Anyone who is a serious Star Wars fan knows that George Lucas drew heavily on old Japanese Samurai movies, mainly Akira Kurosawa, when making his space opera. Even if you aren’t that into Star Wars, just from watching the movies you can see the samurai imagery screaming out at you. Just take one look at Darth Vader and his stormtroopers and you can see it. But it isn’t simply that Lucas drew his inspiration from those movies, the whole story behind it actually has a few more moving parts then that. A new video from the YouTube channel Film School’d has illustrated that connection with some pretty sweet white board art to boot!
As the video beautifully illustrates, this story starts 67 years before Star Wars was released, with the birth of Akira Kurosawa. An absolute giant of Japanese cinema, his humble beginnings were a huge influence on his style and direction. In his youth, his father took him to see many American movies along with Japanese movies. The movies being produced by these two countries shaped the way Kurosawa wanted to make his own movies, westerns from America and silent films from Japan.
Fast forward to the 1940s when Kurosawa entered the film business. He wasn’t able to make the movies he wanted then because of the war. He ended up making a few propaganda films. When the war ended, Japan was occupied by the US who created the Civil Censorship Detachment. This act didn’t allow for “anything that contained imperial propaganda“, and thus he still wasn’t allowed to make any samurai films.
Back in America, after the war ended, a lot of people stopped going to the movies. They were settling down in suburbia which didn’t have movie theaters. That was OK of course, because they would rather just stay at home and watch TV anyway.
Once America left Japan, Japanese film directors were finally able to make movies about whatever it was that they wanted to. This was Akira Kurosawa’s chance, and he didn’t waste it with his first effort of Rashomon. While not that popular with the studios and movie goers in Japan, it won awards at a prestigious film festival in Venice, and the whole world woke up to Japanese cinema. They watched as Japan came into its own Golden Age of cinema.
Now we come to George Lucas. His first dream was to become a race car driver, but after a near fatal accident, he gave up on it and went to film school. It was there that a friend of his introduced him to Kurosawa films, the first being Seven Samurai, and since Kurosawa was influenced by the old Westerns and silent films that Lucas was now discovering in film school, he fell in love with Kurosawa’s work.
The key point here is that Hollywood had changed how it was making movies. Gone were the apprenticing days of the past. Hollywood was looking for some new blood to infuse some life into the industry. People like Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and George Lucas. What these people had in common was that they were all film school educated, they were young and exactly what the youth of the day were looking for in movies. After some initial success from American Graffiti, Lucas was able to make the film he wanted, a sprawling space opera, or essentially samurai in space. He drew his inspiration from a lot of Kurosawa films, including, Seven Samurai, Hidden Fortress, and Yojimbo.
It’s pretty crazy how all these little pieces fit together to create one of the most successful film franchises of our lifetime. What if Kurosawa’s father didn’t take him to see American movies? If his Rashomon hadn’t been seen by one important person who recommended it for festival submission? If George Lucas wasn’t in an almost fatal car collision? All these helped give birth to such an influential piece of work. Star Wars‘ influence can still be seen today and we have Kurosawa’s influence on Lucas to thank for that. And thanks to all these great white board pictures, it’s easy to see how it all connects.