It’s common knowledge amongst movie buffs and Star Wars geeks that George Lucas drew a great deal of inspiration from Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress when he conceived the original Star Wars. However, something fewer fans realize is that he might have borrowed the major elements that make up the character of Darth Vader from a different – and seemingly far less likely – source: Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise.
The link between the two characters isn’t new – it’s been making the rounds on the ol’ Interwebz for several years, and YouTube user JetPackMedia even made a handy little video highlighting the similarities between the two characters.
The inspiration seems pretty obvious when you read a description of The Phantom:
“He’s a character of superhuman power and strength, clad in black leather and a flowing cloak, with a stylized helmet to cover hideous scars on his face. The damage to his vocal cords means he breathes with an eerie rasp, and has a box with lights and switches on his chest to help modulate his voice. He retreats to an egg-shaped chamber where he can meditate and find peace. He’s not wholly evil, but has been enslaved by someone who is: a cruel master who exploits his unique powers in order to further his own, evil ends.”
But is there a really a connection between the two characters? Turns out there is.
De Palma and Lucas were friends and colleagues and held auditions for Phantom and Star Wars together. De Palma helped rewrite the famous opening crawl to Lucas’ film. De Palma’s film came out several years before Lucas’ – which would have allowed Lucas the opportunity to see the Phantom and model Vader in his image. Lucas liberally borrowed from other films and works of fiction in Star Wars and never took any great pains to keep it a secret (at least not in the beginning…). It’s totally plausible (and probable) that Vader was inspired by De Palma’s character.
This isn’t to suggest that Lucas “ripped off” De Palma. Lucas deserves a great deal of credit for making Vader a more nuanced and interesting character than The Phantom – but to merely point out that one of the greatest villains in movie history was actually inspired by a mediocre rock opera released a few years earlier.
Have a peek at the video below, then swing by blog The Whimsiad for a more detailed analysis of the connection between these two characters.