The Cinema Behind Star Wars: Stray Dog

Ahsoka Tano from Lightsaber Lost

George Lucas is a big fan of Akira Kurosawa and his films. Kurosawa has been the subject of three “Cinema Behind Star Wars” pieces and this will be the fourth. There will probably be more.

Since Netflix has rekindled my passion for The Clone Wars, it’s also reminded me how much classic cinema was crammed into the early seasons. For this installment, we’re going to be looking at the eleventh episode of Season Two of The Clone Wars, “Lightsaber Lost.” This story sees Anakin and Ahsoka searching the bad parts of Coruscant for an illicit arms dealer. One thing leads to another in the bad parts of the city-planet and Ahsoka’s lightsaber is clipped by a pickpocket.

Worried about how Anakin might react to her lost lightsaber, she employs the help of a wise, old Jedi Master from the Jedi Temple named Tera Sinube. Sinube offers her guidance in finding her lightsaber in hopes that she can track it down before a heinous crime is committed with it.

The episode takes its inspiration directly from Akira Kurosawa’s post-war noir film Stray Dog (1949). This film stars Toshiro Mifune as a young police officer whose difficulties mirror those of Ahsoka in this episode. His pistol has been lifted during a trip on an overflowing trolley and he has to track the criminals responsible before their crimes escalate. But a murder takes place with his gun and he knows how many bullets are left. Mifune’s character is aided by a veteran detective played by the redoubtable Takashi Shimura, who advises him as best he can.

Sinube bears much resemblance to Shimura, both in spirit and in look. Sinube, who was created for “Lightsaber Lost,” bears as much resemblance to a dog as well, hearkening back to the title of the film that inspired the episode.

Both the film and the episode of The Clone Wars deal with the moral ambiguities of people at the bottom of the social ladder and what they must do to survive. The petty criminal class isn’t one that often rises to the attention of the Jedi, especially during the era of the Clone Wars, and it’s fascinating to see them operating in the seedy underbelly of the galactic capital.

Ahsoka and Sinube teaching younglings about lightsaber care

Influence from Kurosawa’s film bleeds through into the episode, giving rise to a tension and desperation on the part of Ahsoka that is almost as brilliantly animated as any of Mifune’s classic performance. The last thing Ahsoka wants is something bad to happen with her lightsaber and failure is not an option for her.

It might not just be this particular episode of The Clone Wars that found inspiration from Stray Dog, though. The film is credited with inspiring the entire genre of buddy-cop movies, and what is the relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan through Episode II and Episode III but a Star Wars take on the buddy cop film?

“Lightsaber Lost” brings that influence of the black and white film to life in stunning color, proving that the look of Coruscant belongs in color. The scenes of the underworld are a striking precursor to what we’d see later on levels 1314 and thereabouts.

For those interested in watching Stray Dog with their kids, they may have better luck with a film like Seven Samurai or Kagemusha until the kids are a little older. While there’s nothing objectionable content-wise in Stray Dog, it’s a very long, slow burn that is the exact opposite of the break-neck pace of just about anything with the name Star Wars attached to it.

Bryan Young is an author, a filmmaker, journalist, and the editor in chief of Big Shiny Robot! He’s also the co-host of the Star Wars podcast, Full of Sith.

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