The Cinema Behind Star Wars: Jaws

Bryan Young | May 21, 2013

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws might be one of the most influential films in history. It set the stage as one of the first, true summer blockbusters in 1975, paving the way for the cultural hysteria Star Wars would cause just two years later. Add to the fact that it stands to this day as a fantastic, well-made film, and it’s no wonder that its influence has seeped into the world of film and has devotees among the elites of the entertainment industry. Bryan Singer’s production company is called “Bad Hat Harry” from a line on the beach in Jaws. Ain’t It Cool News’ best journalist, Quint, takes his name from Robert Shaw’s salty character. I once even accidentally proposed marriage to my wife in the middle of the USS Indianapolis speech. (True story, but one for a different time.)

Jaws is no less important to those who create Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The first time I realized there was a hardcore Jaws fan on the crew of The Clone Wars was watching the thirteenth episode of the third season. “Monster” served as our introduction to the now-iconic villain Savage Opress. The homage from Jaws was subtle and CG supervisor Joel Aron later told me that he thought I might have been the only person who noticed it. But in Jaws (and in a few other Spielberg pictures) there is a lovely shot of a night sky, a quiet moment, and a falling star streaks across the frame. The moment is repeated in loving memory in “Monster” and it brought a smile across the face of the film nerd inside of me.

But that’s not where the influence of Jaws ends for the crew of The Clone Wars. Aron told Variety earlier this year that he uses the Indianapolis scene frequently to balance lighting.

But perhaps the most direct influence came with the premiere arc of Season Four, which took place deep underwater on Mon Calamari. The first and largest Jaws homage in these episodes comes from one of my favorite characters created for the show, and that’s the Separatist ambassador to the Quarren, Riff Tamson. He’s a sharklike Karkaradon who bears a striking resemblance to Bruce, the shark in Jaws.

Even the name of his species hearkens back to a line in Jaws, when Richard Dreyfuss is explaining to the mayor of Amity Island just what it is they’re dealing with. “It’s a carcharadon carcharias. It’s a Great White.”

Tamson even meets his own demise in much the same way as the shark from Jaws. In the film, Chief Brody feeds the shark a can of compressed air and shoots it, causing a terrific explosion. Tamson suffered a similar fate at the cost of one of his explosive knives.

Beyond those surface similarities, the look and feel of being underwater in these episodes is very reminiscent of the underwater sequences in Jaws. There’s a lethality and fluidity to the combat underwater that reminds one of Hooper’s struggle with the shark in the cage near the end of Jaws. And the viscosity of the water that reads on screen, with the floating bits of dust and debris, and the way the light plays through the water, seems as though you could intercut shots between the film and the episodes of The Clone Wars that happen underwater.

Add Jaws to the list of films that inspired the artists and craftsmen behind Star Wars. If you haven’t seen it, now is the time. And if you have seen it, the time is always right to revisit it.

It’s rated PG and can be a bit scary for smaller kids, but I watched it with my son for the first time when he was six years old and he did just fine with it.

Bryan Young is an author, a filmmakerjournalist, and the editor in chief of BigShinyRobot.com! He’s also the co-host of the Star Warspodcast, Full of Sith.

You can also follow him on twitter.

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