Friday, 1 February 2013

George Lucas

Friends, today as we stand outside of the doors to the Classics Closet, we are at war with ourselves as to how we should react… 

This celebrity can be seen as a goodie and a baddie in the eyes of his fans.  We should celebrate his journey from the Dark Side of the Closet towards the Light, but at the same time, there is hesitance with this. 

Regardless as to how we choose to respond to this cultural juggernaut, there is little doubt that he is a FORCE to be reckoned with!  He is

One of the 100 Greatest Americans

An Inductee of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame

The Second Largest Single Shareholder in Disney

And so much more!

Our next celebrity (like many lurking about in our cupboard) isn’t a formally educated classicist.  He, however, did study anthropology, sociology, and literature before beginning his training and career in cinema.  As a filmmaker, he continually referenced the works of the famous mythologist Joseph Campbell, and set out not only to tell his own personal myth, but also to tell a story that, ultimately, would be filled with universal themes.   

Ladies and gentlemen, join me in welcoming Mr George Lucas as we remove our blinders and, like Darth Vader said to his son as he was dying, ‘just for once…look on [him] with [our] own eyes.’ 

Before we begin to explore Lucas’ relationship to the civilisations of ancient Greece and Rome, let’s take a moment to understand why the founder of Lucasfilm Limited and the creator of the Star Wars franchise has been in the news recently.  On 30 October 2012, just two days before the Classics Closet opened its doors for the first time, Mr Lucas sold his film studio to The Walt Disney Company.  Why did Lucas sell his company to Disney?  Why did Disney decide to buy the company from him?  The answer to both of these questions is really simple:  each party saw an opportunity to make loads of money!  Lucasfilm, which was solely owned by its founder, was bought for $4bn, and Disney have announced that they plan to release Episodes VII – IX beginning in 2015.  Since the six Star Wars feature films that have already been released (i.e. The Phantom Menace through Return of the Jedi) have grossed $4.4bn at the box office alone, their 3D rereleases coupled with three new films will surely bring a great deal of revenue for Disney. 

And if the movies alone weren’t enough of a financial incentive, Disney now owns the rights to most everything else in the Star Wars Universe!  This list includes the books (including 383 novels, 5 short story anthologies, and 75 reference books), video games (a total of 127 titles), television series, table-top roleplaying games (which has 26 books to itself), and comic books (with their whopping 461 different story arcs) associated with Star Wars.     

What will this business deal do to the fans of this epic franchise? 

The initial response from the tried-and-true was a cry of public outrage.  Let’s face it though, that was the same response that the fanboys and fangirls had to the prequels being created.  These objections, however, didn’t stop me from going to the cinema to watch the new films more times than I may like to admit.    

Despite some elements of the film being widely criticized such as the biological explanation of the Force via midi-chlorians, the detailed development of a political sphere, and the introduction of Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace, people like me still made it the highest grossing Star Wars film to date!  In short, these changes haven’t affected our fandom.  People will still go to go watch the new films.  Those of us who are curious are still going to pay the money.  I’m still going to be addicted to the world that George Lucas first shared with the world on 25 May 1977. 

For those of you who are Disney-bashing, let’s take a moment to remember that while this mega-corporation are best known for their classically animated masterpieces (including Winnie the Pooh, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast), this is not all that they do.  And what they do, they do very, very well!  In 2006, Disney purchased Pixar Animation Studios (under whose guise Toy Story, Up, WALL-E, et al. were released); they share many of the distribution rights with Studio Ghibli (the Japanese animation studio responsible for My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away, Nausicaä, et al.); and in 2009, they bought out Marvel Entertainment!  While we may not like that Disney own most of our favourite franchises including Pirates of the Caribbean, X-Men, and ­Star Wars, that’s just the way that it is.  Showbiz is a business after all! 

Now that we’ve thought about the financial implications of Disney buying out George Lucas, let’s pause for a just moment to think about adding Leia Organa to the list of Disney Princesses.  Yes, she’s officially one now!  With her wit, blaster, and wicked hairstyles, she’ll show Aurora (i.e. Sleeping Beauty) how to slay her own dragon! 

She fits right in!!!

Though we have digressed a little in discussing the future of George Lucas’ brainchild franchise, let’s get back on track and turn our attention toward its humble origins.  During a six-part documentary called The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell discusses some of the mythological underpinnings that Lucas sought to combine in creating his next film.   

Originally, this filmmaker wanted to create his own version of a fairy tale, and while writing the third draft of A New Hope, he rediscovered a book that he hadn’t read since he was in university:  Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces.  This blueprint for ‘The Hero’s Journey’ gave Lucas the focus that he needed to create his imaginary universe, which drew from the genres of science fiction, the Western, the war film, and the quasi-mythical epic, into a unified vision.  He borrowed elements from all of these film genres, and merged them with the heroic portraits of Odysseus, Achilles, Hector, Jason, and many others to create his saga. 

You may be asking yourself:  how does Star Wars embody the archetypal Hero’s Journey?  Consult the following, if you would.

Joseph Campbell’s  
Hero’s Journey
George Lucas’  
Star Wars

I:  Departure

The call to adventure
Princess Leia’s message
Refusal of the call
Luke Skywalker must help with the harvest
Supernatural aid
Obi-Wan Kenobi  rescues Luke
Crossing the threshold
Escaping Tatooine
The belly of the whale

II:  Initiation

The road of trials
Lightsaber practice
The meeting with the goddess
Meeting Princess Leia
Temptation away from true path
Luke is tempted by the Dark Side
Atonement with the father
Anakin and Luke reconcile
Luke becomes a Jedi
The ultimate boon
Death Star destroyed

III:  Return

Refusal of the return
Luke wants to avenge Obi-Wan
The magic flight
Rescue from without
Han Solo saves Luke from Darth Vader
Crossing the return threshold
Millennium Falcon destroys TIE Fighters
Master of the two worlds
Freedom to live
Rebellion is victorious over Empire

Common Mythic Elements

Two Worlds
Planetside vs. The Death Star
The Mentor
Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Qui-Gon Jinn
The Oracle
The Prophecy
The chosen one will bring balance to the Force
Failed Hero
Wearing Enemy’s Skin
Luke and Han dressed as Stormtroopers
The Unlikely Ally
Han Solo
Anthropomorphic Allies
R2-D2, C-3PO, Chewbacca, Jar Jar Binks
The Dragon

Exceptional Mythic Elements

The Twin Gods (Apollo and Artemis)
Luke and Leia
The Greek Chorus
R2-D2 and C-3PO
Tragic Hero
Anakin Skywalker
Reason versus Passion
The Light Side vs. The Dark Side
Seeing the Son with One’s Own Eyes (Hector and Astyanax)
Anakin’s removal of the helmet before his death

You may think that all of this is just coincidental, but you’d be wrong!  Lucas and Campbell became fast friends, and the fledgling director continually consulted the mythologist when he was developing his screenplay.  George even referred to Professor Campbell as ‘my Yoda.’  Upon discussing these motifs with Professor Campbell, Lucas went on the record saying, ‘I did research to try and distil everything down into motifs that would be universal.  I attribute most of the success to psychological underpinning that had been around for thousands of years, and people still react the same way to the stories as they always have.’ 

Below is a clip from The Power of Myth in which Professor Joseph Campbell briefly discusses Star Wars, and the human need for heroes.  


Following along Campbell's summary of the Hero’s Journey, let’s take a moment to compare the theme of ‘Departure’ in Star Wars with some of its ancient antecedents. 

In the original three films (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi), Luke Skywalker is our focal character.  Unbeknownst to either the audience or Luke himself, our protagonist is the son of a once great hero who succumbed to his passions and hatred of an unjust world before falling to become a devious blackguard.  After Anakin Skywalker’s fall, the infant Luke was put into hiding on a desolate planet far from the newly formed Empire’s reach.  This protective custody calls to memory Zeus being hidden away from his father Kronos so that he may one day strike his father down. 

Though Luke has a great destiny that he is meant to fulfil, his raising is humble.  He assists his aunt and uncle as a farmer on a desert planet called Tatooine.  While cleaning a droid that his family have recently purchased, Luke accidently triggers part of Princess Leia Organa’s message, in which she calls out to a ‘General Kenobi’, and famously says, ‘Help me Obi-Wan, you’re my only hope.’  Luke sets out to deliver this message to the only ‘Kenobi’ he knows – an old hermit called Ben.  It is during this scene that Ben reveals himself to be General Obi-Wan Kenobi, and informs the young Luke of his days as a Jedi Knight – an order of galactic peacekeepers who were effectively wiped out by the Empire.

Obi-Wan requests Luke’s help in traveling to a distant planet called Alderaan so that the pair can further analyse Leia’s message before rescuing her.  Luke, however, refuses to go on this quest.  He is reluctant to leave his home.  He is unwilling to be the hero that the galaxy needs.  It is not until he returns to his small farm, and finds it destroyed by the Imperial Stormtroopers that he decides to begin his, ultimately, epic journey. 

A very famous parallel of this occurs in the story of Odysseus.  Here we have a man who has once sworn to go to war against any nation that harbours a man who has abducted the beautiful Helen of Sparta (famously known as Helen of Troy).  After Helen is spirited away by the Trojan prince Paris, King Agamemnon of Mycenae and his brother – King Menelaus of Sparta – issue a proclamation demanding that all men who swore this oath respect their call to arms.  Odysseus is quite happily living his life as the King of Ithaca, and has no interest in abandoning his wife – Penelope – and their infant son – Telemachus.  In an attempt to refuse the call, Odysseus feigns madness, yokes together an ox and a donkey, and salts his own fields.  The wily king hopes that his ruse is able to fool enough people so that he does not have to leave.  Ultimately, his plan fails, Odysseus accepts his responsibility, and sets off on a voyage that will take him ten years longer than anyone else because he angers the god Poseidon.        

Though I could continue to draw a complex series of parallels between the Star Wars franchise and ancient Greek myth, I fear that Mr Lucas may be wanting to get on with his life.  If you’re interested in taking a closer look at the relationship between this film saga and ancient myth, I suggest first watching a wonderful documentary called ‘Star Wars – The Legacy Revealed.’  This History Channel production really helped me to appreciate the complexities of Lucas’ world.  I hope that it can inspire you to do the same!  We’d love to hear any of your own thoughts about the relationship between Star Wars and the classical world.

At the age of 68, however, George Lucas has decided that the story of Star Wars is no longer his to tell.  When he created this film franchise, he set out to redefine the film genres that we as an audience had come to know and love.  This pioneer drew from a shared pool of mythic archetypes, and told a story that is common in nearly all cultures.  Lucas wasn’t setting out to appease Star Wars fans, he intended to reinvent a specific story.  Now, because of the work of this man, we, as a society, are able to pick up where he left off.  It is the responsibility of future generations of filmmakers and filmgoers to appreciate and perpetuate not only the established mythic tradition, but to do the same for the newly created one as well. 
Here’s to you, Mr Lucas!  Thank you for masterfully reinventing the Hero’s Journey. 

-Jarrid Looney    


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