Luke Skywalker’s Milwaukee Connections

December 15, 2017


Listen Online

The highly anticipated next installment of Star Wars hits theaters this month.

Unlike the first movie in the reboot launched two years ago, the Last Jedi is expected to feature way more screen time for Luke Skywalker – the light saber wielding hero who might be based on a Civil War hero from Milwaukee

Some Star Wars fans will probably scoff at the idea that Darth Vader’s son was inspired by a soldier who lost his father at a young age and left home to wage war in a land far, far away… but stick with me.

Howard Bass Cushing was born in Milwaukee in 1838. He and his brothers spent part of their childhood in the Waukesha County community of Delafield where a park is named after them. All of the Cushing boys answered the call to fight for the North in the Civil War, and one of his brothers was recently awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg that helped repel Pickett’s Charge.

After the Civil War, Howard Cushing fought Apaches  in the 3rd Cavalry in Arizona and New Mexico. Hewas killed in an ambush in 1871. One of Cushing’s fellow soldiers, a man named John G. Bourke, called Cushing the bravest man he ever knew. Bourke had earned a Medal of Honor during the Civil War and later wrote several popular books about serving with the U.S. Cavalry in the southwest.

Twenty-five years later, a lonely soldier assigned to the same desolate outpost in Arizona where Cushing and Bourke had served likely read some of Bourke’s books including passages that described Cushing. That soldier was Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan. But before he dreamed up the Lord of the Jungle, Burroughs conceived a popular character named John Carter of Mars.

Howard Cushing and John Carter of Mars share many similarities. Burroughs’ description of John Carter is very similar to the description of Cushing in Bourke’s books. Both are recklessly brave Civil War veterans and Indian fighters; they’re prospectors who discover minerals in Arizona; and good marksmen at home on their horses.

Which brings us to Flash Gordon. The creator of the 1930s comic strip and radio and film serials was influenced by the John Carter of Mars character. A decade later a boy in California named George Lucas fell in love with Flash Gordon. Lucas even tried to buy the rights to make his own Flash Gordon movie but couldn’t afford the fee.

So he decided to create his own space fantasy. Shortly before Star Wars was released in 1977, Lucas described his new movie as an adventure in space like John Carter of Mars.

So if Lucas said Star Wars was like John Carter of Mars, and John Carter was likely based on Milwaukee-born Civil War hero Howard Cushing, then I think you could say that Cushing could be the inspiration for Luke Skywalker.



2018-02-10T23:07:18-06:00Tags: , , |

Sign Up Form

Sign Up for Our Bi-Weekly Newsletter

Get your favorite Wisconsin Life stories, meet the crew, and go behind the scenes.

Our Favorite Collections

Storyteller Rodney Lambright II's comic series about the rich relationship between a single father, his young daughter and his retirement-age parents.
For the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we discover how Wisconsinites experienced the war both at home and on the battlefield.
Ice, cold and winter are an integral part of what it means to live in Wisconsin. "Ice Week" explores the many ways that ice defines us.
Food plays a central part in many holiday traditions. This series honors the foods and meals that make the day.
Escape winter with a look at some of Wisconsin's favorite sports and games.
"Living the Wisconsin Life" is an online series exploring the little things that make living in Wisconsin fun, interesting and meaningful.