George Lucas never hid the fact that he based large portions of the original Star Wars on samurai movies he loved. Specifically, Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. Samurai movies were Japan’s answer to the American western; they in turn influenced the Italian western boom of the 1960s. It’s extra fitting, then, that Jon Favreau said Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns are a major influence on The Mandalorian. But if you watched the first episode, you may have caught the show’s homage to another, later series of samurai movies.
At the very end of the episode, we learn the target of the Mando’s high-priced bounty. It seems Werner Herzog’s former Imperial wants a 50-year-old member of Yoda’s race dead. Except, 50 to that race is still a little baby. The Mandalorian shoots IG-11 in the head and decides not to kill the infant/quinquagenarian. Thus, he’s assuring the wrath of Herzog and many adventures with the baby in tow.
We couldn’t help but think of Lone Wolf and Cub, writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima’s manga series. That became a series of six films in the early ’70s and a TV series that ran almost concurrently. It was and remains a massive hit in Japan. American audiences might know the films from the 1980 redub/recut/rescore entitled Shogun Assassin. Criterion put out a box set of all the movies in 2016.
The Lone Wolf and Cub movies followed Ogami Ittō (Tomisaburo Wakayama), the official executioner for the shogun. That means he’d cut off the heads of various disgraced lords following their ritual seppuku. A rival clan betrays the shogun, however, killing the ruler and blaming Ogami for the murder. Ogami returns home to find his wife and household slaughtered; all except his infant son, Daigorō. Ogami, still the best swordsman in Japan, must traverse the countryside, accepting work as an assassin and fending off his enemies, all while pushing Daigorō around in a baby cart full of weapons.
The manga rules and so do the movies. They’re arch explorations of action and fantastical storytelling. The violence is extreme and the music in the movies is particularly dope. It’s interesting to watch these movies and note what they took from the Italian western cycle considering what Leone and his ilk took from the early samurai epics.
Others have already speculated that The Mandalorian would be a riff on Lone Wolf and Cub, as of almost a year ago, but the ending of episode one seemingly confirms it. Dave Filoni, who executive produces The Mandalorian and directed the first episode, is no stranger to using samurai movies as an influence. On his earlier animated series, Star Wars Rebels, the Jedi Kanan Jarrus loses his sight and very much takes on the sci-fi persona of Zatoichi, the legendary swordsman of 26 movies. Further, the episode “Bounty Hunters” from The Clone Wars season two (another Filoni show) is a Star Wars universe riff on Kurosawa’s undisputed masterpiece, Seven Samurai.
If the Mandalorian ends up taking care of the baby for the whole season, or even an episode, using Lone Wolf and Cub as inspiration is perfect for a show that’s already established it’s not afraid to play a little dirty. While I don’t imagine we’ll see fountains of fake blood or massive open wounds like in the Lone Wolf movies, we’ve already seen a baddie sliced in half by a door. I’d love to see the little Yoda baby’s floating crib sprout blasters in battle. Really lean into it!
The Mandalorian is streaming now on Disney+.
Featured Image: Lucasfilm