who was, in part, set on the course to his storied directorial career under the guidance of English Professor Charles T. Samuels. Professor Samuels reportedly introduced Sayles to international film, including Kurosawa.

Another great influence on George Lucas was The Searchers, the underpinning of Luke’s journey in Star Wars. This film was centrally featured in the Spring of 2015 in Professor Mark Reinhardt’s syllabus for American Studies 201: Becoming and Unbecoming Americans: An Introduction to American Studies. The film kicked off one of the course’s three units: “Cartographies of Citizenship,” serving as an appropriate gateway to, among other things, Frederick Jackson Turner, Plessy v. Ferguson, and Kanye West. Relatedly, before entering journalism and then embarking on a series of perhaps-fictional adventures around the globe, Adam Bloch ’06 authored an honors thesis on Revisionist Westerns and U.S. History, under the guidance of Karen Merrill, in which he analyzed The Searchers (and other great, revisionist Westerns) with remarkable insight. And director John Ford’s work is featured as an influence in ARTS 315, Realisms.

Finally, in building the mythological structure of the Star Wars universe, Lucas drew heavily on the work of Joseph Campbell, the American mythologist. Evans Lansing Smith ’73, chair of the Mythological Studies department at Pacifica Graduate Institute, is one of the preeminent scholarly experts in Campbell, and editor of the recent Campbell collection Romance of the Grail. Another Eph who has written about Campbell is Samira Martinhago Custodia ’13, whose honors thesis, Dystopia Dreaming: Examining Gender and Heroines in Young Adult Dystopian Literature, places its analysis in the context of Campbell’s hero and myth archetypes.

Addendum: It’s well-known that Lawrence of Arabia was also a major influence on Star Wars (all that sand!), but I don’t have anything to write about from an Eph perspective. If anyone has any ideas, let me know in the comments!

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