Was The 1939 Sci-Fi Film Buck Rogers Behind ‘Star Wars?’

Buck Rogers from left, Jackie Moran, Buster Crabbe, 1939
Everett Collection

There was one science-fiction series inspired by a comic strip that truly set the standard for so many popular franchises to come including Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. A 12-part movie serial called Buck Rogers debuted on April 11, 1939, and if you give it a watch you can clearly see where George Lucas got his inspiration.

The story begins with a pilot named Buck Rogers, who wakes up in the 25th century after being held in suspended animation for 500 years. Now, he realizes that the outlaw army of Killer Kane has taken over the world and they must be stopped! In the 1939 version, Buck Rogers was played by Buster Crabbe.

Buck Rogers Buster Crabbe (aka Larry Crabbe) on poster art, 1939.

Everett Collection

By the 1970s, Lucas couldn’t get the rights to the character Buck Rogers (or Flash Gordon) so he decided to create Star Wars instead, pulling inspiration from the stories but using brand-new characters and places. While Buck Rogers is a little more science fiction than fantasy, both Buck Rogers and Star Wars fall under the subgenre of “space opera.”

Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace Liam Neeson, Ray Park, Ewan McGregor, 1999

Everett Collection

A more specific example of the parallels between the two happens with the viewscreens effect. In Buck Rogers, they use this effect to communicate with the villain, Killer Kane. You may notice they use the same effect when Queen Amidala contacts the Trade Federation in The Phantom Menace. The famous text crawl intro to Star Wars films is also a nod to Buck Rogers‘ serials.

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (key art): Gil Gerard, Erin Gray, Twiki, 1979-81

Universal Television/Everett Collection

One thing that Lucas did not take from Buck Rogers‘ storyline was how he was a person from the 20th century who dropped into the 25th and had to save the day. Oddly enough, this idea has not been used much in other movies or television shows. Even so, Buck Rogers did get a TV remake in 1979 starring Gil Gerard. Did you know that Lucas was inspired by Buck Rogers to create Star Wars? Which franchise is your favorite?

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60s Sci-Fi Favorites

March 2020

Do you remember all the great Sci-Fi TV shows of the ’60s?

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