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It's a well known fact that Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress" was a major influence on "Star Wars".

But what exactly ARE the connections between the two movies?

Please note that I'm asking specifically about connections to "Star Wars" "Episode IV - A New Hope", and NOT to some "Hidden Fortress"-like original screenplay that Lucas had which didn't even have Luke Skywalker in it.

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The main connection usually cited (I think originating with Lucas himself) is between the "lowly character" helpers, C-3PO and R2D2 in SW and the two peasants in "THF".

It is very interesting that you limited your question to comparing the movie and not the original screenplay; since the connection isn't nearly as clear in the movie compared to the screenplay if you consider the details. This is true of many connections between the 2 movies, by the way.

For example, THF peasants are fairly unpleasant characters, wanting to steal the gold and betraying the general, and overall not very helpful (I think the main reason the general keeps them around is to carry gold). On the other hand, the two droids, while also cast as comic relief helpers, actually ARE on the side of "good guys", and are definitely more helpful (especially R2D2).


Another obvious connection is the Princesses. But again, it's not as "obvious" as that - THF's Princess is in disguise of a mute. Princess Leia is a somewhat annoying loudmouth who's trying to avoid the enemies but is in not in disguise - and starts the movie off as a captive in the first place. She's also a capable fighter.

A separate but close connection is the treasure (THF's gold for restoring the clan's fortunes vs. Death Star plans to prevent the destruction of the Rebellion).

Interestingly enough, a closer parallel to THF would be Queen Amidala from The Phantom Menace - she DOES travel in disguise and has a lookalike like THF's Princess.


A third connection that is usually made is also interestingly weak - Obi-Wan Kenobi is supposed to be the equivalent to the General's character from THF.

BUT... he gets killed off early in the movie and pretty much doesn't do much to protect the Princess except disabling the tractor beam and then distracting the Imperial stormtroopers with his Vader duel.

Again, curiously enough, The Phantom Menace provides a better parallel (Qui-Gon, accompanying and protecting Queen Amidala in disguise).

  • In the interests of full disclosure, some of the points made re: weakness of connections aren't originally mine - they are from an email forwarded by a friend a while back. The idea struck me as great and I thought of more points to add later, so Alice's question was a good excuse to post them, not having a blog of my own :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 28 '11 at 5:35
  • Great points! Gonna have to go back and watch Hidden Fortress again. – Rodger Cooley Feb 28 '11 at 13:16
  • I've seen both movies and I agree, you'd never conclude Hidden Fortress has anything to do with Star Wars unless you're already looking really, really hard. They both share tropes of heroic epics. – Schwern Nov 5 '15 at 19:00
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There is a scene at a border crossing where the General is convincing the guards to let him, the princess and the gold through. You'll look at that scene and think "omg, these are not the droids we are looking for!"

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Also, the spear fight between Rokurota and Tadokoro is a clear parallel to the Death Star lightsaber duel between Obi-Wan and Vader.

As already mentioned, the two peasants parallel R2 and 3PO. They even get separated by going off in different directions, and are reunited in an "R2D2, it is you!" scene when both are captured by the same group.

The phrase "hidden fortress" is even what Motti is in the process of saying when Vader cuts him off by choking him.

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Note: It's been a long time since I've seen The Hidden Fortress, but at the time I felt I wouldn't have recognized any similarity unless someone pointed it out. Star Wars certainly isn't a rip off of THF as others have claimed. Much of the similarities are part of any heroic fantasy epic.

Kurosawa himself was heavily influenced by John Ford. John Ford popularized many of the tropes we now associate with Westerns: sweeping vistas, riders on the ridge, lone riders, the reluctant scoundrel hero, etc... these also show up in Star Wars. Lucas would have also watched a lot of John Ford westerns making the whole question of influence circular.


That said, George Lucas was very influenced by Kurosawa and somewhat by THF. There's an interview of George Lucas talking about Kurosawa that I'd recommend you watch. He mentions at 0:53 that...

...my favorite of all time is really Seven Samurai. Then maybe Yojimo. And then Ikiru and maybe Hidden Fortress at that. So it's not at the top of my list but I was impressed and I liked it.

He borrows a lot of visual techniques from Kurosawa, here is a good video showing some of the more obvious ones. In particular, the opening of A New Hope is influenced by the opening of The Hidden Fortress.

He used a lot of camera techniques to get to the point. In the beginning of The Hidden Fortress, the first shot for example, the two peasants are panicked about something and you can't really see what it is. And the shot remains there as the horsemen sweep through it. And then you realize what's going on, and then they go away, and you're still sort of in the same frame.

2:23

Similarly, the opening of A New Hope is a static shot of a planet with the Rebel and Imperial ships entering the frame in combat. The long crawl of the Star Destroyer is very reminiscent of the stream of horsemen riding past the terrified peasants to demonstrate overwhelming power.

Music, framing and visuals tell the story. That is probably the most powerful influence from Kurosawa. If you watch a bad movie (not "so bad it's good") it will feature a lot of people talking about what's happening rather than showing you. It's cheap and it's lazy and it pads the movie out to 90 minutes. Kurosawa films are visual storytelling with the occasional important conversation to advance the plot. The first three Star Wars movies also work this way, there's very few scenes of just talking and they're short and to the point. George forgets that in the prequels and goes back to people walking and talking.

The only other key technique shared is the heavy use of wipes for scene transitions. This is now very rarely seen in US cinema and is a strong influence from Kurosawa.


As for plot and character elements...

Lucas recognizes that the strongest connection between the two movies is telling the story from the point of view of the two lowliest characters, the two peasants and the droids. 3:40 There's not a whole lot more connection between the characters than that. A pair of comic relief side kicks is a common trope, consider Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Hamlet.

George says the princess trying to get through enemy lines is a coincidence and I agree. 4:07 Princess Leia derives her power and authority from herself; she gets them out of the prison bay, she flies the Falcon, she brings them back to the Rebel base. I don't think she ever refers to her royal position. The Princess in The Hidden Fortress acts more like royalty expecting others to follow her orders because she is the princess.

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