Westerns and Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films are hardwired in the DNA of Star Wars. Those influences transmit across mediums, from the Original Trilogy to the subsequent Prequel and Sequel trilogies, comic, novels, animation, and now to live-action television.
The upcoming Disney+ Star Wars live-action spinoff show, Jon Favreau’s The Mandalorian, is no exception to those influences. The show focuses on an armored bounty hunter, the titular Mandalorian played by Pedro Pascal, wandering galactic wastelands full of unscrupulous characters to make ends meet. While fans wait to see their masked Mandalorian in action on Disney+ tomorrow, here are some films that influenced the style of the TV show and other similar corners of the Star Wars universe.
Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy
Pascal cites Clint Eastwood’s The Man With No Name, a cowboy loner and the star of direcor Sergio Leone’s 1966 Fistful of Dollars as an influence on his performance. While Pascal’s face may be concealed beneath the helmet, his Eastwood inspirations are evident in the inflection and (literal) steely disposition. He walks straight into in high-risk standoffs, even when outnumbered four-to-one, with un-cracking stoicism.
The Western genre long existed before Leone changed the game, but Fistful of Dollars shattered the Western romantic portrait by painting a grimier vision of the American Old West, and thus the Spaghetti Western was catapulted into popularity. Whereas heroism was more defined and clear cut in previous Westerns, Leone spun a West of moral ambiguities and crass cowboys. The Dollars Trilogy is famous for owning many spaghetti western staples that would be replicated and parodied endlessly: long shots of isolated dusty vistas, close-ups on eyes to amplify the hard-stare intensity of a showdown, the natural sound of jangling boot spurs, and the sweltering scores of Ennio Morricone. So check out Leone’s trilogy: A Fistful of Dollars, A Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa reportedly wrote to Leone, “A Fistful of Dollars is a very fine film, but it’s my film,” which brings us to…
Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo
You know who inspired Eastwood’s – and Pascal’s – lone gunman performance? None other than a masterless samurai played by Toshiro Mifune (fun fact: George Lucas offered Mifune the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader) in this 1961 Kurosawa classic Yojimbo. Even beneath the helmet, when Pascal utters “I like those odds” when outnumbered by gunman, it’s easy to picture him with Eastwood stoicism as it is easy to imagine him smirking like Mifune. Like the Mandalorian, Mifune’s ronin, who calls himself Sanjuro, shares the former’s amorality and taciturn tendencies.
In the waning years of the Edo period, Sanjuro wanders into a little village and plays both sides of feuding gangs for profit and amusement. Watch how he just sits aside and smirks as each side cowardly attempts to confront the other. Like any other Kurosawa work, Yojimbo is strikingly visual with Kurosawa’s mastery of blocking and composition. Observe how Mifune stands in the windy dust and how he approaches his numerous opponents in the final showdown. Through all the sword-slashing, there’s black comedic gold, such as when Sanjuro berates a young man for seeking thrills in gangs, “Children shouldn’t play with swords. Go home to your mother and live a long life eating gruel.”
Other Kurosawa classics, like Hidden Fortress, Seven Samurai, and Rashomon, factored into the Star Wars movies. One of the biggest Kurosawa influences on The Mandalorian can be pegged on Yojimbo. Fistful of Dollars was such a beat-by-beat cowboy remake of Yojimbo that production company Toho filed a lawsuit.
George Miller’s Mad Max Series
On the galaxy’s seedy corners, Favreau has said, “That has fascinated me since I was a child, and I love the idea of the darker, freakier side of Star Wars, the Mad Max aspect of Star Wars.” The George Miller’s Mad Max series, with entries ranging from from 1979 to 2015, is set in a dog-eats-dog Australia wasteland where the bereaved drifter Max (Mel Gibson for the first three films) wanders the deserts and survives the vehicular barbarity of fallen civilization.
Miller stages road rage action in the sparseness of Australia desert vistas with grit and adrenaline. The series is quite renowned for its apocalyptic vision and high-octane car chases courtesy of madcap practical effects and awesome stunts. The first Mad Max was a creative scrappy low budget of $350,000–400,000 and sequel after sequel amped up Miller’s budget to at least $154.6 million for its latest 2015 installment Mad Max: Fury Road, which starred Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. Fury Road received critical acclaim for stunts, like bodies on swinging poles protruding from moving vehicles, Cirque du Soleil-style. In Fury Road, how little is said compliments the velocity of action. It’s a whiplash of visual storytelling.
(If you want more Mad Maxish tales in Star Wars, you can also start with Delilah S. Dawson’s Phasma novel.)
The Star Wars Holiday Special
That’s right: that notorious 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special television film that is jokingly taboo to mention among Star Wars veterans like Anthony Daniels and Harrison Ford. Wait, why this? The pulse rifle the Mandalorian holds in one shot of the teaser? That’s a reference to the Holiday Special’s animated segment debuting the famous bounty hunter Boba Fett, who would resurface in the live-action flesh two years later in The Empire Strike Back and inspire the world-building of the Mandalorian culture and armor that Pascal wears. Remembered for bizarro scenes like when Chewbacca’s grandpa gets horny, Harvey Koreman as an alien with a cooking show, and Bea Arthur singing to her alien patrons in her cantina, The Holiday Special is far from… high quality. As Vox points out, The Holiday Special represented the experimental stage of world-building in the Star Wars galaxy. There’s no official release of the material but you might find clips circulating around the Internet and the Fett cartoon has an official home video release as an Easter Egg on the 2011 Star Wars: the Complete Saga Blu-ray. Prepare to be confused.
The post Everything You Need to Watch Before (or After) ‘The Mandalorian’ appeared first on /Film.