Droids and Peasants: Akira Kurosawa’s Thematic Influence on the Star Wars Saga

Conference: The Kyoto Conference on Arts, Media & Culture (KAMC2021)
Title: Droids and Peasants: Akira Kurosawa’s Thematic Influence on the Star Wars Saga
Stream: Film Studies
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation
Brett Davies, Meiji University, Japan


Following the international success of Rashomon (1950) and Seven Samurai (1954), Akira Kurosawa’s films came to exemplify Japanese cinema to western cinemagoers and had 'a significant influence on many international auteurs and genres' (Russell 2011). Most famously, George Lucas admits to basing the storyline for the original Star Wars (1977) upon The Hidden Fortress (1958), with its swordfights, rescued princess, and warriors’ code of honour. Lucas mimicked Kurosawa’s visual style, too, in pointing the camera at the sun, employing 'wipes' between scenes, and even dressing Darth Vader in a kabuto-style helmet. While these superficial similarities have been well-documented, Kurosawa’s enduring influence over the major themes in the entire 11-film Star Wars saga has been discussed far less. Donald Ritchie wrote that, above all else, Kurosawa’s films 'are about character revelation' (1965), and this thematic core is prevalent throughout the series, from Darth Vader’s famous declaration to Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back (1980) to Kylo Ren’s emotional transition in The Rise of Skywalker (2019). Additionally, due to the contribution of screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (who calls Kurosawa 'the Shakespeare of movies'), the franchise echoes Kurosawa’s predilection for showing flawed characters hiding secret pasts. This paper will discuss some of the ways that Akira Kurosawa’s work has influenced Star Wars – in terms of narrative, themes, and visual style – and will argue that, through the enduring popularity of the saga, Kurosawa’s work continues to impact upon popular cinema, a quarter of a century after his final film.

Virtual Presentation

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Irina Stanova
Thank you so much for the amazing and eye-opening presentation! It was incredible to learn to what a great degree the Star Wars movies were influenced by Kurosawa, from the point of view of visuals, plot details, themes. It was fantastic to have the juxtaposition of shots from various movies and to clearly see the parallels.
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