The Cinema Behind Star Wars: Seven Samurai

Bryan Young | June 24, 2013

We’ve talked in the past the influence of Akira Kurosawa’s films on Star Wars, but I think the one that’s had the most consistent influence has been Seven Samurai. Seven Samurai, released in 1954, tells the story of a group of peasant rice farmers terrorized by bandits. When the bandits come too early in the season, they inform the impoverished farmers of their plans to return soon to loot their food. Instead of yielding, as they had every time in the past, they decide to hire samurai to protect them and find a misfit band of masterless samurai to defend them.

Part of Seven Samurai’s charm is that it tells every kind of story inside its lean 207 minutes. There’s the human drama on the surface, and the action and adventure, it’s equally tragic and funny, there’s a love story as well as a coming of age story. Everything is represented, so it’s easy to take inspiration from it in bits and pieces, but spirit of the story is just as easy to adapt.

As for A New Hope, it’s easy to see that Luke Skywalker’s clumsy and naive interest in Princess Leia could have been inspired by a similar story in Seven Samurai, where the young samurai in training falls in love with one of the peasants. In the prequels, my favorite homage is a single shot of Yoda in Revenge of the Sith. In Seven Samurai, the venerable samurai master, Kambei Shimada (played by the brilliant Takashi Shimura), had to shave his head in order to disguise himself as a monk. For the rest of the film, any time he’s deep in thought he’s caught running a hand thoughtfully over his head, a move mimicked by Yoda on the gunship on his way to the ship that would take him to Kashyyyk, the Wookiee homeworld. And pay close attention to the darker themes on the soundtrack of Seven Samurai, they’re hauntingly similar to the soundtrack pieces revolving around Palpatine in his throne room in Return of the Jedi.

Many of the filmmaking techniques from Seven Samurai find themselves on display in the Star Wars movies as well. Seven Samurai makes heavy use of the wipes and transitions that have long been associated with every scene-change in the entire Star Wars saga. And, as the first film to have the bad guys crest over the horizon in a movie, Seven Samurai almost certainly influenced the shot of the Trade Federation’s Armored Attack Tanks coming over the ridge to attack the Gungan army assembled on Naboo.

starwars7

But the first, most direct Seven Samurai influence in the Star Wars universe was also one of the first Expanded Universe stories ever told: starting in Marvel Comics’ Star Wars #7, the first issue after the initial movie adaptation, Han Solo leaves the Rebellion to pay Jabba the Hutt, has his money stolen by a pirate, and finds himself stranded on Aduba-3, a planet decidedly similar to Tatooine. There, he’s approached by a group of peasants to kill a horde of sky-hopping bandits eager to steal everything they have. Han assembles a group of rogues (including the fan favorite giant green rabbit, Jaxxon, and a crazy old man who thinks he’s a Jedi named Don-Wan Kihotay), and they defend the village just like the Seven Samurai.

But that wasn’t the last time Seven Samurai would be adapted into the Star Wars universe. The most recent example might be the second-season episode of The Clone Wars called “The Bounty Hunters.”

This episode sees Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka crashing on a planet and landing in a village under the protection of three bounty hunters hired to fight off Hondo Ohnaka, who has threatened to steal their valuable crops.

In this version of the story, it’s Ahsoka who takes on the part of Katsuhiro, the young samurai in training, too young to count, but vital to the mission. The master swordsman character, represented by Kyuzou in Seven Samurai, is played here by Embo, a rice paddy hat-capped bounty hunter voiced by Dave Filoni himself.

17

One of my favorite sub-plots in Seven Samurai revolves around three rifles held by the attacking bandits. The rifles are deadly and a technology the samurai can’t compete with. In “The Bounty Hunters,” Hondo’s tanks serve the same purpose, and that resolution is every bit as satisfying.

Seven Samurai has seeped into all corners of the Star Wars universe, and with a movie that good, I’m glad it doesn’t seem as though there’s going to be an end in sight.

Seven Samurai is appropriate for just about anybody able to read, since the only way to watch it is with subtitles. It’s a fantastic film, and is, in fact, my favorite film that isn’t Star Wars or Indiana Jones. I took my ten-year-old son to see it at our local movie theater and he claimed to love every minute of it, but was grateful for the intermission.

Bryan Young is an author, a filmmakerjournalist, and the editor in chief of BigShinyRobot.com! He’s also the co-host of the Star Warspodcast, Full of Sith.

You can also follow him on twitter.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Share This: