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Star Wars and History: Samurai and Nazis

January 26, 2016

~ This is the last of a six-post series called Star Wars and History. ~

Samurai_on_SS_Kamakura_Maru_menu -- cropped

Samurai with faceplate

Star Wars draws on history for its look and feel as much as for its plot choices. In particular, the samurai of Medieval and early modern Japan contribute their style both to good guys and bad buys. Darth Vader’s armor looks like a night black, plastic version of samurai armor, and the Jedi’s robes have medieval Japanese feel too.

Lightsabers and Jedi duels also harken back to the samurai. Japan produced unusually fine, precisely balanced swords during its medieval period, and the samurai trained their bodies and minds almost to dance with these blades. The lightsaber plays a similar role in the Star Wars universe. “An elegant weapon for a more civilized age,” says Obi-Wan. And like the samurai, the Jedi and the Sith fight with acrobatic skill and grace, thanks to years of training.

The samurai — or at least their 20th Century movies — may have lent Star Wars some plot threads as well. (George Lucas always loved samurai movies, according to online sci-fi pundits.) For instance, in The Hidden Fortress, from 1958, two bickering peasants help a general rescue a princess.

Nazi SS

Nazi SS

A far darker specter from the past haunts the Star Wars movies. The Empire’s soldiers have a definite Nazi feel. The officers wear dark uniforms reminiscent of Hitler’s SS, while the foot-soldiers are called stormtroopers: a name for Nazi paramilitary forces. (The German army also used “stormtroopers” — Stoßtruppen — for certain special forces in World War I.)

Of course, everything comes back to Darth Vader. His iconic headgear blends a samurai faceplate with an SS helmet.

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If you like fantasy + history, you’ll love my book, The Jericho River, A Novel About the History of Western Civilization!

Here are the six posts in this series, Star Wars and History:
1. Roman Republic and Empire
2. Fall of the Knights Templar
3. Joseph Campbell and the Urban Myth with a Thousand Faces
4. Father vs. Son in Myth
5. Divine Conception in Myth
6. Samurai and Nazis (above)

See also, Why Sounds Yoda So Archaic?

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Image: Berlin, Kaserne der LSSAH, Vergatterung, 1938, source unknown — provided through Wikimedia Commons

© 2016 by David W. Tollen. All rights reserved.

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