Enjoy our entertainment blogger's examination of the origins and evolution of the martial arts-inspired action in the seven Star Wars movies.

In Part One of this blog, I noted that the sword fights from the first six Star Wars films were superior to those of Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens. Fans of the films claim that because of executive producer George Lucas' love of early Japanese chanbara films, the lightsaber duels, the force and the amazing fighting skills of the Jedi — which were based on kendo, ki (chi in Chinese) and samurai/Errol Flynn films, respectively — were emphasized. Studying the evolution of the lightsaber duels throughout the original trilogy served as a basis for determining the extent of kendo's real and fake influence. With Luke Skywalker using telekinesis in The Empire Strikes Back, it begged the question, Was this the force? My "yes" answer was revealed in that blog, and my "no" answer will be expounded here.

Photo Courtesy of Disney/Lucasfilm

While the philosophy of the force ties in with Native American culture (see Part One), the combative nature of the force does not. Instead, during Jedi duels, the force falls in line with Chinese literature and kung fu cinema, where swordsmen use fa jing chi strikes to send opponents flying backward without touching them. In Chinese films, they also use xi wu da fa “suction” abilities to pull opponents or objects toward them, and they apply ching gong to leap high, run atop trees and land on their feet after jumping down from tremendous heights. Before 1977, Japanese films didn't use these techniques, and indeed they don't exist in samurai folklore. Yet these fantastical abilities were commonly featured in Chinese literature and films dating back to the 1950s. They didn’t become widely available to Westerners until the 1970s. However, we need look no further than the first three fights of the Chinese film The Ghost’s Sword (1971) to see many of the skills of the Jedi knights that are shown in the Star Wars movies. Burton Richardson teamed up with Black Belt mag to make Silat for the Street, a new online course that teaches the best fighting moves of the Southeast Asian art. Click here to learn how you can start streaming it to your smartphone, tablet or computer now! In the 1990s, when director Sam Raimi heavily used Hong Kong martial arts action in TV shows like Xena: Warrior Princess, he had an assistant whose job it was to watch “fant-Asia” action movies and make fight-scene compilation videotapes for him. When I learned fight choreography in the Chinese film and TV industry in 1980, I was instructed to do the same thing. It's no stretch to think that the British stunt coordinator for the original Star Wars trilogy was aware of 1970s kung fu films, especially when you consider that Hong Kong was a British colony and Chinese films were more accessible in the British entertainment circles.

Photo Courtesy of Lucasfilm

How did the fights change in the prequels The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005) and how do they compare to The Force Awakens? Tapping into the success of fant-Asia films in the West, Lucas wanted to ramp up the speed, agility and aerial capabilities of the Jedi fights because the films were set during the Jedi council's heyday, when Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, "Darth Vader," Count Dooku and other Jedi were at the pinnacle of their fighting prowess. The standard for this new action look was set by British stunt coordinator Nick Gillard, who intelligently hired legitimate wushu and guan (pole) expert Ray Park to play Darth Maul, a vicious, fighting-machine Sith warrior who wielded a double-bladed lightsaber. Kelly McCann’s 5-Volume Combatives Self-Defense Course, a new remote-learning program from the makers of Black Belt, will help you fine-tune your street-defense skills using your tablet, smartphone or computer! When Gillard added one-handed, figure-8 twirling and body-hugging swordplay to block, parry and slice; spinning footwork; aerial cartwheels; and flips to the Jedi repertoire, that marked the end of any kendo influence. In reality, samurai films from the late 1970s on have become increasingly influenced by Chinese-style choreography. Yet Parks pointed out that after flashing fancy whirligig wushu swordplay, all he had to do to sell the kendo look was end the swirling with a two-handed sword grip. As the trilogy evolved, there was more one-handed sword work, acrobatics and Hong Kong-style, frenetic-paced fights. To see what I’m talking about, watch Kenobi vs. Gen. Grievous or Yoda vs. Count Dooku.

Photo Courtesy of Disney/Lucasfilm

Now, let's briefly revisit the plotlines of Star Wars and The Force Awakens. For those who came in late, in the first movie, Luke Skywalker joins a cocky pilot, a wookiee and two droids to save the galaxy from the Empire's world-destroying battle station while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader.

Photo Courtesy of Disney/Lucasfilm

In the Force Awakens, Finn, a former Stormtrooper, joins two cocky pilots, a wookiee and one droid to save the galaxy from the First Order's world-destroying battle station while also attempting to rescue rambunctious lass Rey from the evil Kylo Ren. Déjà vu. Not only has the plot of Star Wars come full circle but so have the lightsaber duels — except that in The Force Awakens, there's no new creative choreography and the duels look more like the hackem-whackem sword fights we used to do as kids using tree branches.

Photo Courtesy of Disney/Lucasfilm

There are only two novel ideas in The Force Awakens: One, Kylo Ren uses a lightsaber that looks like a medieval sword; and two, a fight takes place between Finn and a Stormtrooper who wields a large tonfa-like cattle prod. The fight was reminiscent of the Shaw Brothers movie The Magic Blade (1976), in which Ti Lung brandishes a slender, machete-like sword blade with a tonfa-style swiveling handle, but The Force Awakens didn't match that fight's creativity or intensity. For The Force Awakens, critics lauded the boastful words from the filmmakers, who said that they didn't need wires to pull off the fights and that John Boyega (Finn) would wake up early and train for a few hours before beginning four to six hours of stunt preparation followed by a day on the set. So what? Thousands of great sword fights before The Force Awakens had actors doing the same thing, and often with better results. Check out the Greg Jackson Mixed Martial Arts Core Curriculum from Black Belt magazine! Stream lessons to your digital device and start learning how to incorporate MMA tactics and techniques into your current martial art. In the benefit-of-the-doubt world, since The Force Awakens is a nostalgic homage to Star Wars, perhaps overtly mimicking the simplicity of the original lightsaber duels was intentional. But still it’s pretty chintzy. Our only hope is that with Donnie Yen being cast as a Jedi in the next Star Wars production, we may be in for a return to the more entertaining use of Hong Kong martial arts and fight choreography. May the force be with them. Read Part One of this blog here. Go here to order Dr. Craig D. Reid’s book The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Action, Weapons and Warriors.
Don't miss a single issue of the world largest magazine of martial arts.

The UFC returned to American network television for the first time in more than two years Saturday on ABC while former featherweight champion Max Holloway returned to his winning ways following two straight losses, earning a unanimous decision over Calvin Kattar in Abu Dhabi. Holloway showed he still has plenty left as a fighter dominating Kattar from the opening bell of the main event with a mix of punches and low kicks.

It appeared as if the former champion might stop his opponent in the fourth round landing a series of vicious body blows followed by hard elbows to the head as a bloodied Kattar sagged against the fence. But Kattar somehow survived managing to keep himself upright through the fifth stanza as well, only to lose a lopsided decision. After dropping his title to Alexander Volkanovski and then losing a controversial rematch, Holloway may have put himself in position for one more crack at the championship following Saturday's impressive performance.

The Legendary Black Belt Magazine Hall of Fame has never before been documented in a single location. Now, you can learn about all the icons that have achieved one of the greatest honors in all of martial arts.

Black Belt Magazine is proud to announce the NEW Member Profiles feature for the Hall of Fame. At the time of this article, the online records account for every inductee from the inaugural year of 1968 all the way through 1990 (upwards of 200 martial artists). The page will be updated continuously and will include every inductee through 2020 in the near future. For now, you can enjoy images and facts about the legendary members for each induction they received before 1991. Take advantage of this never-before-seen opportunity to learn about many of the martial artists who contributed to the lifestyle, culture, and community that every martial artist experiences today.


Black Belt Magazine Subscriptions

When it comes to grappling arts most people have heard of Judo, Ju-Jitsu, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Sambo, and Sumo. The dynamic art of Shuaijiao, though it is not as well known as the others, should be.

What is Shuaijiao?

Shuaijiao (also spelled Shuai-Chiao) is a Chinese martial art that is approximately four thousand years old. Shuaijiao was born in a time of warfare long ago when to fall on the battlefield meant likely to never get up, and in that spirit, the curriculum of Shuaijiao focuses on throwing in a variety of ways. It is a standup grappling style, meaning that although there are hip throws, leg sweeps, and hand techniques, like many other arts, there is no ground grappling. The goal of Shuaijiao is to end up in a dominant position standing.

Keep Reading Show less

ONE Championship's first event of 2021 is on the horizon as the company returns to the Singapore Indoor Stadium for ONE: Unbreakable on January 22.

In the main event, bantamweight kickboxer Capitan Petchyindee Academy challenges ONE Bantamweight Kickboxing World Champion Alaverdi "Babyface Killer" Ramazanov for his crown.

The Thai challenger has a chip on his shoulder for this contest. Capitan mentioned that he wants to prove all of his doubters wrong with a title-winning performance on Friday in a video detailing the matchup.

Keep Reading Show less
Sign up for our weekly newsletter!
Stay up to date in the martial arts community with news from around the world, techniques of all styles and all around guiding you in your martial arts journey
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter