It’s a race to the finish, with chariots on one side and pods on the other. In the end, though, Charlton Heston always wins.
It’s no secret that the Pod Race in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace borrowed heavily from the classic 1959 epic Ben Hur. But maybe it was a bit more than homage?
Let’s be honest, guys, Lucas basically ripped off the whole scene. It wasn’t an homage, it was borderline theft. But don’t just take my word for it. Video essayist Jacob T. Swinney created a side-by-side montage of the two races for Fandor, showing exactly how and when Phantom Menace borrows, steals, and just mutilates the classic scene from the original. Check it out, it’s pretty striking.
This isn’t a unique situation. Lucas has been called out for heavily borrowing from other films and directors for the Star Wars series, including Flash Gordon (which Lucas tried to license before making Star Wars) and Lost Horizon. The most notable one is filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. Lucas has been accused of taking themes and shots from at least two of Kurosawa’s films, Dersu Uzala and The Hidden Fortress, for the original trilogy, the latter of which Lucas has personally acknowledged.
Heck, StarWars.com writer Bryan Young did a whole piece about the parallels between the two flicks, although he was definitely a little generous about George Lucas’ so-called “improvements.”
“My breath is constantly being taken away by how George Lucas was able to take storylines, sequences, and themes from classics like Ben Hur and distill them to their essence for inclusion in Star Wars. It’s truly remarkable.”
I’m not saying that Star Wars isn’t unique, powerful, or important, because it is all three and more (well, with the exception of Phantom Menace, because come on guys). A lot of films borrow from other works, but there’s a key difference between tribute and theft. And in this case, the line seems to be crossed at a shot-for-shot remake of Ben Hur/Anakin taking the final chariot/pod down before gloriously crossing the finish line to a cheering crowd.
At least we can rest easy knowing Lucasfilm likely won’t take anything from the new Ben Hur, because let’s be honest, nobody’s watching it.