When examining the Star Wars films, most cinephiles will notice the numerous cultural references that inspired that galaxy far, far away. Some of which include the early radio space operas, Westerns, and classical mythology.
One of the key influences on young George Lucas was Japanese culture and film. Particularly, the films of Akira Kurosawa. They would serve as a hidden thread that would help build the early Star Wars saga.
Below, we will examine the Japanese influence on the Star Wars films and how in many cases Lucas was directly inspired by the films of Akira Kurosawa. First, we will examine the 1958 Kurosawa film The Hidden Fortress.
Connections to The Hidden Fortress
Many people are surprised to find the incredible similarities between the film The Hidden Fortress and A New Hope. In the former, two squabbling peasants are tasked with rescuing a princess.
R2-D2 and C-3PO are clearly inspired by the two characters with Princess Leia the princess that must be rescued. This is just one of the several similarities. The proof can be seen in the first treatment for Star Wars.
In the first script treatment, Lucas took so many parts of The Hidden Fortress, that he plagiarized a description of the film from a book called The Films of Akira Kurosawa by the late film historian and Japanese scholar Donald Richie.
The Japanese roots of Star Wars run deeper than one artist stealing/borrowing from another (as all artists do, through their influence on one another).
Parallels Between Samurai And Jedi
Most people will quickly notice the similarities between the Jedi Knights and the Samurai of ancient Japan. Both wear flowing robes, place an emphasis on sword-like weapons, and adhere to a code of conduct.
The Jedi are not the only characters influenced by Samurai history. In feudal Japan, masterless Samurai were known as Ronin. They were often contracted by gangs and others as merciless enforcers.
Boba Fett’s character functioned as a kind of space ronin. The co-writer of The Empire Strikes Back, Lawrence Kasdan referred to Boba Fett as the “bad samurai”.
The Master/Apprentice Dynamic (Senpai/Kohai)
In all walks of Japanese society, the role of senpai (master) and kohai (junior man) can be seen. The roles are not limited to men and hierarchies that follow this concept can be found in schools, business, clubs, and more.
This dynamic is shared with the concept of master and apprentice that permeates through the entire Star Wars sage. In the original trilogy, Ben Kenobi acted as Senpai to Luke’s Kohai.
Later, in A Phantom Menace, Lucas would devise the Rule of Two. the film would also take aspects of The Hidden Fortress that were originally discarded when developing A New Hope.
One such concept was the princess disguised as a pauper in which Queen Amadala would disguise herself as a royal handmaid named Padmé.
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