Final Project: The Star Wars Mythology
A myth is not merely a fable but an integral part of the human culture, intergenerational heritage, as well as an instrument in teaching particular values. In fact, despite being seemingly based on nothing but fiction in which monsters impersonate human fears, myths happen to be the metaphors for the eternal journeys, such as the journey of a boy to becoming a man, or battles, such as the battle between the Good and the Evil. Just like the ancient culture, modern popular culture incorporates the mythological past. Star Wars is a bright example. As Steven Galipeau said, “The entire Star Wars saga can be approached as a cultural dream […] Like our dreams, the Star Wars story can be seen as a myth […] that represents aspects of our collective psychological life”. Hence, one may state that modern cinematic sagas, such as Star Wars, retell and reinterpret the truths as old as the world itself.
George Lucas’ creation, named Star Wars, may look like an innocent and inelaborate space fable utterly detached from the reality, not to mention its assumed detachment from the great myths of the past. However, a closer examination unveils the unexpected depths that transcend the plane of entertainment and modernity and date back to the mythological traditions, heroes, and quests. Even more strikingly, nearly every if not all the fantastic elements of the plot can be translated into the older language of myths. Thus, the Force can be regarded as a version of the divine omniscience and omnipresence, or the knowledge that gods possess and sometimes share with the mortals. For that matter, Yoda may be seen as one of the gods. The character of Princess Leia is the contemporary rendition of the image of a female to be rescued, as in Greek myths, or its later incarnation in a “damsel in distress”. Luke’s journey bears a striking resemblance to the journey and quests of Odysseus. On the darker side of the character set, the Emperor refers one back to the mythological persona of Hades while Darth Vader, by a direct association, is the duplicator of Charon, Hades’ servant and sender of darkness.
This all being said, one may claim that Star Wars is nothing but a contemporary rendition of the old Greek myths with all their basic characters and plot elements, only shaped into a new reality, put into high-tech costumes, equipped with futuristic technologies and woven into the fabric of the deep space and alien worlds. In fact, Lucas created his now legendary saga keeping the concept of myth in mind. He once said, reflecting upon his need to create something like Star Wars, “It seemed to me that there was no longer a lot of mythology in our society – the kind of stories we tell ourselves and our children, which is the way our heritage is passed down”. Thus, George Lucas spotted the gap and felt the urge to fill it with the modern means that would bridge the past and the present, the myth and the cinema. It means that the subliminal reference to myth is intentional and undeniably present in the saga, and it is for the viewers to “watch” between the lines to see it. Unfortunately, it is impossible to embrace all the existing parallels between the Greek mythology and Star Wars. However, it is crucial to spotlight more than one in order to provide a holistic coverage. Perhaps the golden mean consists in focusing on the two edges of the Star Wars mythology, namely Anakin Skywalker’s journey and the father-son relationship with the underlying greater context of the Good vs. Evil fight.
In regard to Anakin Skywalker, the legend of Perseus applies and fits surprisingly well, especially the passage where Perseus’ birth and childhood are described. Similar to prophecies of the Jedi (which were, however, erroneously interpreted in regard to Anakin instead of Luke, his son, being the savior), in the myth of Perseus, everything started with a prophecy. Pythia said to Acrisius, “King of Argos, listen well. Your daughter’s son will spell your doom!”. The knowledge made Acrisius enslave his own virgin daughter, Danae, making her a prisoner in a palace’s bronze room. Nevertheless, the preventive measures did not help. On the contrary, the girl’s pleading was heard by Zeus. “One night, he visited her as a shower of golden light, and from this heavenly union, nine months later, a baby boy was born. He was called Perseus”. The similarity with the story of Anakin’s virgin birth to Shmi Skywalker, via the will of the Force, is vivid and undoubted. This bit of truth is unveiled in the following passage from the Star Wars: The Phantom Menace script:
QUI-GON : The Force is unusally strong with him, that much is clear. Who was his father?
SHMI : There was no father, that I know of...I carried him, I gave him birth...I can’t explain what happened.
The similarities continue throughout both stories, inter alia, in the loving and full-of-care attitude of Anakin and Perseus towards their mothers, their love and acts of bravery for Amidala and Andromeda, respectively, in the way both young men were trained for the quest, or the quest per se. The point where the stories diverge is the finale (i.e. the quest outcome). While Perseus managed to save his mother, Anakin failed. Unlike Perseus who conquered Gorgona without looking her in the eye, Anakin faced the Dark Side of the Force and could not withstand the temptation. At this point, the story of Anakin ends and the one of Darth “Kronos” Vader begins.
Kronos (aka Cronus or Cronos) was a god who dared attack his father, Uranus, as an attempt to protect her from his will. Kronos and his wife Rhea took the throne and reigned wisely during the time that would be later referred to as the “Golden Age”. However, Kronos was destined to deviate from the rightful course. The prophecy that said that one of his children would overthrow him made Kronos swallow all his newborn babies. He contained them in his belly where they, supposedly, could not harm him. Rhea was against Kronos’ outrage and decided to save the youngest, Zeus, from the imminent fate. Instead of giving Kronos the baby, she gave him a stone wrapped in a blanket that he consumed without a second thought. In the meantime, Rhea and Gaia took Zeus to Crete where he grew up into a young man. Years later, Zeus decided to come back to his Father’s domain and confront him. The legend has it, Zeus set all his siblings free, organized a revolt against Kronos and the whole dynasty of the Titans, ultimately defeating and banishing them (Leadbetter). The resemblance of the myth with Lucas’ story is manifold. Indeed, Luke’s journey through life and destiny starts with making Anakin/Vader believe that his child(ren) died along with Padme, unborn. In reality, Luke and Leia are separated and hidden in safe locations. Luke is given to her uncle and aunt on Tatooine (analog of Crete) where he spends his childhood and grows up into a fine young man. Afterwards, the storyline brings him to facing his father and defeating the Dark side. In a way, like Zeus, Luke sets his sister free – not from the father’s stomach, but from his deadly reach. Interestingly, however, Luke does what Zeus could not – he also sets Anakin free from Darth Vader. The latter is an essential addition to the old myth. It shows that the Good not only conquers the Evil but also brings out the good in it, like fire from an ember. Perhaps it is the part of the message that the old Greek myth lacks and Lucas masterfully compensates.
In conclusion, the Star Wars saga is the old Greek myth retold in the modern visual cinematic language, extrapolated from the mythological plane of the trinity underworld/human-world/world-of-gods to the space plane of some distant galaxy. Interestingly, the very reference to “A long time ago” in the cult title card text indicates that the Star Wars reality is per se an old myth from a distant word and the distant past. Just like the Greek myth is the literary form in which the human past exists, Star Wars is a fictitious myth of the non-existent alien world’s past. Somehow, these stories have many cross-references and parallels, as if indicating that both life and epos have reoccurring, universal cycles. In these cycles, the battle between the Good and the Evil is eternal, both in the global plane and inside every man. So is the man’s journey.