In 1977 the first “Star Wars” came out. After seeing it, Brian De Palma noticed a strong resemblance between Darth Vader the character of his film “Phantom of the Paradise”, made a few years earlier.
Phantom of Paradise the cult work of Brian De Palma
Often in his career, Brian DePalma saw his films achieve some afterthought success. This was particularly the case of Phantom of the Paradise, very little seen when it was released in 1974 but later gained cult status. Reinterpretation of Phantom of the Opera in the middle of the glam-rock of the 1970s, the feature film was imagined by the director after having heard in an elevator a muzak version of a Beatles song. The filmmaker then seized on this idea that one could take a magnificent work and distort it to make a product of it. This is what happens in the film for Winslow Leach, a naive composer who goes to see the powerful Swan, owner of the record company Death Records, steal his music.
Disfigured after an accident, Winslow will become the Phantom of Paradise, Swan’s new club. It is in these places that he will first try to take revenge, before being manipulated again by Swan who manages to convince him to write new songs for the beautiful singer, Phoenix.
With Phantom of the Paradise, Brian De Palma offers as always a very visual work, both tragic and burlesque. In it, Paul Williams excels as a cynical Swan, while Jessica Harper reveals himself in the role of Phoenix. But above all, we remember the brilliant performance of William Finley who carries the film behind the Phantom’s mask and costume. Precisely, the actor had returned to this outfit on the occasion of a bonus made for the DVD of the film. He explained that his character had influenced neither more nor less than… Dark Vador! And more specifically the armor of the Sith Lord.
A striking resemblance to Darth Vader
Indeed, in Star WarsDarth Vader is wearing armor and a mask which allowed him to stay alive despite his injuries at the end of episode 3. It is thanks to this mechanism that he can breathe and express himself with this now mythical voice and breath. But, precisely, it is also the case of Winslow in Phantom of the Paradise. He also no longer has the use of his voice after his accident. But Swan makes him a “sound box” which allows him to find a semblance of voice.
So when Star Wars came out three years later, Brian De Palma noticed right away the resemblance. And he let George Lucas know.
When Brian saw Star Wars, he said to George, “What is that? Vader stole my soundbox!” George laughed and said, “Anyway, she’s black.” Vader looks a lot like the Phantom. Except that it is bigger and more imposing. But I think it was inspired by the Phantom… A little bit. The box is in any case very Darth Vader.
An amusing anecdote told by William Finley. As we know, Brian De Palma and George Lucas know each other and his friends well. The two filmmakers, therefore, had to laugh together at this slight “plagiarism”. This was not, on the other hand, the case with Jean-Claude Mézières whose comic strips more than inspired the sets and costumes of Star Wars.