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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Filmland - The Star Wars/Indiana Jones/E.T. Shared Movie-Verse

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And so May 4th is upon us once again, the one day out of the year we choose to celebrate the multimedia mega-phenomenon that is Star Wars.  Admittedly you probably aren’t reading this on one of the 364 days that doesn’t sound vaguely like “may the force be with you” but given that this is the Internet celebrating Star Wars is pretty much always in fashion.  This is even truer in the wake of 2015’s franchise revitalizing film Force Awakens, and with the Last Jedi on the way and Rogue One a decent success in its own right it looks like we’re never going to run out of Star Wars to celebrate. 

It’s not just movies that've been good to the Disney era of Star Wars either but also comics, with Marvel’s excellent Darth Vader ongoing series and the fairly popular Rebels TV show making a significant impact.  Actually, Rebels is the bit of recent Star Wars material that I’ve elected to zero in on today as part of a look at an emerging shared-universe theory going all the way back to 1981 and stretching throughout some of the most popular films of the ‘80s.  Let’s talk about the Spielberg-verse. 

Before I dive into this, let me just preface this article with the warning that I'm not being totally serious here.  “Fan Theories” are some of the most tedious content on the Internet and I’m definitely not keen to add more rambling to that bottomless pit.  This is more of a look at the growing collection of Easter eggs and connections between the works of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, mainly focusing around a trio of their most popular works. 

Most of this stuff is, as I mentioned, scattered across the franchises’ long history and is probably just the result of the two directors being close friends and adding little nods to each other’s work.  However, charting this kind of stuff can be a lot of fun as well as trying to plot out the other stuff involved and what it could imply.  That’s the whole basis behind that Tommy Westphall shared universe everybody seems to love so I figure we might as well dive into it here. 

Now as I said George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are close friends in real life and, as such, they’ve always had a pretty tight professional relationship.  So, in 1977 when both men were on vacation in Hawaii after the release of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, they got to talking about a script George Lucas had penned back in 1973.  The script was a pulpy, globetrotting adventure story, reminiscent of the serials Lucas had enjoyed in his youth and entitled The Adventures of Indiana Smith. 

Obviously, this is the script that would become Indiana Jones and represents the start of Lucas’ stepping back from directing to delegating and the first time Lucas and Spielberg ever collaborated, but that’s not all it features.  Though it wasn’t really noticed at the time, keen-eyed fans eventually noticed that Raiders of the Lost Ark featured a pair of references to Star Wars in the form of hieroglyphics depicting R2D2, C3P0, and Princess Leia giving them the Deathstar plans. 

When people first found this Easter Egg, it was considered to be just that- an Easter Egg, a fun little shout-out no different from R2D2 appearing as part of the alien ship in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  The thing is, this isn’t the only Easter egg tying Indiana Jones and Star Wars together.  In fact, the two franchises have been getting more and more intertwined over the years to a shocking degree.  

Empire Strikes Back, which came out 1 year before Raiders of the Lost Ark, featured a small Easter egg to it when the crate the Ark was shipped in appeared in the background of the scene where C3P0 was being dismembered on Bespin.  In case you’re wondering how this could happen before Raiders of the Lost Ark was completed, it’s because the film was basically hammered out in tandem with Empire Strikes Back.  This little Easter Egg has kicked off a slew of appearances by the ark throughout the Star Wars canon.

The next appearance came in The Lost City of the Jedi’s comic adaptation.  This is the 2nd novel in Paul and Hollace Davids’ Jedi Prince trilogy and depicts the treasure vault of a group known as the Church of the Dark Side, a group of Imperial zealots that worshiped the Emperor even after his death.  Among their various relics and treasures was the Ark.  Then, in 2009, the Ark appeared again in the background of an episode of the CGI Star Wars: Clone Wars show entitled ‘Liberty of Ryloth.’ 

This appearance sparked the most discourse, as it’s the first major Easter egg to occur in the age of forums and screenshots. There was also a season 3 episode called ‘Wookiee Hunt,’ in which one of the crystal skulls from Indiana Jones 4 can be spotted among galactic hunter Garnac’s trophy collection.  Finally, in the cross-section book for 2015’s The Force Awakens, it’s revealed that one of the cargo pods in Han and Chewie’s freighter has the same serial number as the ark’s crate and the book specifically mention the two have been unable to open that cargo module.

As the first Indiana Jones/Star Wars Easter egg of the Disney era, this one is pretty important.  I mean, before this the EU material had already gone as far as hanging a lampshade on the whole thing with an issue of Star Wars Tales where Han and Chewie crash land on Earth by accident and Indiana Jones hunts Chewbacca thinking he’s Big Foot.  

After the EU was all declared non-canon, it wasn’t totally clear how much the new material would pay homage to this stuff, but it turned out more than ever.  In the episode ‘Through Imperial Eyes, ” we get a look inside the officer/treasure room of Admiral Thrawn, one of the main bad guys of the previous EU and the first character to make the jump to official canon.  Among his various trinkets, you can spot- the Holy Grail from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. 

So, by this point, I’ve probably convinced you Star Wars and Indiana Jones are interconnected universe, but that’s not really a shared mmovie-verse it’s just two franchises.  Well, this is where E.T. enters the picture.  In case you need some kind of introduction for this movie, E.T. is the story of a small alien that crash-lands on Earth and befriends a young boy Elliot.  It was created by Melissa Mathison after Spielberg got bored while filming Raiders of the Lost Ark and regaled her with stories of previous film ideas he had that fell apart. 

The film is a beloved classic and also one of the first major examples of Spielberg’s willingness to use cross-promotional material to create a sense of reality as the film is littered with major brands.  One of the big ones is Star Wars, expectedly as Spielberg technically owns a small part of that franchise after a bet with Lucas.  One such scene of said merch is set on Halloween where E.T. encounters a kid dressed as Yoda and E.T. starts frantically running towards the kid like he’s seeing an old friend.

This scene was always kind of a weird element but it got a lot weird with the release of Phantom Menace, in which a group of aliens can be seen in the Galactic Senate that are the same species as E.T.  While this scene is a fun shout out for the fans, it was also put in at the direct request of Steven Spielberg himself.  So, if we take both of these scenes as an act of world building that means that means that E.T. and his species can travel dimensionally between the universe where Star Wars is reality and the universe where Star Wars is just fictional. 

What’s more, they aren’t the only Spielberg aliens that can do this, there was also the inter-dimensional traveling aliens from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which I remind you is in continuity with Star Wars and E.T.  As a final addition to this great little tangent, Spielberg had originally planned a sequel to E.T. where the human characters were kidnapped by an evil parallel race to E.T.’s, while we never saw said race I suggest that they became the Crystal Skull aliens. 

Now obviously I don’t think it was the intention of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas to form some kind of shared universe between Indiana Jones, E.T., and Star Wars.  This is just the kind of thing that happens when you’ve got some of the most popular franchises on the planet made by the same two guys who are also friends and once it’s happened once it becomes tradition, basically.  All that being said and still with the banner of “all in good fun” hanging over this article, I wouldn’t complain at all if Disney officially decided to marry the Indiana Jones and Star Wars franchises.  

They don’t own the rights to E.T. but given that they’re still insisting on making a fifth Indiana Jones film and would like to keep making Star Wars movies after the new trilogy concludes, I wouldn’t be annoyed at all with a crossover.  I doubt we’ll ever see Indiana Jones rubbing shoulders with Luke or Rey but if the post-credits scene of Indy 5 was Jones discovering the ruins of the Millennium Falcon I’d be on board. 

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