While much of the structure of the original Star Wars is based on traditional western mythology, that’s not the only place George Lucas looked for inspiration 40 years ago when he was creating Star Wars. Lucas was inspired by the work of acclaimed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa as well. This apparently led him to seek out Toshiro Mifune, the star of several Kurosawa films for a role in the original film. Primarily, that of the Jedi teacher Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Toshiro Mifune starred in many Kurosawa classics like Seven Samurai and Yojimbo. He passed away in 1997, but according to his daughter Mika, Lucas originally offered him the Obi-Wan Kenobi role before going to Sir Alec Guinness. This had been rumored for years, and is now confirmed. The parallels between the Jedi and Samurai are obvious. However, that appears to have been the problem. Since Star Wars was an unknown quantity at the time, Mifune wasn’t sure how he would look. Mika says:
I heard from my father that he was offered the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, but he was concerned about how the film would look and that it would cheapen the image of samurai, on which George Lucas had based a lot of the character and fighting style
While the idea of a science fiction blockbuster, with massive scale and huge production values, is commonplace today, Star Wars basically invented the concept. Prior to the film, science fiction movies had fairly cheap special effects and Mifune was apparently concerned that appearing in the film would not be good for the overall image of himself or the Samurai.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lucas apparently tried to compromise by then offering Mifune the role of Darth Vader. The actor considered this, since his face would be covered his other concerns would not be an issue, but eventually declined that role as well. The part of Darth Vader, other than the voice, eventually went to David Prowse.
To say the least, Toshiro Mifune as Obi-Wan Kenobi would have made for a very different movie. While the Jedi as Samurai parallels are obvious, few if any fans view the film as a Samurai movie in space. It might have very well have been seen that way if Mifune had been given such a prominent role. While it’s hard to view anybody but Alec Guinness in the iconic role today, Mifune would have certainly added something intriguing to the film, not to mention some much-needed diversity.
It’s not clear if Toshiro Mifune viewed the role as the one that got away once he actually saw the movie. What do you think of Obi-Wan Kenobi as an actual Samurai master? Too on the nose? Or an interesting take on the character? Who would you have cast in the prequels to play a young Toshiro Mifune?