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It’s no secret that Japanese culture and cinema had a big influence on George Lucas and his Star Wars saga, and that the structure of the original Star Wars was based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 film, The Hidden Fortress. In fact, George Lucas was so much in love with Japanese cinema that he asked legendary Japanese actor Toshirō Mifune to play Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars. While Mifune turned down the iconic Jedi role, Lucas also wanted him to play Darth Vader.
Mifune’s daughter, Mika, was appearing on the world history quiz show Sekai Fushigi Hakken! when she revealed that her father was asked to play both the heroic Jedi and the Dark Lord of the Sith in Star Wars. Mifune ultimately turned down the Vader role because he thought Star Wars was going to be a children’s movie. Mika even says that Darth Vader’s helmet was designed with Toshirō Mifune in mind. If he did end up playing the villain role, Lucas would have supposedly made his face visible throughout the film. Could you imagine Darth Vader without the full helmet?
It’s hard to picture Darth Vader in anything less than his full, iconic costume, and voiced by James Earl Jones. It also raises lots of questions about how the Star Wars saga would have been different if Mifune had taken one of the roles. Would a blonde-haired and blue-eyed Luke Skywalker end up being the son of a Japanese Darth Vader? Or would Mark Hamill have missed out on the role that made him an indellible part of pop culture history?
The Japanese influence on Star Wars is still there even today. Word broke today that director Zack Snyder is working on a new standalone, non-trilogy Star Wars film that is said to be based on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. But with lightsabers, presumably. We already knew that Disney planned to make other spin-offs in the Star Wars universe other than the new trilogy, but I don’t think any of us expected to hear news about it this soon. Now we just have to figure out who’s going to direct Episode VII.