Due to a certain CGI Child, I probably don’t have to introduce you to The Mandalorian or explain what it’s about. I’ve read articles about how the show is a return to themes that Star Wars has always fundamentally been about, and that it’s more in keeping with the original trilogy than literally anything we’ve seen since, and how it’s pulled off the space Western idea, perhaps in a way that we haven’t seen since Firefly. But what I don’t see mentioned is the fact that The Mandalorian is really — especially in the fourth episode — getting back to Akira Kurosawa.
Buckle up, this is going to take a minute.
Unless you’re a film student, you probably are unaware that the original Star Wars — later referred to as Episode IV A New Hope — was based loosely on Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. The basic story is that two mercenaries escort a woman and man — ultimately revealed to be a princess and a general — across enemy territory… Sound familiar? In my book, Kurosawa is a genius and even though I knew nothing of him when I first saw Star Wars when I was a kid, I can see his influences all over Hollywood of the past and the present. That’s great and all but how does this connect to The Mandalorian?
This is where things get interesting.
Some of Kurosawa’s greatest works were inspired, not by history — at least not Japanese history — but by Western films. By Western films, I mean cowboys and Indians, not just films produced by Western cultures. Yojimbo and The Seven Samurai were both inspired by the Old West and how we saw it in films like John Ford’s Stagecoach starring John Wayne. Kurosawa was very fascinated with the juxtaposition of Old West with Old East (with samurai and their masterless cousins, ronin) that he almost had to make his own films with this concept. And he was very successful with them. So much so, that — in a fit of irony that’s so comical it had to come from Hollywood — Hollywood copied his works. Seven Samurai became The Magnificent Seven, and Yojimbo became the series of Clint Eastwood films including The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.
By now, if you’ve seen these films, and see where I’m going, you should understand that The Mandalorian isn’t taking Star Wars to the Old West, as some assert, but taking it back to the Old West by way of the Old East. With the original Star Wars being based on The Hidden Fortress, and The Mandalorian clearly drawing on both Yojimbo and, especially in episode 4, Seven Samurai, all that’s missing from Jon Favreau is a special thanks shout out to Akira Kurosawa.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to suggest that Favreau is ripping off anyone. He’s done an amazing job of recreating the feel of the original trilogy, referencing a lot of deep lore, and painstakingly created something everyone can love. But it’s important when talking about returning to traditional Star Wars themes that you take it all the way, and not just half ass it by saying that Star Wars has been taken to the Old West. It was already there, Star Wars simply went full circle back to where it began.