|Indonesia - a source for Star Wars?|
As part of the "Indonesia" series, I'll explore some of the striking similarities between modern Indonesian history and the Star Wars saga. In Part III: Did Indonesia influence Lucas?, I end by asking if it's possible that the similarities I discussed in previous posts are more than just coincidence.
Of course, there have been countless books written about the historical and mythological stories that influenced Lucas, including The Secret History of Star Wars, the Smithsonian's The Magic of Myth, and J.W. Rinzler's The Making of Star Wars. Lucas himself has mentioned Japanese samurai stories, the fall of the Roman Republic, the rise of Nazi Germany, the Vietnam War, and Richard Nixon's presidency as key historical influences.
Unfortunately, not a single one of these sources mentions Indonesia. However, might there be reason to suspect that Lucas was aware of political developments halfway around the world?
Actually, during the late 1960s/early 1970s, when George Lucas was writing the story treatment for Star Wars, Indonesia held a much more prominent place in the American consciousness. With the Vietnam War raging, Americans paid greater attention to Southeast Asia in general. After the 1965 GESTAPU plot, Indonesia became a key ally in the Cold War struggle against communism. Indonesia was also frequently in the news for its remarkable economic growth, one of what would later become the Asian Tiger Cubs. Indonesia received significant investment from American companies and Bali was a prominent tourist destination.
The late 1960s/early 1970s was also a time of flourishing academic interest in Indonesia. The U.S. government began to provide scholarships, such as the Fulbright Program, for American students to study Indonesian history and culture. Political scientists, including the renowned Clifford Geertz and Benedict Anderson, conducted groundbreaking fieldwork in Indonesia. Indonesia proved a boon to anthropologists, who studied isolated tribes in the eastern islands. In this context, it is worth noting that George Lucas began his academic career in anthropology and might have been exposed to these studies.
On the other hand, Indonesia was notably absent in American cinema. It seems much of how Lucas incorporated the imagery of history and myth into his own movies stemmed from his broader interest in movies. Lucas has mentioned his love of Kurosawa's films, even filming an introduction for the DVD of The Hidden Fortress. World War II films had a direct influence on several key scenes in A New Hope, including the dogfighting over the Death Star and the Yavin IV ceremonial hall (evoking the Nazi propaganda film The Triumph of the Will). The 1960s were the peak of Hollywood "epic" period pieces, including Spartacus and Ben-Hur, both of which dealt with the moral decline of Rome. However, the only mainstream Hollywood movie to feature Indonesia is 1983's The Year of Living Dangerously, starring Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver. The film made interesting use of shadows as a metaphor for intrigue in Indonesian politics, but it postdated Lucas' initial story treatment for Star Wars by almost a decade.
In short, the time during which Lucas first developed the story of the Star Wars saga was also a high point of American interest in Indonesia. That, along with the similarities discussed in my previous two posts, might suggest a connection worth exploring further. However, there is no smoking gun proving that Indonesia was actual influence on Star Wars, as opposed to mere coincidence. Hopefully, one day we will have the opportunity to scour Lucas' notes and other primary documents in search of a connection.