Star Wars Essay Research Paper Star Wars

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

Eisley is where Luke sells his landspeeder, a representation of his

former life, and enlists Han Solo’s aid. The Threshold contains a

guardian of some sort which must be passed. This guardian dwells

within the Threshold, and is usually a creature or living enemy.

Heimdall was guarded by a god of the same name whose sole

purpose was to prevent the crossing of the bridge by mortals.

Luke’s first encounter with such a danger occurs while Ben and he

are attempting to enter the spaceport. They enter the city with

See-Threepio and Artoo–Detoo, and are stopped by a group of

stormtroopers. The stormtroopers, which are the Empire’s

standard soldiers, are searching for the droids, and begin to

question Luke about his ownership of them. Ben uses the Force to

exert mind control over them, and convinces them to allow Luke

and him to pass. This is Luke’s first taste of the magical power

which he himself will come to possess.

Another significant encounter takes place in the Cantina,

Mos Eisley’s combination bar/information center. While talking

to Chewbacca, first mate aboard the Millennium Falcon, about

securing passage, Luke is left alone for a brief time. He is bullied

by Ponda Baba, a walrus-headed monster. Ben attempts to calm

the situation by offering him a drink, but Ponda Baba’s friend, a

humanoid mercenary who has “the death sentence in twelve

systems,” attacks him. Ben slices off Ponda Baba’s arm with his

lightsaber and ends the conflict. Here Luke first witnesses Ben’s

power in combat. According to Campbell, this is characteristic of

the Threshold. In addition to being the gate to the Realm of

Adventure, it offers the Hero his first glimpse into a bigger world.

The Hero exits the Threshold eager for more excitement and

mentally more able to accept the wonders he will face.

After leaving his Homeland, the Hero finds himself faced

with many challenges along the path to adventure. After

overcoming these challenges, the Hero is then presented with a

final difficult task and finally the prize. In one Germanic/Norse

myth, the hero, a mighty warrior named Siegfried, seeks to win the

hand of Brunhilde in marriage. Brunhilde has been asleep many

years atop a mountain, placed there by her father Odin as a

punishment. Siegfried sets out and must fight many monsters and

face myriad obstacles to reach the mountain. Once there, he is

faced with Odin disguised as an old man. Siegfried passes by Odin

by breaking Odin’s staff–representative of disarming him. Upon

climbing the mountain, he is faced with a curtain of magical fire

which circles the sleeping Brunhilde. The only way anyone can

pass through the flame is to plunge immediately into it without

hesitation, and Siegfried does so, making his way to his bride.

Luke faces obstacles from the start, but unlike Siegfried, he is

unable to cope with all of them by himself. He is aided by helpers

as described above. After facing the obstacles, the Hero enters the

Land of Enchantment. In A New Hope, Luke enters the Death Star

and attempts to rescue Princess Leia. The Death Star is Luke’s

Land of Enchantment, where he faces most of his personal


Here there is a minor discrepancy between the hero cycle

in A New Hope and that in most other mythologies. In nearly

every folk tale or legend, the obtaining of the prize is preceded by

the Supreme Ordeal, a task of seemingly impossible difficulty.

Siegfried’s Supreme Ordeal was the fiery curtain. Perseus had to

kill a monster he couldn’t look at. The Hero’s Supreme Ordeal

was the biggest, most impressive encounter he had to face, and

was the highlight of his adventure. Luke’s rescue of Princess Leia

was indeed spectacular and daring, as he and Han had to cope with

a space station full of enemy soldiers, but the rescue is eclipsed by

Luke’s destruction of the Death Star at the end of the movie. This

was presumably done because A New Hope was an action movie,

which as a rule needs to present a final conflict at the conclusion

rather than the climax. Therefore, Luke’s Supreme Ordeal, the

destruction of the Death Star, is separate from his prize, the rescue

of Princess Leia.

Upon entering the Land of Enchantment, the Hero is

typically left to his own devices to complete his quest. If the Hero

has learned his lessons well and fulfilled his role, he will do well

and succeed. If not, his quest is doomed to fail. The Greek Hero

Orpheus is an example of such an unfortunate. Orpheus fell in

love with a girl named Eurydice and they intended to wed. Several

days before their wedding, the girl stepped on and was bitten by a

venomous snake, and later died. Orpheus determined to go to

Hades to retrieve her. Orpheus, whose mother was Calliope, the

muse of poets and musicians, was widely known as the most

skilled bard in all the land. He was able to calm man and beast

alike by playing his lyre. He was also known for being cocky and

arrogant, and in some variations of the tale his beloved’s death was

planned by the gods to warn him of his pride. Orpheus set out and

entered Hades by playing music so melancholy that Charon, filled

with pity, agreed to ferry him across. Orpheus then fought off and

charmed the spirits of the dead, and made his way to the palace of

Hades and Persephone, the king and queen of the underworld. He

again charmed his antagonists, and was allowed to have his

beloved back if he could make his way back above the earth

without glancing back at her. While making the journey back,

Orpheus called her name to make sure she was following him.

She didn’t hear him, and Orpheus glanced back at her. The girl

was immediately drawn back to Hades and lost forever.

Despite its unhappy ending, the myth of Orpheus bears

much resemblance to Luke’s quest. Immediately upon entering the

Death Star, Luke and his friends hid themselves until they could

ambush several stormtroopers and disguise themselves in their

uniforms. At this point Ben left the group to disable the tractor

beam keeping their ship imprisoned. This is symbolic of the

supernatural force which aids the Hero to a certain point, then

leaves to pursue other goals. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,”

Gandalf was only present for certain obstacles, leaving when he

deemed it necessary. His absences allowed Bilbo, the hero of the

story, to prove his worth. Perhaps the hardest leg of Bilbo and his

friend’s journey, the trip through Mirkwood, was traversed without

the aid of Gandalf. The events which occurred in this forest, and

up until the very end of the story, were those in which Bilbo took

control and matured into a Hero. When Ben left, Luke too started

to prove his worth by coming up with a plan to rescue Princess

Leia, who was being held prisoner. His plan worked until Luke,

Han, and Chewbacca reached the prison cell where Leia was being

held. Their success due to Luke’s cunning corresponds to

Orpheus’s charming of the spirits which threatened him. They

then had to fight the guards in order to reach the princess. They

successfully defended against the guards long enough to reach the

princess and rescue her, finally escaping from immediate danger

by sliding down a garbage chute. The friends’s success due (in

part) to Luke’s combat ability corresponds to Orpheus’s success in

fighting off the spirits which didn’t succumb to his music.

After the obtaining of the primary goal, the Hero must flee

from the place of his adventure and face more obstacles along the

way. In this escape, termed the Flight by Campbell, the Hero

exhibits what he has learned and proves that he has earned his

prize. In A New Hope, the obstacles faced by Luke and his friends

after the rescue of the Princess were far greater than those faced

before. Again Luke takes control and starts to fulfill his role as

Hero. Immediately after escaping down the garbage chute, the

friends find themselves in a garbage compactor. Luke is seized

and dragged underwater by a snakelike creature. Han is helpless to

save him, and Luke would have drowned had it not been for the

introduction of the next obstacle. The creature withdraws when

the walls start to move in toward themselves, leaving Luke and

company to deal with a new threat. This series of events is a

classic example of the frying pan-fire analogy. The heroes escape

from the stormtroopers to be threatened with the sewer-creature,

which they survive only to be faced with the walls caving in. The

obstacle of the walls is another example of the Clashing Rocks of

the Symplegades in the myth of Jason and the Argonauts. In the

myth, the heroes escape by following a blind seer’s advice given in

a previous adventure. They let a dove fly through the Rocks ahead

of the ship. The dove’s tail feathers are crushed, but it safely

makes it through. The heroes start to row as the Rocks begin to

separate, and the ship just barely passes through. The Rocks then

withdraw and become forever rooted to the ocean floor. The dove

in this scene of A New Hope is Artoo- Detoo. As Han, Chewbacca

and Leia try to block the closing walls with a length of pipe, Luke

contacts See-Threepio through his comlink. See-Threepio

instructs Artoo- Detoo to interface with the computer and shut

down the garbage facilities, which he does just in the nick of time.

There is a brief but meaningful encounter just before the

band reaches their ship in which there is another example of

Luke’s growth as a hero. Luke and Leia become separated from

the others, and are faced with a wide ravine. There is no way

across, and stormtroopers are attacking them from behind as well

as the other side of the ravine. Luke, thinking quickly, throws a

grappling hook across and swings to the other side. This is Luke’s

first trial he has faced alone, and he successfully overcomes it.

The last obstacle during the Flight occurs as the

companions are leaving the Death Star. Ben has died, killed by

Darth Vader while drawing attention away from Luke and his

band, but Luke’s training with him has been completed. Ben’s

role was to instruct Luke and teach him how to use his cunning.

He exhibits his mastery of this in the crossing of the ravine and the

escape from the garbage pit. The only training Luke has remaining

is instruction in the physical, combat-oriented skills. In Celtic

mythology, there existed a mighty warrior named Cuchulainn.

Cuchulainn was the most powerful hero in the land, and could be

bested by no one in his Homeland. Cuchulainn traveled to Skatha,

a great warrior queen who dwelt in the faerie land, for training and

competition. Han takes Skatha’s place in A New Hope. He

doesn’t actually teach Luke; he is more of an example for Luke to

follow. Han is a brilliant pilot and fighter. His ship is the fastest

ship known to the Rebellion or the Empire as a result of his careful

modifications, although it is less-than-attractive to the eye

(Reference ANH, 10027–10107). Han uses many complicated and

dangerous tactics in ship-to-ship combat, and is headstrong and

fearless in battle. Luke witnesses his friend’s abilities and learns

by copying them. His skills are tested in the escape from the

Death Star. Four TIE Fighters, the Empire’s standard starfighter,

pursue the Millennium Falcon away from the Death Star. Han

leaves Chewbacca and Leia to pilot the ship while he and Luke go

to the weapons controls. It is significant that Han asks Luke to

help him. Earlier he reprimanded Luke’s overeagerness

(Reference ANH, 10129–10309) and now he welcomes his aid

(Reference ANH, 13956–14227). They successfully destroy their

enemies, and Luke shows skill equal to Han’s by destroying an

equal number of ships. Upon finishing training with Skatha,

Cuchulainn aids her in a netherworld battle with an enemy force.

In the battle he fights as well as Skatha, proving he has completed

his training.

The next part of the Hero’s adventure in Campbell’s Cycle

is the return from the threshold. This is the Hero’s exit from the

Land of Enchantment and return to the normal world. This is not a

lull or end of activity; rather, it is a heightening of danger and

resolve. The Hero has succeeded in winning his prize, but in most

myths the prize is necessary to accomplish some deed in the

Hero’s homeland. Perseus slew Medusa not on a whim but as a

request. His mother, Danae, was a beautiful woman whom the

king of the land, Polydectes, lusted after. Polydectes was evil and

greedy, and decided to force Danae to marry him. Perseus

defended his mother so strongly and heroically that Polydectes

decided to get rid of him. He pretended to marry another princess,

and invited Perseus to attend the wedding. Perseus was poor and

could afford no wedding present, and told Polydectes this when it

came time for the presentation of the gifts. Polydectes

condescended to him, knowing that Perseus’s pride would be

stung. Perseus told him that he would do anything the king wanted

as his gift, and Polydectes told him to kill Medusa and bring back

her head, not believing he could do it. Meanwhile, he intended to

force Danae to marry him. When Perseus accomplished the deed

and escaped from the remaining two Gorgons, his adventure was

not over. He still had to return and confront the situation at home.

Luke’s return from the threshold is his escape from the

Death Star to the Rebel base on Yavin IV. He has won a victory

for the Rebellion by rescuing Princess Leia and the information

aboard Artoo- Detoo, but the Empire knows where the Rebellion’s

base is. The Death Star is on its way to destroy the planet, and the

Hero must somehow stop it. Luke has now exited the realm of the

fantastic but must still finish his quest outside of it.

The last step of the cycle is the return with the Elixir and

the Resolution. Beowulf, after wounding Grendel, had secured

Hrothgar’s Mead Hall, but he still had to track Grendel down. In

his case, the Elixir, or the key item or piece of information needed

to complete the quest, was the knowledge of the location of

Grendel’s lair. Only by acting upon the Elixir was he able to kill

Grendel’s mother and end the threat forever. The Elixir in the

story of Perseus was Medusa’s head, which Perseus stuffed in the

magical wallet given to him by Hermes. When he returned to

Polydectes’s palace, he found that his mother had been made to

marry the evil king. Perseus stormed into Polydectes’s throne

room, where he and his nobles were celebrating. Polydectes was

stunned that Perseus had come back, and before he could act

Perseus held aloft Medusa’s head and turned everyone present

save himself into stone.

The Elixir in “A New Hope” was the information Princess

Leia had stored in Artoo- Detoo. Specifically, the information was

the technical readout of the Death Star. Once at Yavin, the heroes

set about searching the readout for a hidden weakness, and found

one. The pilots rushed to their starfighters and prepared to launch.

Luke was invited to join them, thus completing his transition. He

started out as an ordinary boy, answered the Call to Adventure, and

entered the Threshold. He passed the obstacles before him and

successfully overcame his Supreme Ordeal. He escaped safely

back into the ordinary realm, and now all that remained was the

use of the Elixir to finish his quest. Luke was the one who

destroyed the Death Star in the nick of time, thus saving the

Rebellion. The legend of Beowulf again proves useful. Beowulf

finds that Grendel’s lair is underwater, and he immediately dives

in to find him. This symbolizes the impossible situation the Hero

must act in. The Rebels’s situation in A New Hope is similar,

having small one-man starfighters to attack a battle station as big

as a moon. Beowulf is confronted with Grendel’s mother, an

opponent larger and meaner than Grendel himself. The immediate

worsening of odds is also a typical part of the final conflict of the

Hero. Luke and the other Rebel pilots not only have to destroy the

Death Star, but they must also fight off enemy starfighters,

including Darth Vader, one of the best pilots in the galaxy. The

heroes have a bit of luck, though; the Death Star has a small

exhaust port which leads directly to its center. A direct torpedo hit

into the port will destroy the station. Beowulf too gets lucky. He

finds a large, gleaming sword hanging on the wall of Grendel’s

lair. The blade is magical, and allows the user the ability to fight

normally underwater. The heroes in A New Hope get several more

lucky breaks. The exhaust port, which is two meters in length,

cannot be hit with the starfighters’s targeting computers, meaning

that the pilots must aim manually. Ben’s spirit speaks to Luke,

instructing him to “Use the Force” and guiding him. At the critical

point when Luke fires his torpedoes, Han shows up and damages

Darth Vader’s ship, allowing him to fire. These seemingly random

events are well known in mythology. Again, Han and Ben team up

and help Luke in the end. Han gives him what he needs physically

and Ben clears his mind mentally. It is Hermes and Athena at

work again. The inability of the computers to hit the target is the

obstacle’s built in defense system. If any mundane person could

defeat it, a Hero wouldn’t be needed. Only someone with the

necessary knowledge and discipline can succeed. This hearkens

back to Siegfried’s curtain of fire, where only those without fear

could proceed. Luke destroys the Death Star and the Rebels return

home triumphant. The Hero Cycle has been completed.

The Hero Cycle is also prominent in George Lucas’s entire

Star Wars Trilogy. It is somewhat harder to discern, since the plot

is drawn out over three movies. The concept is broader, with more

detail found within the Hero’s training and internal fulfillment.

Everything that was present in A New Hope is present in the

Trilogy, only on a greater scale. There is also a new element

present in the Trilogy, that of the atonement of the Father.

Campbell describes the Atonement as a conflict between the Hero

and a father figure. The father figure doesn’t have to be the Hero’s

actual father, he can be any older character the Hero knows. The

Hero becomes grown and nears the time of his sojourn into the

adult world. It is the father figure’s responsibility to usher him

into the strange new realm. Th Hero, afraid of what lies ahead,

seeks comfort with a mother figure, and regards the father figure

as evil and sinister. He soon realizes that he must proceed, and

once he does so, he realizes that the father figure is not evil as he

once saw it, but is just experienced or bitter. The Hero returns to

the father figure and joins him in the adult world. Many primitive

cultures have stories which deal with this aspect of mythology. In

The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Campbell uses as an example a

village ritual common in primitive African and Asian tribes.

When each generation of males comes of age, the tribal elders

gather to hold a ceremonial circumcision. The boys are driven out

by their mothers and told that they must face a terrible and

frightening ordeal. The terrified adolescents attempt to return to

their mothers, but they are repeatedly pushed away. They are then

herded to a clearing in the woods where the elders are dressed as

tribal animals and monsters from myth. Each boy is taken in turn

and surrounded by the elders. He must close his eyes, and the

circumcision is performed. The boy must do his best not to cry

out. Afterwards, he is dressed as an adult and sent back to the

village. From then on, they are treated as men.

George Lucas may have been considering the development

of the Atonement in A New Hope, but there wasn’t space for it. It

is focused on heavily in the Trilogy, however. In the second

movie, The Empire Strikes Back, Luke fights a climactic battle

with Darth Vader. Luke has not yet become the equal of Vader

and is defeated. Vader reveals to Luke that he is his father.

(Reference The Empire Strikes Back, 15401–15514 and 15729–15950) Luke, shocked and horrified yet somehow knowing it is

true, struggles to deny it. Part of Luke’s Supreme Ordeal is facing

Vader and defeating him, and once he does, he discovers that his

father is not entirely evil. This realization helps him to

comprehend the bigger picture of Good and Evil in the galaxy, and

enables him to finish his adventure.

Several other developments in the Trilogy are worth

considering. The theme and scope of the adventure have been

broadened from those of A New Hope, so the individual plots and

points of the Hero Cycle are broadened as well. Luke’s aims are

much higher in the Trilogy; no longer is he concerned about

becoming a starfighter. He wants to be a Jedi Knight. He has

reached his physical aspirations and now craves more. A good

comparison is found in Faust. Faust had learned all there is to

know in the world, and desired to move on to the supernatural.

Like Faust, Luke had to play a dangerous game to acquire his

knowledge. He had to resist the temptations of the Emperor and

the dark, easy path to power. Faust had to resist giving in and

exulting in his pleasure, thereby ceding his soul to the Devil.

Luke’s Threshold becomes the planet Dagobah. The

Threshold in the Trilogy is the place where Luke realizes his

potential and harnesses it. Luke travels to Dagobah unsure of what

he expects to gain. He meets Yoda, an ancient Jedi Master. Yoda

instructed Ben, and takes Ben and Han’s place as the teacher in the

Trilogy. He teaches Luke to use the Force and trains him

physically. When Luke leaves the Threshold, the Elixir he bears is

the knowledge and power of the last Jedi Knight.

As the forces and power of good have grown, so has the

power of evil. The teacher has been upgraded in character and the

Hero has become greater in power. The villain must therefore be

more sinister and powerful. Darth Vader was the villain in A New

Hope, but his role as the father figure allows a new, stronger

enemy to step in. Enter the Emperor, Vader’s master and the

leader of the Empire. The Emperor represents the opposite of

everything Yoda stood for. He is the ultimate power of Evil. He is

not a Jedi Master, but is trained in the Force and has some

unknown link to the Jedi (Lucas never elaborated on this.) Part of

Luke’s Supreme Ordeal is defeating the Emperor, but he cannot do

it alone. In A New Hope, only after Han had stopped Vader’s ship

from threatening Luke could he destroy the Death Star. In Return

Of The Jedi, the last movie of the Trilogy, Vader must be the one

who aids Luke in destroying the Emperor (Reference Return Of

The Jedi, 20243–20456).

The astounding success and popularity of Star Wars from

its debut until now, over twenty years later, can be readily

attributed to its fairytale aspect. Myths and legends originating

hundreds or thousands of years ago still fascinate us today. The

labors of Hercules and Perseus’s slaying of Medusa are still read

by wide-eyed youths because they embody their ideas and hopes.

Myths have a timeless quality about them that has enabled their

survival. Star Wars is simply a modern mythology. Daring

starfighters armed with lasers and blasters take the place of

armour-clad warriors on horseback. An evil, part-robotic

juggernaut with the Force at his side replaces the Black Knight.

Instead of an impenetrable castle, an armored space station full of

enemy soldiers is the bastion of Evil. The role of the Hero remains

constant, however. The retrieval of the Golden Fleece, the slaying

of Grendel, the rescue of Brunhilde–all are cherished myths

belonging to ancient cultures. Star Wars and A New Hope are

those belonging to ours.


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