Kylo's Helmet in 'Rise of Skywalker' References an Old Japanese Art Form

This isn't the first time Japanese culture has inspired Star Wars.

Star Wars: Episode IX finally has a title (“The Rise of Skywalker”) and a trailer — and it already looks way better than the prequels. As expected, it also features the return of Kylo Ren’s helmet, but with one key difference. After smashing it to bits in The Last Jedi, it looks like the helmet gets repaired with an interesting new twist.

Instead of simply getting a new helmet or fixing the old one to look like new, it seems Kylo will leave visible, bright red cracks in the exterior. It’s a cool design that makes the presumed villain of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker appear even more intimidating, but it’s also just the latest in a long string of visual references to Japanese culture packed into the Star Wars franchise.

Kylo Ren's helmet in 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker'
Kylo Ren's helmet in 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker'

In this case, it seems Rise of Skywalker is referencing Kintsugi (literally translated as “gold mending”), the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold, silver, or platinum to emphasize the cracks. The technique, which originated in 15th Century Japan is meant to highlight each blemish as a part of the item’s history, rather than attempt to conceal the damage.

Kintsugi
Kintsugi

Kintsugi stems from the concept of wabi-sabi, a Japanese aesthetic and philosphy with roots in Buddhist belief meant to emphasize imperfection and impermanence. But the distinct style arose from a happy accident (at least according to art historians, via My Modern Met):

Kintsugi art dates back to the late 15th century. According to legend, the craft commenced when Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a cracked chawan—or tea bowl—back to China to undergo repairs. Upon its return, Yoshimasa was displeased to find that it had been mended with unsightly metal staples. This motivated contemporary craftsmen to find an alternative, aesthetically pleasing method of repair, and Kintsugi was born.

Kintsugi
Kintsugi

Compared side-by-side, it’s hard to deny the similarities between Kylo Ren’s repaired helmet and Kintsugi pottery, especially when you consider the greater debt Star Wars’ entire style owes to Japanese culture and history.

It’s been well documented that George Lucas was inspired by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa (Rashomon, Seven Samurai). He even based the characters of C-3PO and RD-2D after the two peasants in Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress, and designed multiple scenes to mimic shots from those movies directly.

Much of the character design in Star Wars stems from Japanese influences as well. Darth Vader’s helmet resembles samurai armor, and Jedi’s robes were inspired by their samurai equivalent. Perhaps most notably, Lucas originally offered the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi to Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune (Hidden Fortress), who declined the part in what he though was a kid’s movie.

Kylo’s helmet is just the latest example of the many ways Star Wars draws from Japanese influences, but the specific idea here may be particularly important. With The Rise of Skywalker set to conclude the nine-movie saga, Kintsugi feels like the perfect aesthetic for a franchise that’s had just as many disappointing moments as it has triumphant ones.

Instead of buffing out those blemishes, why not fill in the cracks with gold? After all, as the entire Skywalker saga comes to an end, even the mediocre stuff may be worth celebrating.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will be released in theaters on December 20.