The most obvious influences Kurosawa had on the Star Wars films are the use of swords [or lightsabres] and the design of Vader's samurai-style armour. A keen observer will also note that George Lucas used Kurosawa's sweep technique to switch from one scene to another. But the real similarities are in plot and cinematographic style.
Hidden Fortress starts with two bickering farmers wandering in the desert, survivors of a defeated army. Like C3PO and R2D2, this pair of comic-relief characters are the ones whose viewpoint tells the story of the film. This scene also introduces us to the forces of the Evil Empire, who we see crushing those who oppose them.
Unlike the two droids, these two characters actually ARE captured by the bad guys and sent to the [Spice] mines, although they manage to escape and go on the run again. While passing through a rocky depression they meet the General, whose introduction scene is visually reminiscent of Obi-Wan's first appearance in ANH.
Other similarities include the fact that in both films the Princess's keeper denies knowledge of her. In ANH, C3PO pretends he has never heard of Leia and fobs Luke off with the [technically true] story that the droids were working for Captain Antilles, and that Leia was merely a passenger on the ship - someone high-ranking, I believe. In Hidden Fortress, the General [the Princess's bodyguard] disclaims knowledge first of her existence, and then claims she is a different girl altogether. This masquerade is assisted by the sacrifice of the General's own sister, who pretends to be the Princess and is executed in her place.
In Hidden Fortress the villains locate the hidden rebel fortress, and although the central characters [Princess, General and the two farmers] have escaped from it in time, the others are not so lucky and die defending it. This is clearly a parallel with the destruction of Alderaan, though admittedly Lucas used this scene to much better effect and importance to the plot.
One of the most exciting action sequences in Hidden Fortress is the horseback chase scene, where the General chases two enemy soldiers to prevent them from fetching reinforcements. This has clear parallels with the speeder-bike chase in ROTJ - and with the scene in ANH when Han chases after the stormtroopers who stumbled across the group, and then rounds the corner to see they have turned and regrouped to face him!
The visual imagery of the scene where Leia and Luke first meet, the infamous Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper? scene, is also from Kurosawa's film. The Japanese director chose a pose he felt more than adequately displayed his Princess's natural beauty, and both Lucas and this reviewer agree that Kurosawa was correct.
The climax of Kurosawa's masterpiece is very similar to the climax of Lucas' Saga - the hero's scarred arch-enemy is defeated by the hero, his life is spared, and in the end he defects to the hero's side.
And the end? If anything, Kurosawa's ending resembles the ceremony in ANH where the heroes are awarded their medals. However, for once Lucas does this scene better.
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