The influence of Akira Kurosawa on the Star Wars saga

01 April 2023
The Star Wars franchise has been greatly influenced by Japanese films throughout its history. From the original trilogy to the latest trilogy, Japanese films have played a significant role in shaping the look, feel, and storytelling of the Star Wars saga. 

hidden fortress star wars

Here's a list of some of the Japanese films that have inspired the Star Wars saga:

  • The Hidden Fortress (1958) - Directed by Akira Kurosawa, this film is said to be the main inspiration for the original Star Wars film, A New Hope. The film's plot of two bickering peasants who get involved with a princess on the run from enemy forces is reflected in the characters of R2-D2 and C-3PO, who are inspired by two peasant characters in the film. George Lucas has also cited Kurosawa's other films, such as Yojimbo and Rashomon, as influences on the Star Wars saga.
  • Seven Samurai (1954) - Another Kurosawa film, Seven Samurai is a classic tale of a group of warriors coming together to defend a village from bandits. This film is said to have influenced the climactic battle scene in Return of the Jedi, where the Ewoks and the Rebel Alliance team up to take on the Empire.
  • Throne of Blood (1957) - Kurosawa's adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, Throne of Blood, heavily influenced the character of Darth Vader. Vader's costume, which includes a samurai-style helmet and flowing black robes, is reminiscent of the film's villain, Washizu, who also wears samurai armor and a cape.
  • The Sword of Doom (1966) - This film, directed by Kihachi Okamoto, influenced the look and feel of the lightsaber battles in the Star Wars saga. The film's use of long takes and dynamic camera movements during sword fights were adapted by George Lucas for the lightsaber duels between Jedi and Sith.

The impact of Kurosawa on Geroge Lucas

Akira Kurosawa's films had a significant impact on George Lucas, especially in the creation of the first Star Wars film. Kurosawa's influence can be seen in the thematic elements, narrative structure, and visual style of Star Wars.

One of the most apparent ways that Kurosawa's films influenced Star Wars is through their shared themes. Both Kurosawa and Lucas were drawn to stories of heroes on a quest to save the world from evil forces. Kurosawa's films often focused on samurai warriors fighting against corrupt rulers and oppressive social systems. These themes can be seen in Lucas's portrayal of the Jedi knights, who are fighting against the dark side of the force and the tyrannical rule of the Empire.

Another aspect of Kurosawa's films that influenced Star Wars is their use of a narrative structure that features multiple storylines and characters. Kurosawa's films often revolved around a group of characters whose paths intersect and whose individual stories are woven together to create a larger narrative. This narrative structure can be seen in Star Wars, where multiple characters, such as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Darth Vader, have their own storylines that come together to form the overarching plot.

Kurosawa's visual style also had a significant impact on Star Wars. Lucas was particularly drawn to Kurosawa's use of wide shots and framing, which allowed for the inclusion of more characters and action in a single shot. The use of widescreen in Kurosawa's films helped to create a sense of scale and epic grandeur that Lucas replicated in Star Wars, particularly in the climactic battle scenes.

The film's narrative structure, with its two bickering peasants who inadvertently become involved in a larger conflict, closely mirrors the dynamic between R2-D2 and C-3PO in Star Wars. The character of General Toshiro Mifune also influenced the creation of Darth Vader, with both characters sharing a similarly imposing presence and fierce physicality.

It is often speculated that the scene in "Attack of the Clones" where Yoda places his hand on his head during a battle is a reference to Akira Kurosawa's film "The Hidden Fortress." In that film, a character places his hand on his head in a similar manner.

However, it is unclear whether this was an intentional reference by George Lucas or simply a coincidence. Lucas has cited Kurosawa as an influence on his work in the past, so it is possible that the scene was intended as a nod to "The Hidden Fortress."

There are several scenes in the Star Wars films that pay direct homage to Akira Kurosawa's films. Here are a few examples:
  • The Hidden Fortress Influence: The opening scene of A New Hope, in which a Rebel ship is pursued by an Imperial Star Destroyer, is directly inspired by the opening scene of The Hidden Fortress, in which a group of peasants are pursued by a group of samurai.
  • The Seven Samurai Influence: The scene in The Phantom Menace where Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi are introduced to the Gungan leader Boss Nass is similar to a scene in The Seven Samurai where the samurai meet with the village elder to discuss their mission.
  • Yojimbo Influence: The character of Han Solo is modeled after the character of Sanjuro from Kurosawa's film Yojimbo. Both characters are cynical loners who are drawn into conflicts that they initially try to avoid.
  • Throne Room Scene: The final scene of A New Hope, in which Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are awarded medals for their heroism, is a direct homage to the final scene of The Hidden Fortress, in which the main characters are awarded gold for their efforts.
The Mandalorian's season one, episode 4 titled 'Sanctuary' is a quick plot rewrite of Seven Samurai.

The use of the Rashmon Effect in The Last Jedi

In "The Last Jedi," director Rian Johnson used the Rashomon effect, inspired by Akira Kurosawa's 1950 film "Rashomon," to tell the story of the events that led to the destruction of Luke Skywalker's Jedi temple.

The Rashomon effect is a storytelling technique in which multiple characters provide contradictory accounts of the same event, leaving the audience uncertain about what really happened. In "The Last Jedi," this technique is used to explore the character of Kylo Ren and his relationship with Luke Skywalker.

The film shows three different versions of the same event: Kylo Ren's version, Luke Skywalker's version, and the true version. Kylo Ren claims that Luke tried to kill him while he was sleeping, which led him to destroy the temple and join the dark side. Luke, on the other hand, claims that he never intended to kill Kylo Ren and only ignited his lightsaber in a moment of weakness. The true version of events is revealed to the audience through a flashback, which shows that Luke did indeed contemplate killing Kylo Ren but ultimately decided against it.

By using the Rashomon effect, Rian Johnson adds depth and complexity to the character of Kylo Ren, showing that his actions are not simply the result of evil intentions but rather the product of a complex and emotionally charged situation. It also adds complexity to Luke Skywalker's character, as it shows him grappling with the weight of his mistakes and the consequences of his actions.

The Mandalorian inspiration by Lone Wolf and Cub

"Lone Wolf and Cub" tells the story of a samurai who travels the countryside with his young son, seeking vengeance against those who wronged him. The series is known for its graphic violence and dynamic action scenes, as well as its exploration of complex themes such as honor, duty, and sacrifice.

Like "Lone Wolf and Cub," "The Mandalorian" features a lone warrior traveling through a dangerous and unforgiving world, accompanied by a young child who he must protect at all costs. The relationship between the Mandalorian and the child, known as "Baby Yoda" by fans, mirrors the dynamic between the samurai and his son in "Lone Wolf and Cub." Both series explore themes of parenthood and sacrifice, as the protagonists must navigate a treacherous world while also caring for a vulnerable child.

In addition to these thematic similarities, "The Mandalorian" also borrows visual and stylistic elements from "Lone Wolf and Cub." The use of atmospheric lighting, dynamic camera angles, and vivid action sequences are all hallmarks of both series. "The Mandalorian" also features a variety of exotic locales and cultures, drawing inspiration from the rich world-building of "Lone Wolf and Cub."

Japanese films have played a significant role in shaping the Star Wars saga, from the visual style to the storytelling. The influence of filmmakers such as Akira Kurosawa and Kihachi Okamoto can be seen throughout the films, and their impact has helped make Star Wars the iconic franchise it is today.


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

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