The Cinema Behind Star Wars: Predator

Bryan Young | January 14, 2013

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Back at Star Wars Celebration V, I thought I was being clever when I asked Dave Filoni what films they’d been looking to draw inspiration from for episodes of The Clone Wars that had not yet aired.

We talked for a while and he gave me quite a list of films that I would expect to be inspiration for an all-ages cartoon adventure. And then he hit me with one that dropped my jaw: Predator.

The R-rated, Arnold Schwarzenegger action/sci-fi movie?

The very same.

We had a whole season of episodes before us and I watched each episode diligently every week, waiting for how in the world a film like Predator would relate to the world of Star Wars. I went back and re-watched Predator a few times and marveled at how well it held up. Action/sci-fi movies from the 1980s have a way of falling apart over the years, but Predator (while dated in places) stands up as a taut and thrilling suspense film, with plenty of humour, action, and excitement.

Then the final episodes of Season Three came around and the choice of inspiration could not be more apparent.

Season Three of The Clone Wars ends with the episodes “Padawan Lost” and “Wookiee Hunt,” which sees Ahsoka abducted by Trandoshans who wish to hunt her for sport. She’s dropped into a jungle and hunted down. Just like Dutch in Predator, she’s left with nothing but her wits to keep her alive against the evil aliens. Ahsoka manages to win the day with the help of everyone’s favorite Wookiee, Chewbacca, but that’s not where the similarities end.

Watching the film and the episodes back to back, it’s striking how much Predator must have been used as a reference for the lighting and jungle scenes. The lighting department really knocked these episodes up a notch, providing a steamy, atmospheric jungle that added to the story every bit as much as the lines of dialogue. And it’s very much the same way in Predator. John McTiernan, the director of Predator, made the setting as much a character in his film as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, or the Predator himself. It was as lethal as the bad guys, but also provided the needs of the good guys to foil evil.

The lighting inspiration goes one step further than that, even. When Ahsoka finds herself on the Trandoshan hunting ship, she’s greeted with the sight of trophies from their kills in a grim setting with harsh (but beautiful) lighting. The Predator’s ship is very much the same.

It was a well-learned lesson, since this pair of episodes exuded that same menace wrought by Predator, but in a Star Wars setting. And since it’s Star Wars, when the cavalry finally arrives it’s a moment worth cheering over and served as a perfect end to the third season of The Clone Wars.

When I talked to Dave Filoni at Star Wars Celebration VI a couple of years later, I asked him again what movies they’d been looking to for inspiration for the coming episodes of Season Five and Six. He laughed at me and told me that he wouldn’t tell me. “You’re exactly the kind of guy who would know exactly where we were going if I told you.”

That decision was probably a good choice on Dave’s part.

Bryan Young is an author, a filmmaker, journalist, and the editor in chief of BigShinyRobot.com!

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