The Famous Movie Villain Costume That Was Actually Inspired By The Samurai

There's nothing more intimidating than a solid suit of armor, and movies often draw inspiration from military getups when they're trying to give a character some extra zing.

And as striking visuals go, you could do a lot worse than pulling from the look of ancient samurai. With a combination of sharp angles, swooping lines, and flowing fabrics, their generalized aesthetic adds a unique element of mystery and danger to any ensemble.

At least that's what legendary concept artist Ralph McQuarrie thought when he picked up a gig creating preliminary artwork for a sci-fi fantasy picture back in the mid-'70s. The director, a Modesto native and movie geek with a love of old Kurosawa films, described his picture's villain as being dressed in "a silk robe that always fluttered as he came in, and he might have his face covered with black silk and have some kind of big helmet like a Japanese warrior," according to McQuarrie's recollection. Then, the artist recalled pointing out that the antagonist would first be seen after moving from one space ship to another, and argued for adding a mask element — half gas mask, half samurai mempo.

A few preliminary paintings later, Darth Vader had his look. More or less.

The Samurais of Skywalker

It speaks to the piecemeal of the early Star Wars mythos that Vader's iconic helmet wasn't always a part of the plan. Still, something about the idea tickled George Lucas and, according to Star Wars: From Concept to Screen, the budding young filmmaker had included the Sith's iconic armor by the fourth draft of the script, writing in a backstory that involved a fight with Obi-Wan Kenobi that ended with a tumble into a volcano. The costume became part of the character's backstory, and Hollywood history was well, on its way to being made.

The finished Vader suit would draw from more than one source, eventually picking up inspiration from several places, including trench warfare and German troopers. Force Materials states that a conceptual "fashion show" was held for Lucas in January of 1976, featuring "a model in a black motorcycle suit, a Nazi helmet, a gas mask, and a monk's cloak they found in the costumers' Middle Ages department." The general vibe established, they continued to work from there, building a fiberglass helmet with the original concept arts' samurai influences very much intact.