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It's Written in the Stars
By fellow Animefringer Ridwan Khan
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones has been released in the States, for the most part to the delight of the public and fanboys alike. The question you might be asking yourself is; what does this have to do with anime and Japan? The short answer is everything.
The influence of Japanese themes on Star Wars is enormous. George Lucas has mentioned on many occasions that he has been highly influenced by the seminal Japanese director Akira Kurosawa (who was influenced by American Westerns); indeed anyone who watches Kurosawa's Seven Samurai and Hidden Fortress can attest to the similarities in plot, camera technique, and shot placement. In an interview for the Criterion release of Hidden Fortress Lucas mentions that he borrowed the idea of telling Star Wars from the perspective of the "lowest characters" (in Star Wars C-3P0 and R2D2; in Hidden Fortress, the two peasants) from Kurosawa.
Historically, much of the groundwork for the Jedi in Star Wars are from Japanese samurai. The Jedi are an enlightened class, meant to preserve peace, as were the samurai, in theory. Like their historical forbearers, the Jedi belong to a strong brotherhood, an order of educated warriors, with training in both battle and education. And the distinctive light sabers are little more than Japanese katana in a sci-fi setting. The highly ritualized battles are little more than Japanese kendo. Darth Vader's helmet is based on samurai helmet. The look of Episode I's Darth Maul is based heavily on ancient Japanese myths and dramas, especially drama masks. The Queen of Naboo's ornate costumes are highly reminiscent of Japanese kimono, while her white face paint is "geisha wear." The force is little more (especially in the original trilogy) the martial arts concept of chi or ki (as any Dragon Ball Z fan can attest to). The period of war in Star Wars is very similar to Japan's Period of Warring Nation.
Star Wars was also heavily influenced by the Lensmen books, which in turn were made into anime - a strong sense of the sci-fi elements that influenced anime and Star Wars. The original Star Wars film, A New Hope made its first appearance at the same period as some early mech anime - Gundam and Macross. Though Space Battle Ship Yamamoto came out shortly before Star Wars the popularity of the film helped Leiji Matsumoto's space opera, and led to the creation of other series; Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999 among them.
In a reciprocal sense, Star Wars has had a major influence on contemporary Japanese media, especially anime. The fanboys who watched Star Wars in the 70s have grown up, and the anime they create harkens back to the boyhood ideals of heroes and villains of Star Wars. There have been many such series, including the space battles and politics of Gundam (which is often called the "Star Wars of Japan"). The Gundams were one of the first anime characters to use light sabers (the "beam swords"). Additionally, Mobile Suit Gundam's and Gundam Wing's use of a "chosen boy" recalls Luke Skywalker, while the epic space battles recall the important battles in Star Wars. Gundam also has a rich political backstory - the fighting between the Earth Federation and the Zeon which is similar to Star Wars's (at first only hinted at) story of the Clone Wars, the Old and New Republics, and the rise of the Empire.
Tenchi-Muyo! is another such series, which started out as an I Dream of Jeannie parody. In fact, Tenchi has another chosen boy fighting the mighty emperor (presented in the TV series), a theme that is heavily indebted to Star Wars. Check out Tenchi's light saber for a distinctive nod to the Lucas films. In video games, one can see the parallels - Final Fantasy VI has a very similar plot and a similar cast of characters - Celes, the "traitorous" princess, and Locke the noble rogue. The game (and most Final Fantasy games, in their original Japanese) features a duo of Biggs and Wedge; two pilots who flew the first Death Star trench run with Luke. In fact, Star Wars is so influential and popular in Japan that a manga of the original trilogy was created. Dark Horse commissioned the series and later asked Kia Asamiya to do an adaptation of The Phantom Menace.
Hopefully, what that means is, in ten or twenty years, we'll have a new crop of young anime writers and directors, influenced by this trilogy and itching to synthesize Lucas' ideas into something grand and new.