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Star Wars: Ahsoka contains a nod to New Hope... and to George Lucas's Japanese influences

Zatochi, last seen in Ahsoka episode three, is named after a character in Japan's longest-running film series. But why?

Image credit: Disney, Lucasfilm

It's one of the most memorable training scenes in all of Star Wars: aboard the Millenium Falcon, the newly fugitive Luke Skywalker wears a vision-blocking helmet to spar with a small zapping droid, under the watchful eye of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Fans saw a similar picture in last night's episode of Ahsoka, this time with Sabine Wren as frustrated rookie and Ahsoka Tano as mentor. And for the first time in Star Wars history, Ahsoka drops the name of this blind-fighting technique: Zatochi.

Much as the visuals of this sequence stirred some memories for longtime Star Wars fans, the name drop appealed to a different fanbase: Japanese cinema. But just what is Zatochi's connection to Japan's longest-running film series? To answer that question, we're going to have to go back a long, long time ago... though maybe not as far as the days of Star Wars.

In 1948, Japanese novelist Kan Shimozawa authored the short story Zatoichi Monogatari, which introduced a character as pervasive to Japanese culture as James Bond is to the British. Zatoichi is a swordsman that fights in the 1830s, called the late Edo period in Japan. He is an unsuspecting character, and mighty and nigh-undefeatable warrior... and he is blind.

Filmmaker and actor Shintaro Katsu brought the character to cinema-going audiences in 1962, with the release of The Tale of Zatoichi, which Katsu also starred in. The character and movies were a massive hit; between 1962 and 1989, an impressive 26 films were produced starring the blind swordsman. To date, this makes the Zatoichi films the longest running franchise in Japanese cinematic history.

In the middle of that history, on the other side of the world, a young filmmaker named George Lucas was crafting a new universe, and Japanese cinema would influence his work heavily. In 2001, Lucas would call Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress as a direct inspiration for the narrative of the first Star Wars movie, just one example of Lucas's frequent and forthcoming credits to Japanese cinema.

In fact, one Zatoichi scholar even claims that the blind swordsman's speed at drawing a weapon would influence the build of Lucas's lightsabers. Though we couldn't find that quote, the most recent episode of Ahsoka proves that someone in the Star Wars writers room, if not Lucas himself, is a fan of the longrunning film series.

Why they took out the first 'i' in naming the Jedi technique is anyone's guess. Maybe for copyright/trademarking?

One of the biggest mysteries of Ahsoka so far is the identity of the Inquistor working with Baylan Skoll and Shin Hati. Read more about him on Popverse.

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About the Author
Grant DeArmitt avatar

Grant DeArmitt

Contributing writer

Grant DeArmitt (he/him) likes horror, comics, and the unholy pairing of the two. He has written for Nightmare on Film Street and Newsarama, despite their better judgement. He lives in Brooklyn with his partner, Kelsey, and corgi, Legs.

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