Star Wars Origins - E. E. "Doc" Smith and Space Opera
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Edward E. "Doc" Smith is generally credited as the creator of the "Space Opera" genre, first presented in his 1928 novel The Skylark of Space. The hallmarks of Space Opera are interplanetary war, battle cruisers, space pirates, larger-than-life heroes and dark lords bent on galactic domination.

Smith's 1937 novel Galactic Patrol upped the ante by introducing a new element to space opera: an elite group of warriors with telepathic abilities. Wearing a semi-magical talisman called The Lens, and having been trained by alien beings to use their psionic powers, these "Lensmen" keep peace in the galaxy. The Lensmen were a strong inspiration on the Jedi, the Green Lantern Corps (from DC's Green Lantern comics), the Bene Gesserit (from Frank Herbert's Dune novels) and the psi-corps (from J. Michael Straczynski's television series Babylon 5).

Galactic Patrol tells the story of Kim Kinnison, a Lensman who jettisons in a space lifeboat with a data spool containing the secret of the enemy's ultimate weapon, the Grand Base. He jets around the galaxy in his speeder, gets caught in tractor beams, passes his ship off as a chunk of loose metal, eludes the bad guy's star cruisers by tearing off into the fourth dimension and finally destroys the enemy base in his one-man fighter. During his training he wears a flight helmet with the blast shield down, but he can still "see" what's going on using his special powers. The Lensmen's mystical powers are almost certainly a strong inspiration for The Force: In an early draft of the Star Wars script Lucas calls the good side of the Force "Arislan" and the bad side the "Bogan." In Smith's Lensmen books the benevolent creators of the Lens are the "Arisians," the bad guys the "Boskone."

Lucas may have absorbed even the language of Smith, who uses the word "coruscant" at least a dozen times (it means "shiny and glittery").1 One of Smith's characters says "It makes little difference," another "We're not out of this yet, kid."

I suspect Lucas found inspiration in the work of a few other classic science fiction writers, including Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Edmond Hamilton and Philip José Farmer.

Admit it; you want one. Lightsabers

Source: Lucas has mentioned E.E. "Doc" Smith in interviews. The similarities are obvious when you read the Lesnmen series, particularly Galactic Patrol.

1 It was Timothy Zahn who first named the capital planet of the Old Republic "Coruscant," in one of his popular Star Wars novels. However, I've heard a rumor that Zahn was working from a page-or-so of background on the Star Wars universe written by Lucas, so I'm still not really sure who coined the name.

Star Wars created by George Lucas, © LucasFilm Ltd.
Star Wars: Origins © 1999-2006 by Kristen Brennan,
part of the Jitterbug Fantasia webzine.