7. Lucas originally wanted Toshiro Mifune to play Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader
When George Lucas wrote Star Wars, he was heavily influenced by other popular films from the time and from his childhood.
As a matter of fact, before he even began working on the ideas that would later create a galaxy far far away, Lucas had wanted to remake the Flash Gordon films he loved so much as a kid. When he couldn’t secure the rights for Flash Gordon, he decided to make his own space epic instead. C-3P0 was based on the automatons of Metropolis. Luke coming across the charred remains of his Tatoonie homestead is a scene taken right out of John Ford’s The Searchers.
But no movie influenced Star Wars more than Akira Kurosawa’s samurai masterpiece, The Hidden Fortress. In the movie two peasants are captured and sent to a prison camp in which they discover a pile of gold during their escape. They meet up with a legendary retired samurai general and a princess who has lost her kingdom who join and help them bring the gold to the hidden fortress. The main protagonist’s in the Hidden Fortress are the two lowliest charterers, simple peasants who become R2-D2 and C-3P0 in Star Wars. Instead of gold, they must deliver secret Death Star plans to the Rebel’s hidden base that the Empire cannot frustratingly find.
The retired samurai general who ended up having a major influence on the development of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s character was played by the legendary Toshiro Mifune, the star of many of Kurosawa’s samurai epics. Lucas had Mifune in mind when writing the Star Wars script and went so far as to approach him about starring in the film as Obi-Wan Kenobi. According to Mifune’s daughter, Mifune turned down the offer as he saw the samurai influences in the script but was afraid of how they would appear onscreen. Lucas then offered Mifune the role of Darth Vader instead. Vader’s helmet clearly has samurai influences and had Mifune accepted the part the facemask would have been removed to see more of Vader’s face in the movie.
Again, Mifune turned down the offer forcing Lucas to go in a far more successful and iconic direction.
How different would the films have been if Toshiro Mifune played Obi-Wan or, shudder, even Darth Vader? Luke’s backstory would likely have been altered, the whole prequels could have taken a different turn, Vader probably wouldn’t have become the iconic villain he ended up being and the franchise as a whole may never have become culturally institutionalized without the big bad dark lord of the Sith we’ve all grown to love at center stage.
Did you know? There are tons of of influences of other films all throughout Star Wars. One of the more noteworthy is the famous scene of Han Solo shooting first in the Mos Eisley Cantina which was a direct homage to a similar scene starring Lee Van Cleef in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.