With Kurosawa’s artistic vision and Mifune’s brilliant performances, they produced such classics as “Seven Samurai“, “Yojimbo“, and “Hidden Fortress“, titles widely regarded as some of the greatest films of all time. Together, they defined a genre and propelled Japanese cinema onto the global stage, influencing a new generation of directors, such as Clint Eastwood, Antoine Fuqua, and George Lucas. In fact, Lucas was so inspired by the venerable pair that he based “Star Wars” after their films and even begged Mifune to accept the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in “A New Hope“.
That’s right — Obi-Wan Kenobi was almost Asian.
When announcing the first Tokyo Comic-Con with Steve Wozniak back in 2015, Mika Mifune, the late Toshiro Mifune’s daughter, told reporters how her father was offered the role by Lucas but turned it down because he was afraid of how the movie would make samurai culture look.
“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,” she said.
Lucas, greatly inspired by Kurosawa’s films and Mifune in particular, persisted in his attempts to recruit the celebrated actor; when he turned down the role of Kenobi, Lucas offered him the part of Darth Vader. “At the time, sci-fi movies still looked quite cheap as the effects were not advanced and he had a lot of samurai pride. So then, there was talk about him taking the Darth Vader role as his face would be covered, but in the end he turned that down too,” recalled Mifune, stating that Darth Vader’s easily recognizable helmet was made with Mifune in mind.
“If it was today, it could have solved all his worries with special effects and technology,” Wozniak mused.
Lucas himself has confirmed this story; in the Star Wars DVD director’s commentary, he mentions that Mifune was actually the inspiration for Obi-Wan Kenobi with his portrayal of General Makabe Rokurouta in “The Hidden Fortress”. It would therefore make sense that Lucas would seek out the venerated actor for the role he himself had inspired.
With Mifune’s refusal, the role fell to Sir Alec Guinness, the Japanese-sounding name and samurai-inspired robes the only remnants of what could have been.