It’s well known that George Lucas drew inspiration from mythology when writing Star Wars. Luke Skywalker, the young hero from the planet farthest from the bright center of the universe, gets the call to adventure delivered by droid and goes off on a Campbellian journey to rescue a princess, seek out an ancient mentor, and finally confront his fallen father. The prequel trilogy gave us the tragic version in which Anakin, the great warrior, was driven to madness and destroyed the things he loved the most.
There are smaller touches of myth throughout the Star Wars hexalogy. Luke receives his father’s lightsaber like King Arthur drawing his father’s sword from the stone. The escape from the imperial garbage masher has hints of Jonah and the whale. Luke in the Wampa’s cave has shades of Beowulf.
Like most of the rest of geeky internet, I’ve been watching the trailers for The Force Awakens with excitement. I’ve been struck by something, especially in the latest trailer. The mythology that this latest iteration of Star Wars is working hardest to evoke is… Star Wars.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer (Official) via Star Wars
Star Wars has transcended being a movie franchise or even an expanded universe. It has reached the point where we can speak of it in terms of mythology.
One of the definitions of myth is that it is a story you know even if you can’t recall ever being told it. Star Wars has that. It is part of our cultural consciousness to the point that even people who haven’t seen the movies (yes, they exist) recognize the sound of a lightsaber and the cadences of the imperial march. Star Wars was all over my childhood, and even though I didn’t get around to seeing the movies until I was a teen (I was a Star Trek fan and young and dumb enough to think that I had to pick one over the other), I recognized Darth Vader, Princess Leia and Yoda on my friends’ lunchboxes.
Another characteristic of myth is that all myths are versions. There is no original, no canon. Though some may disagree on whether this is a good thing, Star Wars has always been an evolving story, getting new versions from small tweaks to big changes. (Yes, I see you in the back in the “Han Shot First” shirt, you can put your hand down.) The new wave of Star Wars movies leaves the old hexalogy alone but reboots the post-Return-of-the-Jedi expanded universe.
For those of us who grew up in the world of Star Wars, it is hard to imagine a time when these stories were not a part of the popular culture, yet there was a time when no one had heard Darth Vader’s breathing or Yoda’s grammar, when no one knew what a lightsaber or a Death Star was. By connecting to the ancient stories we already knew, Star Wars made itself feel timeless. Now it has become a part of that universal memory to be played upon and invoked in its own right.
Images: “This is the weapon of a Jedi knight” via The Film Fatale; wampa via giphy.com
Post edited for style.
In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.