I won’t hesitate to admit that I think Seven Samurai is the greater film by far. Sometimes I think it may be the greatest I’ve ever seen; at least, it’s one of two or three to which I refer constantly in conversations about film. (Granted, that may say more about my myopia than it does of Kurosawa’s artistry.)
Still, I think my love of Star Wars informed my even greater love of Seven Samurai. There was a syllogistic elegance to the process: George Lucas was my idol; Akira Kurosawa was George Lucas’s idol; therefore, Akira Kurosawa became my idol. The chain grows ever longer. Through Kurosawa I learned of Mizoguchi and Ozu, and then branched out to Naruse and Shimizu and Kobayashi and—
Of course, Lucas was not the first or the last or even the most shameless appropriator of Japanese film among American directors. But I do think that the popularity of Star Wars helped prime American youth for the invasion of Asian pop culture that began in the 1980s and has not abated since. That may not seem like an important development, but for a lot of people, myself included, it made the idea of a more cosmopolitan film experience seem accessible and fun.
I will not backtrack to explain how Star Wars prepared me for Lang and Ford and Lean. George Lucas is not a filmmaker of quite the same caliber, and yet, sometimes I think that every film worth seeing is within six degrees of separation of his work.
In the decades since the release of the original Star Wars, we’ve come to treat its setting as a entity unto itself, more a body of data than a work of fiction. In that capacity it fills a certain need for some of us—I could, and probably will at some point, write an essay about our fascination with the trivia of fictional universes—but I think it is equally important to remember that it can serve as an entry point into something even greater. That, for me, is the real expanded universe: the network of influences that inform Star Wars.
I don’t know what George Lucas’s legacy will be, but however favorably or unfavorably we ultimately remember him as an artist, he did facilitate my first step into a larger world, and for that, I am eternally indebted to him.