Many pieces of media influenced the creation of Star Wars. The Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers movies inspired the science fiction elements of the franchise, and George Lucas read the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Joseph Campbell. Mythological stories like Beowulf and King Arthur helped lay much of the groundwork. There was also the backdrop of the political climate of the war in Vietnam and Richard Nixon’s presidential term, which structured the politics of the films.
One filmmaker, though, truly shaped George Lucas’ vision for Star Wars. That was the work of Japanese creator Akira Kurosawa. The legendary filmmaker helped form Star Wars through his works, like The Hidden Fortress and Yojimbo. Above all else, it was Seven Samurai that would not only inspire Star Wars, but it was the film that would shape media as it is known today.
George Lucas's introduction to Seven Samurai
Sitting down in 2005 in an interview with The Telegraph, George Lucas told writer Marc Lee:
“I first saw [Seven Samurai] when I was in film school, and I hadn’t been exposed to Japanese cinema before. I come from Modesto, and we didn’t have foreign films there – we had to go up to San Francisco for them, and even then, it was very hard in those days to see any foreign films. Now we have DVD, we have film societies, we have all kinds of ways of seeing films that just weren’t possible in those days.
But then there was a day when it was being shown in the cinema department, and I went and saw it, and it basically changed my life. I mean, it’s a brilliant, brilliant film, and every time I see it, I can’t believe the magic mixture of a great story and great acting and humor and action and suspense – wonderful cinema. The art of moving pictures is on every frame of this movie.”
Considered one of the most influential films of all time, Seven Samurai tells the story of a village under attack from a group of raiders. Afraid to lose everything, they hire seven Ronin (samurai without masters) from different pasts to protect them.
On the surface, it seems like such a simple premise by today’s standards. Many films and television shows have followed this formula because Seven Samurai is the film that started it all.
How Seven Samurai Changed Cinema Forever
It has been dubbed the “Seven Samurai formula,” as the film is credited with creating the “assembling a team of people from different backgrounds” storytelling style. It’s the idea that various people put aside their differences to band together and fight a bigger foe. Their different backgrounds make them unique to take on this task as a group. This formula is now considered a vital part of heist and action films. Outside of Star Wars, other films that have taken this format are The Magnificent Seven, The Avengers, The A-Team, and The Walking Dead.
Western and Samurai films have long had a heavy influence on each other, both rising in popularity roughly around the same time. Akira Kurosawa credited a lot of his inspiration to the work of film director John Ford who created movies like The Grapes of Wrath, Stagecoach, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. In turn, Kurosawa’s films would inspire Western films like The Magnificent Seven, a remake of Seven Samurai. Together, Samurai and Western films would impact George Lucas’ work. Characters like Han Solo were the rogue cowboy archetype of the space opera.
Seven Samurai's Mark on the Star Wars Films
The Jedi, though, would have the most influence from films like Seven Samurai. Their robes and lightsabers are a nod to Japanese culture and the samurai that would wield the blades. Luke Skywalker in A New Hope became like the Ronin of Seven Samurai in a way. He goes from having a wise leader in Obi-Wan Kenobi only to losing him and becoming masterless, needing to find his path. In fact, Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune, who acted in many of Akira Kurosawa’s films, including Seven Samurai, was originally considered for the role of Obi-Wan before Alec Guinness.
Even filming techniques commonly used today are often attributed back to Seven Samurai and Kurosawa’s work. One film editing technique called ‘cutting on action’ is where an editor cuts from one shot to another to match the first shot’s action. The two actions are filmed at different times, but on screen, it appears to be the same continuous scene to the viewer. Big blockbusters like Marvel and, of course, Star Wars use this type of filmmaking.
Another example attributed to Kurosawa is a simple one: rain. Using rain to set the tone of an action scene is considered commonplace nowadays. An example of this in Star Wars is Genndy Tartakovsky’s Star Wars: Clone Wars micro-series. It begins to rain as Asajj Ventress and Anakin Skywalker prepare to duel, the drops sizzling into steam upon their lightsabers. Other films have used the rain to set their tone before major battles, like Blade Runner and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
Star Wars often pays homage to its Seven Samurai roots. Outside of the Original Trilogy, especially A New Hope, being created from the ideas of Kurosawa, both Rogue One and Solo take elements from the legendary filmmaker’s works. The season two episode of The Clone Wars, “Bounty Hunters,” is dedicated to Akira Kurosawa and follows the same plot as Seven Samurai as our Jedi heroes team up with a group of bounty hunters to protect a village from pirates. The Mandalorian, which leans heavily into Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s Lone Wolf and Cub series, still takes many elements from the Westerns that Seven Samurai inspired. Like The Clone Wars episode previously mentioned, The Mandalorian “Chapter 4: Sanctuary” is another homage to the film.
Everything came full circle when Star Wars finally ventured into anime with Star Wars Visions, an anthropology series where Japanese creators told their version of Star Wars. In many of the behind-the-scenes featurettes, the directors, writers, and producers of Star Wars Visions talked about Akira Kurosawa’s work along with Seven Samurai and how it mixes with the world George Lucas built. Several shorts, such as “The Duel” and “The Elder,” were inspired by Seven Samurai.
Lucas spoke of Kurosawa’s work to The Telegraph, saying: “That’s just the nature of the art. People feed on each other’s ideas, and it moves them up the ladder. They knew a good story when they saw one.”
It has become true for Lucas as well. Thanks to the world he built inspired by Seven Samurai, he too has influenced the next generation of creators just as Kurosawa did for him.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Hope Mullinax is a freelance writer with over ten years of experience working for various publications. She’s the Site Expert at Dork Side of the Force, a Freelance News Writer for Collider, and the Animation Staff Writer at The Geeky Waffle. When she’s not writing, she loves on her cats, collects Pokémon cards, and rolls dice on For Light and Dice, a Star Wars TTRPG podcast.