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Star Wars Essay, Research Paper

Star Wars As a Mythology

?Fifteen years ago, I set out to make a movie for a

generation without fairy tales.?

-George Lucas

There exists in every culture a series of folk tales and stories, which make up a part of that culture’s history. These stories, called myths, often venture into the magical and fantastic, with great heroes battling terrible monsters to save exotic lands. As the human race has evolved, we have moved beyond the need to attribute unexplained events to supernatural workings beyond our ken. As a result, modern culture puts its faith in science and organised religion, and for centuries there have been no new myths.

In the nineteen-seventies, a young and enthusiastic film maker/director put his imagination and heart into changing that. George Lucas’s now legendary Trilogy of movies and books, Star

Wars, is the result. To the casual observer, the movies are only exciting science fiction stories, but a closer look reveals nothing short of a complete mythology within. George Lucas collaborated

with Joseph Campbell on the making of the first movie of the

Trilogy, A New Hope (A New Hope is more commonly known as

Star Wars, but to be accurate, Star Wars will be used when

discussing the entire Trilogy and A New Hope will be used when

discussing the first movie only.) Before he died, Campbell was

widely accepted as the foremost authority on myths and

mythologies in the world. Campbell strongly believed that every

culture’s myths and legends were strikingly similar, even identical,

to those of every other culture. His The Hero With A Thousand

Faces compares the trials and traits of heroes from all legends.

Lucas incorporated Campbell’s model of the Hero in developing

Luke Skywalker as the Hero in A New Hope.

The plot line of A New Hope is very similar to that of many

mythologies. In order to better understand how Luke evolves as a

Hero, it is necessary to examine the early events of the film and

note how these key events are typical of other myths. A New Hope

takes place in a typical science-fiction galaxy. There exist many

planets and races of intelligent life. The galaxy’s government has

recently been thrown into turmoil by the emergence of the evil

Emperor and his Empire. The Empire is the typical tyrant of

mythological stories. In Greek legend, the creation of the universe

proceeded smoothly until Cronos, father of the gods, decided he

wanted supreme power. He took over and ruled ruthlessly, and it

was up to Zeus and his divine siblings to overthrow him and

restore peace. In A New Hope the Rebel Alliance takes the place

of the gods. As in many myths, the Rebellion is young and

hopelessly outnumbered. Campbell wrote that the Hero is almost

always a youth and weak relative to his enemies. The Rebellion

has just won its first victory by stealing classified information

from the Empire and smuggling it to Princess Leia, a high ranking

Alliance member. Princess Leia is on her way to deliver the

information to Obi-Wan Kenobi, a former general. It is the

Alliance’s hope that Kenobi can safely get the information to the

Rebel base. Obi-Wan lives on Tatooine, a desert planet on the

outskirts of the galaxy which happens to be home to a young Luke

Skywalker. Luke knows Obi-Wan as “Ben,” and believes he is

only an old hermit. This element is also present in Greek

mythology. Cronos swallowed all of his children to ensure that

they could not overthrow him. His wife hid his last son and gave

Cronos a rock to swallow instead. The youngest son, Zeus, was

sent away to live in a remote mountain valley until he grew old

enough to challenge his father. Tatooine corresponds to Zeus’s

valley as the distant sanctuary for the growing Hero.

On the way to Tatooine, Leia’s ship is intercepted and

boarded by one of the Empire’s ships. In desperation she sends the

information, stored in a droid named Artoo-Detoo, to the planet’s

surface. Artoo-Detoo and his companion, an interpreter droid

named See-Threepio, meet and are bought by Luke’s uncle. Thus,

Luke enters the story.

An introduction of some of the story’s key characters will

also help in analyzing the Hero Cycle. Luke Skywalker will

become the Hero. He is nineteen years old and works as a

farmhand on his uncle’s moisture farm. He is bored with his life

and wishes to submit his application to the Starfighter Academy.

Luke’s dream is to be a starfighter and go on grand, epic

adventures. Another classic element of mythology is this yearning.

Campbell thought that one of the basic prerequisites of the Hero-to-be is the desire to become something great.

Han Solo is another key figure. Han is a smuggler, and

earns his living shipping cargo for unscrupulous characters. He

has incurred the wrath of several crime lords, and is currently

looking for easy money to pay his debts. Han joins the adventure

in Mos Eisley spaceport on Tatooine and becomes Luke’s closest

friend. As the plot progresses, Han along with Ben plays the role

of Luke’s tutor. He represents physical discipline and proficiency

in combat. It is Han’s job to instruct Luke as a warrior.

Ben Kenobi is Han’s spiritual counterpart. Ben lives as a

hermit on Tatooine and is regarded by the citizens as a crazy old

man. He was a general in the Clone Wars long ago, and was close

friends with Princess Leia’s father. It is for this reason Leia seeks

him out. Ben is also a Jedi Knight. The Jedi were the protectors

of the galaxy during the reign of the Old Republic but have

become extinct, exterminated by the Empire. Ben is the only Jedi

remaining. It is his role to instruct Luke in the Force, the Jedi’s

source of power. Ben represents mental control and self-discipline. He is Han’s complement in Luke’s teaching.

A New Hope’s version of the classic “damsel in distress” is

Princess Leia. She is a senator in the Republic and one of the

Rebel Alliance’s key members. Leia is captured by Darth Vader

and taken to the Death Star, a mobile space station and the

Empire’s newest and most powerful weapon. There she is

interrogated and, after giving up no useful information, is

scheduled to be executed. It is into this situation Luke and his

friends enter, and it is Luke’s goal to rescue her. Here George

Lucas reflected the modern view of the role of women. Instead of

designing Leia as a meek, subservient woman, he has her take

control and join Luke and Han as an equal. In the Trilogy, she is

developed into a full-blown character. Despite her haughtiness,

both Luke and Han become enamored with her. This creates

something of a love triangle between the three, but, as in most

fairy tales, the heroes work through it (actually, Lucas didn’t

elaborate on it much.)

The two most amusing characters in the movie are See-Threepio and Artoo- Detoo. They are both droids, artificial life

forms with intelligence. Artoo is an astromech droid. These types

of droids are used for navigation and are frequently placed into

starfighters as an engine enhancement. Artoo is placed into Luke’s

starfighter later in the movie, and this gives the two the chance to

develop a master-pet relationship. See-Threepio is an interpreter

droid, working in “human-cyborg relations” as he is fond of

saying. See-Threepio is the closest thing A New Hope has to a

narrator. Most of the comic relief and release of tension in the

story occur as a result of the interplay between Artoo and See-Threepio. Their role in the mythological aspect of A New Hope is

that of the faithful companions of the Hero. These companions

serve him because they know no better or have nothing else to do

or, as in the case of the two droids, because they are programmed


The last remaining key character in A New Hope is Darth

Vader. Vader is the villain, evil, sinister, and powerful. He is

dressed all in black and is half mechanical, giving his voice a

deep, metallic sound which is quite intimidating. Vader plays the

role of the Dark Knight in mythology. He is the being of

unstoppable power and evil which plagues the land. Old Celtic

legends hold that there once was a mystical island named Eire,

which is Ireland today. Eire was peaceful and idyllic until the

coming of Balor of the Evil Eye and his minions. Balor was a

huge, one-eyed Fomorian (Irish giant). He brought hundreds of his

Fomorian followers and settled in Eire, enslaving the populace and

ravaging the land. After many years, a band of heroes killed Balor

and restored peace to the land. These heroes became the Celtic

gods, and included Manannan Mac Lir, Lugh, and Dagda, all

prominent Irish deities. Darth Vader is the Balor of A New Hope.

Vader is extremely powerful and the best starfighter in the galaxy.

Although he tortures Princess Leia and pursues the heroes

throughout the story, he never directly threatens them. The fact

that Luke never faces him is the concession of his power; Luke,

even with his newfound Hero powers, cannot hope to match him.

Even at the end of the story, Vader doesn’t die; he escapes into


Campbell’s model of the Hero involves what he called the

Hero Cycle, or “Adventure of The Hero.” The cycle is circular,

with steps along it which the Hero takes on his journey. The circle

is split into two semicircles, with a line splitting the circle called

the “Threshold of Adventure.” Those events which occur in the

place where the Hero grows up and lives, called the Homeland, lie

above the Threshold of Adventure. Those which occur in the

realm of the fantastic and supernatural, called the Land of

Enchantment, lie below the Threshold. The steps of the Cycle are,

in order: the Call to Adventure, the Helper, the Threshold, the

Tests, the Supreme Ordeal, the Flight, the Return from the

Threshold, and the Elixir.

The crucial part of the plot of A New Hope, as in any folk

tale’s, is the development and evolution of the Hero through the

Hero Cycle. The first part of the Cycle is the Call to Adventure.

Here, the hero discovers that there is something beyond his

normal, everyday existence. Many Irish and Celtic folk tales begin

with the hero riding in a forest and discovering a ring of small

standing stones with a luminescent rock in the center. The hero

enters a doorway in the rock and is transported to a land of faeries

and magic. In A New Hope, Luke chases a runaway Artoo- Detoo

into the desert which makes up the vast majority of Tatooine, and

is ambushed and knocked unconscious by a group of desert

scavengers. Luke is saved from certain death by Ben Kenobi, a

mysterious hermit. Ben takes him to the cave where he lives and

tells him of his heritage as the son of a Jedi Knight. This is his

entrance into the faery rock. Sometimes the Hero refuses the Call

to Adventure. In his cave, Ben asks Luke to accompany him off-world and join the Rebellion. Luke declines and decides to stay.

Campbell said that this refusal, although seemingly against the

Hero’s wish to accomplish legendary deeds, is present in every

Hero, representing his desire to lead a normal life. Luke feels that

he should stay and help his uncle despite his adventurous nature

(Reference A New Hope, 4342–4513). Meanwhile, the Empire’s

soldiers, which have been searching for See-Threepio and Artoo-

Detoo, track the droids to Luke’s uncle’s farm and kill his aunt and

uncle. Upon returning, Luke realizes that there is no reason for

him to stay (Reference ANH, 4724–4914 and 5000–5946), and

agrees to accompany Ben to return the stolen data and join the

Rebellion. Campbell repeatedly emphasized the importance of the

revenge factor in the Hero’s evolution. The Hero’s most common

Call to Adventure is the response to some action taken against

him. The brutal killing of Luke’s family is what makes him

change his mind and answer his Call to Adventure. He leaves his

previous mundane existence and enters the realm of enchantment

and danger.

The next step in the Hero Cycle is the introduction of the

Helper. The Helper is a character who aids the hero’s first

faltering steps into the Land of Enchantment. This character is

often a supernatural, mysterious entity who instructs the hero and

equips him for the trials ahead. When Perseus set off to slay

Medusa, he was told to seek out advice and aid from the gods.

Medusa was the only mortal sister of three Gorgons, and was so

hideous in appearance that any who glanced at her would

immediately turn to stone. Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom

and honorable warfare, lent Perseus Aegis, her brass shield. She

told him to look into the shield and fight Medusa while viewing

her reflection. Hermes, the god of thievery and trickery, gave

Perseus a magic sack and a pair of magical sandals. The sack

would grow large enough to contain anything put in it, and was to

be used to hold Medusa’s head should Perseus prove successful.

The sandals would enable Perseus to fly and bestow upon him

superhuman speed so he could escape the wrath of Medusa’s

sisters. Thus armed, Perseus was ready to engage his foe.

Ben Kenobi and Han Solo play the roles of the helpers in A

New Hope. Ben instructs Luke in the ways of the Force, the Star

Wars equivalent of magic. He gives Luke a lightsaber, the weapon

of a Jedi Knight. This enables Luke to compete with the enemies

he will face in his adventure. Han Solo is Luke’s friend and

companion. He doesn’t give Luke anything tangible, but serves as

the guide from the Homeland to the Land of Enchantment. His

ship, the Millennium Falcon, is the physical mode of

transportation between Tatooine and elsewhere. The physical

transportation to adventure is easily seen in Greek mythology.

Several Greek legends take place in Hades, Greece’s version of

Hell. In order to cross over into Hades, the traveler must cross the

River Styx. This river flowed with poisonous, acidic water and

killed all who came into contact with it. The only way to cross

this barrier was to pay Charon, the boatman of Hades. Charon

would ferry the souls of the dead or those heroes brave enough to

enter Hades for a price. The dead had only to pay a single silver

coin, which they were buried with. Charon refused to ferry living

beings across without an extravagant form of payment or

persuasion, however. Han Solo’s price for taking Luke and Ben to

Alderaan, their destination before it was destroyed, was ten

thousand credits. Luke balked at the price, as Ben and he didn’t

have that much money, but Ben offered to pay Han a small amount

now, plus much more upon arrival at their destination. Han

agreed, and they were on their way (Reference ANH, 5539–5709).

Han also defends the passengers throughout the voyage to

Alderaan and ultimately the Death Star, providing Luke with his

first taste of combat. Immediately upon leaving Tatooine, Han

pulls some fancy maneuvers to evade two Imperial Star

Destroyers, huge ships which would have easily destroyed the

Millennium Falcon. Han’s role as defender is the same as that of

the Argonauts as they accompanied Jason to Colchis in the Greek

legend of the Golden Fleece. Jason had a huge ship built to fetch

the prize which would restore him to the throne of his country. He

invited the greatest heroes from Greece to accompany him, and

they defended and aided him on his journey to Colchis. The peril

the Argonauts faced which is most similar to the Star Destroyers in

A New Hope is the Clashing Rocks of the Symplegades. In order

to pass, the Argonauts had to follow a specific procedure, and

succeeded with only the stern of the ship being crushed. Han is

able to save the heroes with only superficial damage to his ship.

A necessary part of the Hero’s journey is the actual,

physical transport out of his previous life. There is a gate or

Threshold which the Helper from step two aids the hero to cross,

and on the other side of the Threshold lies the Land of

Enchantment. In Norse mythology, there existed a rainbow bridge

which spanned the gap between Midgard, the land of men, and

Asgard, the home of the Gods. This bridge, named Heimdall, was

one such Threshold. The Threshold in A New Hope is the

spaceport of Mos Eisley. It is an extremely dangerous place, as

Ben warns Luke. Luke responds arrogantly, as the naive Hero-to-be often does. (Reference ANH, 5047–5106 and 5217–5230) Mos