Darth Vader was based on Japanese samurai.

  • Samurai Date Masamune
Samurai Date Masamune
Photo credit: Patchiya Wasitworapol/ Shutterstock

George Lucas drew a great deal of inspiration from Japanese culture when creating the Star Wars films, which is perhaps most apparent in the character of Darth Vader. The most feared man in a galaxy far, far away was based on the samurai, the skilled and disciplined warriors of Japan’s feudal era (roughly the 12th century to 19th century). One look at the samurai’s awe-inspiring black armor is enough to make the connection clear, though the similarities go beyond the surface. Lucas was greatly influenced by Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, transposing several aspects of the 1958 samurai drama onto his 1977 space opera; everything from the Imperial crest to the fact that a princess leads a rebellion can be traced back to Kurosawa’s film. “The one thing that really struck me about The Hidden Fortress,” Lucas acknowledged in 2001, “was the fact that the story was told from the [perspective of] the two lowest characters. I decided that would be a nice way to tell the Star Wars story… which in the Star Wars case is the two droids.”

Over the years, many have speculated that Darth Vader was even based on a specific samurai warrior, the famed Date Masamune, a feudal warlord born in 1567 and known as the “One-Eyed Dragon.” Masamune lost an eye, grew up in a time of political instability, and was disliked by his mother before becoming a ruthless leader who struck fear in the hearts of his enemies and underlings alike — all of which parallel the story of a certain Sith lord born Anakin Skywalker. 

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