Film fans and critics often revel in finding cinematic references in their favorite movies.
In the case of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which opens this week, those who have seen the film’s early showings reveal that it is particularly rich in such allusions — including the Star Wars franchise’s all-but-explicit application of Nazi imagery to the series’ villain, the Empire.
Set some 30 years after the events depicted in 1983’s “Return of the Jedi,” the latest film includes scenes of imperial troops arrayed in long block formations that recall to many the Nazi rallies depicted in Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 Nazi propaganda film “Triumph of the Will.”
As one New Zealand film critic explained, “Abrams doubles down on the latent Nazi imagery awarded to the Empire in the original trilogy. One sequence, in which the First Order tests their superweapon, is shot with more than a knowing glance at Leni Riefenstahl’s infamous propaganda piece Triumph of the Will.”
“Triumph of the Will” was a film commissioned by Adolf Hitler to glorify the Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg in 1934, where 700,000 supporters came to express support for the party. The rally’s organizers arranged the supporters in massed rows that conveyed a sense of overwhelming size together with focus and discipline, a combination Riefenstahl worked to capture in the film — and one that makes her film’s sensibilities especially relevant to the depiction of a similarly evil, similarly large and similarly disciplined (though still fictional) imperial army.
Other references found in “The Force Awakens” include a homage to the 1979 war film Apocalypse Now that consisted of a scene showing “TIE” space fighters flying in a red sky silhouetted against a setting sun — a image used memorably in the Vietnam War epic, but with real helicopters.