I Watched Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress To See How Close It Really Is To Star Wars - This Is What I Found

 The whole squad in The Hidden Fortress
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I'm pretty sure that most long-term Star Wars fans are at least aware that George Lucas was heavily influenced by the Akira Kurosawa movie, The Hidden Fortress, when he wrote Star Wars.

In fact, when I watched The Hidden Fortress, which we included on our list of the best samurai movies, they even had a brief special with Lucas discussing his feelings on Kurosawa, specifically when it came to The Hidden Fortress.

And, after watching the movie for myself, I can honestly say that…it's not like Star Wars. Well, I mean, it both is, and it isn't. In fact, I had to really squint to come up with ways in which it was like Star Wars. But, once I did…Well, this is what I uncovered.

Two beggars in The Hidden Fortress
Two beggars in The Hidden Fortress

The Hidden Fortress Is Mostly Told From The Perspective Of Two Lowly Characters, Just Like The Two Droids In Star Wars: A New Hope

When I ranked all six of the movies that George Lucas directed, I didn't think that anybody would contest me on putting Star Wars: A New Hope in the number one spot. That's because it just has it all. There are likable characters in Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewie, and Luke Skywalker, a killer antagonist in Darth Vader, and it’s the perfect blend of both samurai film and western. All set in outer space.

Besides a few silly moments and blatant mistakes, the movie as a whole feels all but perfect. So much so that one of its biggest characteristics went right over my head, which is the fact that the story is mostly seen from the lowliest of characters in the droids, those being R2D2, and C3PO.

Yes, A New Hope is Luke's story (which is counterbalanced perfectly in the much later, The Last Jedi), but we see it more from the droids’ perspectives, who are almost always present, instead of directly from Luke. The same could be said of The Hidden Fortress, where the two main characters are not the nobility, but rather, two beggars who go by the names of Matashichi (played by Kamatari Fujiwara) and Tahei (Minoru Chiaki).   

Their quest is one of pure greed, as they will do anything for gold…which even includes leading a princess through hostile territory, which I'll get to later.

As a Star Wars fan who personally dislikes the Jedi (I'm more of a Rogue One and Andor kind of fan) I actually now like thinking of the original movie through this lens, as it’s not just a story about space wizards, but also an on-the-ground story told from the most overlooked characters. Like Star Wars, The Hidden Fortress pulls that off perfectly. It's actually pretty cool that Lucas was inspired by that element of Kurosawa’s film.

A princess in The Hidden Fortress
A princess in The Hidden Fortress

There Are A Lot Of Wipes To Transition Scenes In The Hidden Fortress

Another thing that I actually noticed instantly when I watched The Hidden Fortress is that Kurosawa employed wipes to move his story along. And, one thing that any Star Wars fan notices is the wipe transition, as Lucas used it a lot.

Kurosawa certainly wasn't the first director to use this transitioning technique, but it's definitely present in his movie, and by extension, it’s also in Star Wars. You honestly can't miss it.

Princess Yuki in The Hidden Fortress
Princess Yuki in The Hidden Fortress

A Princess Trying To Get Across Enemy Lines Is A Pivotal Part Of The Plot

"Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope." With these words, we were introduced to Princess Leia, who besides commonalities with Raiders of the Lost Arc's Marion, also had something in common with The Hidden Fortress's Misa Uehara, as she also played a Princess. Princess Yuki to be more specific.

While Princess Leia could definitely handle her own and was certainly more of a badass than The Hidden Fortress's Princess Yuki, she is no slouch, either, as she gets what she wants, and is not ashamed to make demands. She's certainly not demure.

She also has to be escorted to safety, much like Leia. In a lot of ways, Yuki was the character who really cemented The Hidden Fortress/Star Wars connection for me, but she wouldn't be the last.

Toshiro Mifune in The Hidden Fortress
Toshiro Mifune in The Hidden Fortress

There's A Badass Warrior Character, Not Too Unlike Obi-Wan Who Accompanies Our Heroes On Their Voyage

Another character who definitely made me think of Star Wars was Princess Yuki's escort, General Makabe Rokurota, played by frequent Kurosawa contributor, Toshiro Mifune. A lot of people will tell you that Star Wars is part samurai film, and part western, and those two influences are definitely pronounced, especially in A New Hope.

But, while we don't have a Han Solo type character in The Hidden Fortress, we definitely have an Obi-Wan Kenobi character in General Rokurota, who is an expert samurai that people respect and even fear.

In fact, the general is a lot more intense than Obi-Wan in A New Hope, as he isn't as world-weary as Alec Guinness' portrayal of the character. But, if you're looking for a skilled knight who wields a mean lightsaber, er, I mean sword, then you've got him in Rokurota.

A sick beggar in The Hidden Fortress
A sick beggar in The Hidden Fortress

There Are Many Comedic Elements That Add Levity To The Adventure

Lastly, one thing that has always separated Star Wars and Star Trek for me is the humor. It's not that Star Trek isn't humorous, as it definitely can be. But, Star Wars has always seemed like it was more for children, and thus, the humor has always been a lot broader and sillier.

You'll have C-3PO tottering around in the middle of laser fights, cute little Jawas going, "Utini!" in exasperation, and Han Solo cracking wise in the face of danger.

All this is to say that the element of humor is also deeply felt in The Hidden Fortress, mostly through the two lead characters of Matashichi and Tahei. It's not subtle humor, either, as the comedy is as broad as possible, and very silly, which all feels very Star Wars: A New Hope.

So, those are all the ways that I could connect The Hidden Fortress with Star Wars, but what do you think? Have you ever seen The Hidden Fortress? For more news on all things Star Wars, make sure to swing around here often.