Fort Apache

Seems only fitting that as we wrap up Thanksgiving Weekend, Digging Star Wars explores Fort Apache, a John Ford classic western that explores the relationship between Native Americans and frontier people.
Fort Apache was one of the few films referenced in both The Magic of Myth Smithsonian exhibit and book as an important inspiration to Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.
Thanks to our first female guest Stephanie Frederick and musician/composer GarthIvan for lending tracks from his latest EP The Cambodia Sessions. For more on GarthIvan, please visit his website and be sure to look GarthIvan’s The Cambodia Sessions on iTunes!


  1. An emailed comment from Joshjani...

    I was pleased to hear that you were doing a Western this time around, because I'm sort of in a Western mode right now- I recently watched John Ford's "My Darling Clementine", as well as the spaghetti Western "Once Upon A Time in the West". I'm REALLY looking forward to your next episode with "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly", because Clint Eastwood in those films was Stephen King's inspiration for Roland Deschains, the main character in his epic "Dark Tower" series.
    As mentioned in this conversation, I had long heard that Star Wars is a Western in space. While I liked your conversation with Stephanie, I wonder if you could have pointed out a few more correlations. I have not yet seen Fort Apache, but from your discussion I gathered that basically the landscape and the roughness of the people served as some inspiration for Tatooine. Saying that Han is a cowboy could be accurate, but he's more of a mercenary in A New Hope, driven by the promise of fortune, until the very end when he fully throws in with the Rebels. From your comments on John Wayne's character in Fort Apache, to correlate him with Han Solo I think is a little off. And it sounds like Fort Apache goes a long way to exploring what's right and wrong regarding relationships with the Indians, while Star Wars doesn't. The "Indians" mentioned in the interview were Sandpeople and Jawas, creatures without faces we are simply presented with as some of the inhabitants of Tatooine. Almost no development is given to those people until much later in the Star Wars saga. I'd like to point out that it's a time of civil war in Star Wars, as it is (roughly) in Fort Apache. As it is in Gone With the Wind as well! Your mention of how the one character was demoted to the remote fort and found its previous staff murdered reminded me of Dances With Wolves, another Civil War- era film. It's interesting how much that theme still influences so much of our culture, even in modern pop culture and sci-fi. "Firefly's" Captain Malcolm Reynolds was on the losing side of a civil war, and as a former Browncoat, he's very Han-Solo like- ship's captain and mercenary, with a noble heart.

  2. To Joshjani...

    First off, thanks for your email. In response to some of the points you raise in your "post"...

    Being that you watched "My Darling Clementine" (BTW, did you like it?), I'm interested in your thoughts about Fort Apache AFTER you watch the film, in addition to your last posting. That's not a critique of your current post, it's a sincere request as I think you could offer a unique perspective from someone before and after an experience with a designated text involving Native Americans. I just read about a similar exercise in an essay entitled "Reading and Composing Indians: Invented Indian Identity through Visual Literacy" by Da'nielle Nicole DeVoss and Patrick Russel LeBeau (A very interesting read!).

    To be fair to Stephanie, our recording was a lot longer and I cut down in length for this Audio Blog entry. This is standard editing of any of my posts. Steph and I did share other correlations, but the conversation seemed to stray from our main focus.

    Han is the ultimate space cowboy (is it any wonder that Kurt Loder and MTV News ran Steve Miller's "Space Cowboy" under shots of Han Solo during their Star Wars special in the 90s?). Han as mercenary? Absolutely. But the fact that we first see Han in a stellar dusty salon out in the desert (aka THE CANTINA) is just one glaring cowboy-esque way of setting up our Han Solo experience, not to mention the yellow stripe (aka "the blood stripe) down the side of his pants, the holster, gunplay, and so on.

    I'm most fascinated about your Indians/Sandpeople/Jawas comment. Yes, these characters were not explored until later SW movies. In that way, the "savages" of Star Wars are very much like the "Indians" in classic westerns up to Fort Apache. Unfortunately, Native Americans in film have been simplified to stoic nobleman of nature or the war-thirsty hostile in MOST westerns of that era. What set Ford's Fort Apache apart was his new approach to looking beyond the stereotypes. Hence, my mention of the Clone Wars episode "Trepass" which (while on a completely different planet other than Tatooine) addresses this issue of "the civilized" (organized government/military) and the "uncivilized" (native species to a specific region). This conversation could easily fall into a Star Trek vs. Star Wars diatribe (Prime Directive, first contact, etc), so I'll end this line of thought here.

    Thanks again for listening and thanks for your post.

  3. Sorry, that's dusty "saloon" not "salon" .... Han wasn't getting his hair done in the Cantina but Greedo did wind up with some burnt edges! ;-)

  4. First of all, what a cool idea for a blog, bravo! And it's great to see two of my favorite movies talked about together: Fort Apache and Star Wars (I can't call it "A New Hope," I won't!)

    I was 7 years old in '77, before home video of course, when you just tried to relish and absorb a movie so much when you saw it, because you never knew how long it would be before you saw it again (if ever). So the first one is my favorite, by far, always will be, and I like ESB a lot but the rest don't really mean much to me.

    Fort Apache is a movie I lucked into on TV, because before judge shows and infomercials you used to see a lot of old movies on TV. I was probably age 12 to 14, and was absolutely drawn in to the movie. It was a western, which was good, and it was also like a war movie, also good. But it wasn't till many years and viewings later that I realized how sophisticated a movie it is. I could go on and on about Fort Apache.

    I find what George Lucas "borrows" from films is often fairly superficial, some iconic image or archetype, without getting too deeply into the meaning behind it. To me, there's nothing wrong with this approach; it's actually pretty smart and goes a long way toward an audience "buying in" to what's really a far-out universe. So with Fort Apache I don't really see a lot of close parallels. York is cool and self-assured like Han Solo, but he is also a thorough professional soldier, loyal to his men and loyal to his regiment, even to the point of a kind of ultimate act of loyalty at the end of the movie. This was not a sudden change of heart like Solo had, though; it fit completely with his character in the whole movie.

    I have also thought about the comparison of the scene where Lt. O'Rourke comes across the two slain troopers to the burning home scene in Star Wars. They sure "feel" close, and combined with John Wayne returning to the homestead in The Searchers they seem like a match to me.

    Star Wars was a fun entertainment movie, and didn't try for the thematic depth that Fort Apache had, and that's OK. Fort Apache is really pretty deep, but Ford was so good at cloaking it in adventure and light comedy and homeliness. It's a wonderful examination of truth vs. myth, means vs. ends, establishment vs. outsiders, elite vs. common man. As I said, I could go on and on. So to echo the podcast, watch this movie! Thanks again.


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