It is definitely impossible that anyone has ever seen or heard of Star Wars, because this is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) franchise in the history of cinema, and it was or is still part of the lives of many fans of the saga. But did you know that you can find many references to Japan or Japanese culture in Star Wars?
In fact, Star Wars makes reference to various peoples and cultures around the world, in addition to different times, but the most evident are those that mention Japanese culture. One of the main ones is the characteristic helmet of Darth Vader, created according to the original features of the kabuto, helmet used by the samurai.
This is one of the most notable examples of elements of the saga inspired by Japanese culture. There are still several other characters, names and clothes from the franchise linked to Japan, and in this article we will present you the main references to Japan contained in Star Wars.
We also recommend reading our article on Star Wars phrases in Japanese.
Darth Vader and the samurai
Let's start with the most famous character of the saga, which is full of references to samurai, Darth Vader. When creating the look of the character, director George Lucas and art director Ralph McQuarrie had a conversation about what the villain would look like.
Inspired by Japanese samurai, they decided that in addition to the aforementioned helmet, he would also wear a mask inspired by a kind of metal mask called menpo. These metal masks could only be worn by Japan's most respected warriors, and were shaped in the image of demons, ferocious beasts, and ghosts.
In addition, he also uses a type of cloak, similar to those used by samurai to deceive enemies during combat, making it impossible for the opponent to be able to see the movement of his samurai's legs, making it difficult to predict attacks.
the martial arts
Now talking about the martial arts used in the film, we again observe the presence of the samurai, even because the jedis are quite similar to the samurai in several aspects, such as, for example, total obedience to their master and the almost religious connection they had with the weapon used in battles. But, in addition, we can note that the martial art used by the jedis is the same as the samurai used.
We are talking about the technique of kendo, the martial art used in Star Wars and by the samurai. This martial art reached its zenith in Japan between the Kamakura and Muromachi and was used by samurai for spiritual and mental improvement, which was very important for the formation of the warrior's character. Very important traits for a jedi.
Anyone who practices kendo can reproduce the movements of the characters in the film. One similarity, for example, is the fact that Lord Vader launches many of his blows from a position called hasso (a position where the sword is positioned close to the head). Other moves are also used by Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan, Luke and Qui-Gon Jinn such as chudan, jodan, gedan and waki. Even the way the saber is held is similar to the description of the Japanese martial art.
Japan's influence on The Phantom Menace greatly affected the look of the characters, especially that of Queen Amidala (played by Natalie Portman) - who would later become Anakin's wife and mother of Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker.
Choosing your attire – a gray kimono – it was no accident, as the costume helps a lot to make the meeting between Queen Amidala and Senator Palpatine (who was played by Ian McDiarmid) a very special ceremony. With the help of this outfit, Queen Amidala gives an image of a sovereign queen.
The head of the makeup team for this film, Paul Engelen, commented on the look of the character: “We combined many influences to compose the look of the queen. The oriental look prevails: the white base, the red mouth, the elaborate hairstyle” reminiscent of a Geisha.
The last character on our list promises to leave a legion of fans around the world, of course Darth Maul (Ray Park) could not be missing. This character is already a success, even before the debut in Japan, it was easy to find t-shirts, dolls and various things related to him.
But the secret of all this success is much more in the look than in the villain's attitude. The incredible black and red “tattoo”, along with the various horns that surround his head, help a lot to make Maul look like the devil himself. And in Japan, the devil has the face of oni masks.
Oni masks had their origin in an ancient Japanese legend that said that people who died without proper funeral ritual became a demon.
This word also served to entitle people who were not practitioners of Buddhism or who committed the sin of gluttony. Whoever did this fell immediately into the hell of hunger, and became a gaki, that is, a oni of hunger.