Star Wars’ Set Decorator Reveals The Root Of Darth Vader’s Unforgettable Look

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It’s rarely mentioned today, but George Lucas has openly acknowledged that 1977’s original Star Wars was heavily inspired by the samurai films of Japanese master Akira Kurosawa, particularly Hidden Fortress. While it’s not clear whether Star Wars set decorator Roger Christian was aware of this influence, he recently claimed that a similar wave of inspiration shaped the look of Darth Vader.

“I remember going to the place where I used to get guns for films,” he says in Lair: Radical Homes and Hideouts of Movie Villains, a new book about evil headquarters by Andrea Gollin and Chad Oppenheim. “There was a two-hundred-year-old samurai uniform. A black one. And the helmet. I brought it in. It had a lacquered look, which was exactly what we based Vader’s helmet on. There was a lot of luck on this film.”

As it turns out, there’s a good chance George Lucas’ debt to samurai movies found its way to Christian indirectly, through the work of another Lucas collaborator: artist Ralph McQuarrie. “The thing with science fiction is you don’t have anything to reference,” Christian explained. “When you’re doing a period film you can say, ‘Oh, it’s the 1840s,’ and you know the right clothes and furniture. With Star Wars, there was nothing. Only George’s descriptions in the script as this kind of evil world. Quite simple. But Ralph McQuarrie’s original paintings included a Death Star corridor and a beautiful sketch of Darth Vader with a lightsaber, fighting. Those gave us the key to it.”

Lair: Radical Homes and Hideouts of Movie Villains will be available on November 5.