George Lucas is still regarded as one of the most prominent members of the Movie Brats, a group of iconic filmmakers whose passion for cinema helped define the New Hollywood movement in the 1970s. For Lucas, this love for the medium translated into projects of various kinds – ranging from the intimate vision of American Graffiti to the epic scale of Star Wars.
Even during his student years at USC, Lucas developed a reputation for having interesting cinematic sensibilities due to his enigmatic projects such as the short film THX-1138: 4EB (Electronic Labyrinth). Thanks to his friend and classmate John Milius, Lucas was also introduced to the works of Akira Kurosawa which inspired him more than any other.
Although Lucas had been exposed to some foreign films by the French New Wave masters and Federico Fellini, it was his encounter with Kurosawa’s cinema that marked the proper start of his journey into the world of foreign films. Milius was completely obsessed with Kurosawa’s genius and he asked Lucas to attend a screening of Seven Samurai.
Often referred to as Kurosawa’s magnum opus, Seven Samurai is a masterful work which tackles various issues such as the destabilising sociopolitical framework due to the march of modernity and widespread moral corruption through an allegorical tale about seven ronin who enter a deadly battle against unscrupulous bandits.
In an interview, Lucas recalled his emotional experience when he first saw it: “I had never seen anything that powerful or cinematographic. The emotions were so strong that it didn’t matter that I did not understand the culture or the traditions. From that moment on, Kurosawa’s films have served as one of my strongest sources of creative inspiration.”
Lucas later claimed that Seven Samurai will always remain his favourite Kurosawa film even though he also enjoys other projects such as Yojimbo, Ikiru and Hidden Fortress. More than any other Kurosawa work, it was Hidden Fortress that inspired Star Wars in multiple ways but Lucas considers it to be “lesser Kurosawa”.
The director revealed: “Hidden Fortress…did influence me in doing Star Wars because I was beginning to write the screenplay and put it together. I remembered Hidden Fortress and the one thing that really struck me about Hidden Fortress…was the fact that the story was told from the [perspective of the] two lowest characters.”
Just like Hidden Fortress, Lucas also framed Star Wars through the perspective of R2-D2 and C-3PO but he said that the narrative of a princess trying to make it past enemy lines was more of a coincidence than a reference to Hidden Fortress. The indispensable nature of Star Wars’ presence in popular culture is one of the many ways in which Kurosawa’s legacy is kept alive.