5 mins read

1. Transporting a Princess and Gold: The Hidden Fortress 2. Samurai Defending a Village: The Seven Samurai 3. Masks and Anticipating Danger: The Legend of Zelda 4. Warriors of Honor: The Last Samurai 5. Kurosawa’s Influence on Filmmakers 6. Depth and Emotion in a Galaxy Far, Far Away: The Empire Strikes Back 7. Homage to Kurosawa: The Force Awakens

Akira Kurosawa and Star Wars

If there’s one creator that truly shaped George Lucas’ vision for Star Wars, it’s Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. His films, including Yojimbo and Seven Samurai helped shape the world of the galaxy far away.

The first short in the Star Wars Visions series, “Duel,” takes inspiration from Seven Samurai. Like Han Solo and Obi-Wan Kenobi, a pair of ragged peasants accompany a bearded general across enemy lines.

1. The Hidden Fortress

In The Hidden Fortress, the inimitable Toshiro Mifune plays General Rokurota tasked with transporting his clan’s princess and a fortune in gold across hostile territory. He’s accompanied by two bumbling peasants who may or may not be his friends.

Both the film’s princess and Princess Leia travel in disguise (though THF’s Princess is in the form of a mute servant, while Leia wears a dress). Both face insurmountable odds in order to complete their missions.

The Hidden Fortress was Kurosawa’s first attempt at widescreen cinematography, and his use of the format creates gorgeous compositions that could never be captured in 4:3 TVs. Criterion’s new Blu-ray also features a simulated Perspecta Stereo track that will delight audiophiles.

2. The Seven Samurai

The Seven Samurai features a group of samurai who put aside their differences to defend a village from bandits. The film features excellent character development as the samurai and peasants begin to trust each other, and the pacing didn’t feel too drab for a three-and-a-half hour movie.

Toshiro Mifune is excellent as Kikuchiyo, a burly clown who boasts of his swordplay prowess but is hiding a regretful past. Other standout performances include Takashi Shimura as Kambei, Heihachi’s loyal right-hand, and Daisuke Kato and Yoshio Inaba as Shichiroji and Gorobei.

3. The Legend of Zelda

The samurai film and Star Wars have long had a mutual fascination with masks and the ways they can fundamentally change our own perception of reality. Both movies feature elderly mentor characters and flawed, yet heroic young people. And both utilize the ability to anticipate danger, like the famous scene in The Seven Samurai where Kambei tests a prospective member for his warriorhood by asking him to anticipate a sneak attack.

The film also features a villain, Date Masamune, who many fans have cited as the inspiration for Darth Vader. The uncanny resemblance has even inspired a line of samurai-themed Star Wars figurines from Bandai Tamashii Nations.

4. The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai is an epic movie with a grand sense of scale. Director Edward Zwick draws inspiration from classic Western films such as John Ford’s Stagecoach and The Searchers. The samurai are shown as warriors of honor, fighting off armed soldiers with their swords and bows.

Tom Cruise delivers a strong performance, managing to transcend his mega-star status. His character is a Civil War veteran who finds himself captured by the samurai.

Ken Watanabe is superb as Moritsugu Katsumoto, the samurai leader. He is a man who fights for the way of his ancestors, despite knowing that it may be futile.

5. Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa is one of the greatest film makers in history, and his influence on modern filmmakers is evident in all sorts of ways. It’s easy to see his samurai movies in the early work of George Lucas.

The Mandalorian episode “Duel” takes inspiration from Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and Seven Samurai. Toshiro Mifune’s ronin pits warring crime lords against each other in the first movie, and his stoic nature would be used for multiple characters, including Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name and Din Djarin from The Mandalorian.

Both films feature outnumbered groups of heroes battling against a much larger force, and both rely on cinematography to convey their epic scale.

6. The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes Back is a masterful sequel that brings more depth and emotion into the galaxy far, far away. It also features more interesting scenery and action scenes than A New Hope.

Some of the most important moments in the film include Luke Skywalker’s quest to train with a Jedi master named Yoda, Han and Leia’s smoldering romance and Darth Vader’s big reveal that he is Luke’s father.

The movie does contain some violence, including space blaster battles and a hand being severed by a lightsaber. It also contains some sex and language.

7. The Force Awakens

Akira Kurosawa was one of George Lucas’ biggest inspirations, and The Force Awakens features homages to his films like Seven Samurai. The episode “Duel” is a particular nod to the 1954 film, as it has our heroes outnumbered by a group of attackers.

The movie echoes Kurosawa themes about heroes fighting against corrupt rulers and oppressive social systems. It also shares elements with his other works, particularly Throne of Blood and Macbeth (via the character Washizu). It was rumored that Army of the Dead director Zack Snyder would do a Star Wars film that leans into Kurosawa’s classic Japanese influences, but the project is no longer in the works.

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