A Long Time Ago on the Other Side of the World… Samurai culture inspires George Lucas’s Jedi and Sith

vaderStar Wars revealed the amazing creativity of George Lucas. Star Wars characters seemed foreign—even alien—to American audiences. Of course, like all creative geniuses, Lucas had his inspiration. His characters resemble actual humans from a long time ago, but from a galaxy not so far away.

Just on the other side of good old planet Earth, a few hundred years ago, samurai warriors were respected and revered.

To Star Wars fans, it is no secret that George Lucas was inspired by Japanese culture when creating his Star Wars epics. Japanese influences can be seen in costumes, hairstyles, make-up, as well as the weapons and swordsmanship.

Although the amazing visuals of the characters clearly have Japanese origins when you learn what to look for, the most telling influence of samurai warriors on the Galactic Empire may be Bushido, the way of the samurai. The spirit of Bushido is reflected in the Jedi Code.


Lucas is known to have studied the works of filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. When you see this film, you will see the origins of the Jedi and Sith. Haven’t seen a Kurosawa film? You are in luck! You can view the iconic film Seven Samurai at HMNS on April 14 and see the force of the samurai that inspired Lucas’ Star Wars empire.

How did the code of the Samurai warrior translate to the Jedi Knights? Need light shed on the transformation of samurai sabers into an energy blade? How did the armory and arms of the Samurai influence that of the Galactic Empire?


This summer you can learn about the influences the samurai made to the Star Wars movie franchise in special evening tour of the Samurai: The Way of the Warrior exhibit offered on June 18, July 16 and August 20. Space is limited, so book your galactic samurai adventure now!

Film Screening: Seven Samurai
Tuesday, April 14, 6:30 p.m.
One of the most thrilling movie epics of all time, the newly restored, high-definition edition of Seven Samurai tells the story of a 16th century village whose desperate inhabitants hire the eponymous warriors to protect them from invading bandits. Filmmaker Akira Kurosawa weaves philosophy and entertainment, delicate human emotions and relentless action, into this tale of courage and hope. Mark Kerstein of Hokushikan Chiba Dojo will introduce the film. For advance tickets, call 713.639.4629 or click here.

June 18, July 16, August 20
6 – 9:30 p.m. (last entry at 8 p.m.)
Armored warriors of the past inspired the creative genius of a filmmaker—in a galaxy not so far away. In this multimedia tour of the Samurai: The Way of the Warrior exhibit—led by HMNS staff and a few guest Jedi, Sith and Samurai guides—the origins of many of George Lucas’ Star Wars heroes and villains will be unveiled. You will also enjoy demonstrations of light saber and kendo katana. The compelling links between Samurai and Jedi will build your appreciation for both. For advance tickets, call 713.639.4629 or click here.

Swept away by Sharknado: Taking a bite out of our shark fears

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year (if you have, congrats! You made it back!) you’ve probably heard of a little genius of a film called Sharknado (playing this Friday, August 8 in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre).

As the title implies, it’s about sharks and tornadoes — more specifically, water spouts off the coast of southern California which wreak havoc on L.A. as they flood the city while simultaneously picking up and distributing ravenous airborne man-eating sharks — and a motley crew, including the one and only Tara Reid, who defies the terror of the sharks to save the day. It’s a classic tale of guy meets girl, guy and girl fall in love, guy and girl get divorced, sharks attack, guy gets girl back.

Why Sharknado got snubbed at the Oscars, I’ll never know.

Now I must admit I was a little apprehensive of the film when I first heard of it. As a child who saw Jaws too soon (also showing in the GST this month), as you may have been as well, you hear the word “SHARK” and feel something like this…

And who can blame you?! Negative images of sharks are everywhere. But they actually haven’t been around for all that long. At the turn of the 20th century, most people believed that sharks had never attacked a human being. Now, we know that occasionally this does happen. There were 7 people who died from shark attacks in the world in 2012 (meaning your chance of being one of those people is literally less than one in a BILLION). Compare that to the 33,561 people who died in car accidents in the U.S. in 2012. So the early 20th century perception is actually closer to the truth than modern perceptions (most people believe their risk of getting eaten by a shark to be much, much higher).

So what happened?

In the summer of 1916 there was a horrifying case of a rogue great white shark that ate several people along the New Jersey coast, and the event received a lot of press. Then during WWII, stories of shipwrecked sailors and others stranded in the ocean getting eaten by sharks began to permeate popular culture. All of which helped to set the stage for Jaws to come along and scare the pants off America.

In this movie, Spielberg really hit a chord with American audiences; just think about how much this movie has seeped into our collective consciousness. Everything from the opening music, Baaa-da. Baaa-da. Ba-da ba-da. Ba-da-ba-da-badabada…, to the line (from the sequel’s trailer, mind you) “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…” that sends shivers down our spines.

“So why should we watch Sharknado?” you ask, “Isn’t this just perpetuating irrational fears about getting eaten by sharks?” Perhaps, but consider this: Sharknado presents the perfect way for us to get over our fear of sharks.

By taking this fear and placing it in the most ridiculous context ever, in a low budget B Movie, with a plot full of holes so big you could drive a truck through them, we can remove ourselves enough from the situation to have some perspective. When we watch Sharknado we can laugh at our fears while watching a rollicking, action-packed film full of spectacle and get swept away (pun intended) into this fantasy world.

Jaws took place in our backyard, Sharknado in some alternate universe where Tara Reid is still an ingénue.

When we leave the theatre we aren’t scared of the world around us, we’re too busy taking in the unabashed ridiculousness of the film, tweeting our friends all the way home.

So let’s take a bite out of our crazy irrational fears and embrace Sharknado for the awesome cultural phenomenon that it is Friday, August 8 at HMNS!

In case you need some more convincing, watch the trailer below! Want to learn more about how awesome sharks are? Come to HMNS starting August 29 for our SHARK Exhibition!



Looking back…

In case you were wondering about notable science events that occurred the week of July 11th…

On July 11th, 1811, the Italian scientist Amedeo Avogadro published his theory on the molecular content of gases, also known as Avogadro’s law. His theory states that “Equal volumes of ideal or perfect gases, at the same temperature and pressure, contain the same number of particles, or molecules.” For those of you who have taken chemistry before, the number of molecules in one mole – a figure your teachers always make you memorize – (6.022 x 1023 particles per mole) is known as Avogadro’s number.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Roberto Garcia-S

On July 11th, 1895, the brothers Lumiere showed their new invention, which played short movies, to a group of scientists. The first time an audience paid to view one of their films was in December of that same year. Each of the original 10 films they made were 17 meters long, and lasted 46 seconds. Supposedly, their first movie of a train had the audience screaming as they thought a real train was crashing into the theater. Their first movie may have only been 46 seconds long, but I bet the previews still took 20 minutes.

On July 14th, 1965, the space probe Mariner 4 made a flyby and took the first close-up photos of Mars. After a seven month flight the probe flew by the planet, and sent back 22 television images covering about 1% of the planet’s surface. Fortunately, they remembered to remove the lens cap beforehand.

Creative Commons License photo credit:
we must reinvent love

On July 15th, 1799, French Captain Pierre-Francois Bouchard found the Rosetta Stone in the Egyptian village known as Rosetta. The stone tells the same story in three different languages (Egyptian hieroglyphics, Egyptian Demotic, and classical Greek.) The discovery of the stone allowed later scientists to decipher the lanugage of Egyptian hieroglyphs. The Rosetta Stone is currently on display in The British Museum in London.

On July 16th, 1945, the world entered the “Atomic Age” as the United States successfully detonated a plutonium-based nuclear weapon during a test at the Trinity Site near Alamogordo, New Mexico. Less than a month later, the first atomic bomb Little Boy was dropped by the plane Enola Gay on Hiroshima, instantly killing an estimated 800,000 people.

The following video illustrates the power of an atomic bomb during a test – this was not a bomb used in combat.

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Science Doesn’t Sleep (5.7.08)

Oh No! Werewolf!
Creative Commons License photo credit: Kevin Lawver

So here’s what went down since you logged off.

It was a crazy time for werewolves. A new NASA study indicates that Earth used to have multiple moons.

Female movie scientist to audience: “Yes, a stillettos-and-miniskirt combo is completely practical for my field work in paleoanthropology.” Inkling examines women scientists in film.

Even if you’ll never make it to the Moon – your name can go. NASA is looking for a few good monikers to send into space.

Some fat may be good for you – even if it’s on you. A study of mice shows that subcutaneous fat actually has health benefits.

Tropical insects – which tend to be the wildest-looking – may be the next casualty of global warming. Studies indicate their habitats are already verging on too hot for their survival.

Finally! Nanotech gives us an objective way to measure the hotness of chiles