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Star Wars, Joseph Campbell, and The Power of Myth. Long long ago in a galaxy not so far away George Lucas studied folklore and mythology and made movie history with Star Wars. The Star Wars trilogy's screenplay is based on Mythologist Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, itself a publishing phenomenon. First published in 1948, it was a run-away best-seller. In the 1960's, it topped best-seller lists again when the psychedelic seekers found a road map to the inner territory in Mythology. The Hero With a Thousand Faces was a best-seller again in 1987 when The Power of Myth (filmed at Lucas' Skywalker ranch) aired. Psychologist and author Dr. Jonathan Young assisted Joseph Campbell for many years and later became the Founding Curator of the Joseph Campbell Mythology Archives and Library in Santa Barbara. His recent book, SAGA - Best New Writings on Mythology, is published by White Cloud Press.

Joseph Campbell, George Lucas, Movies, and Mythology.

It was very revealing when George Lucas had Joseph Campbell come up to Skywalker Ranch where The Power of Myth was filmed and watch the Star Wars movies.  Joseph Campbell said he thought great art had ended with Picasso, and Joyce, but now he saw he was wrong. This delighted Lucas.  Joseph Campbell meant is the intentional use of mythological patterns has become unfashionable in art.  From one perspective, myth is always passe because the setting is the past. In another sense, it is eternal, because it deals with universal challenges that we all face in everyday life.

The classic story of mythology as portrayed in movies begins in everyday Life...

Movies begin with a regular person and the situation begins as mundane. The familiar everyday circumstances let the movie audience know extraordinary things can happen in ordinary everyday lives. Tragedy often sets the story in motion. This is the summons, the call to adventure, the quest, an inner calling. In the Star Wars movies it is the devastation of Luke Skywalker's home. It draws us into the engagement. In our everyday lives it might be the death of a parent, a divorce, a devastating illness, or a financial disaster. From there we can either collapse and give up on life, or we can rise to the occasion. When they cast Mark Hamill, for Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies, they wanted someone ordinary and everyday looking.

I wonder if we can look at a movies like Star Wars, and Joseph Campbell's Mythology, and compare that to everyday life. Is the point of the story for the Hero to overcome illusions?

In the Classical myth, and the Star Wars movies, the individual's issues become enmeshed with larger problems. Luke sees the hologram of Princess Leia and the hero learns he is not the only one in trouble, society is in trouble -- there are problems larger than his own. His personal circumstances and larger causes become intertwined as he goes to the threshold of adventure. He meets Obi-Wan Kenobi, the magical teacher representing the higher self or inner master. Together, they enlist the help of Harrison Ford as Han Solo and his co-pilot, Chewbacca. The Hero meets these key allies at the threshold, which in the Star Wars movies, is the alien cantina. It is the jumping off point beyond which there is no return. Movies portray this aspect of mythology very dramatically. In everyday life it isn't as dramatic as in movies or mythology. Though it can be. The people at the threshold are the ones who have gone to the other side and come back. They are worldly as opposed to the hero who is still innocent. The experience of the threshold passage is truly strange and exotic. Those at the threshold have seen amazing marvels such as the Hero has never witnessed. Joseph Campbell often commented the threshold passage is one of the most dangerous because it is where one passes from this realm of the reliable world we know, into a realm completely beyond our powers. The threshold destroys many adventurers.

In Star Wars, and other mythological movies, the Hero is joined by allies. Are the allies mentors?

Sometimes.  They can take many forms; an old teacher, a wise old enchantress, a mysterious old magician, a strange creature like Yoda. Sometimes, friendly animals in a story showing that wisdom comes from nature. This guiding figure is more than an actual character. This is a representation of an energy or spirit. Jungian psychology talks of this.

Obi-Wan Kenobi teaches Luke in martial arts with a light saber and the force...

.. it is significant that the movie never clearly defines the Force. Obi-wan Kenobi says it is an energy field that sustains all living things. An individual may sense the force as intuition, or something spiritual. It is something beyond the individual. This is the wisdom implied in the question, "What do I know that I don't know I know?" Whether I say I am trusting my inner voice or use more traditional language, like trusting the Holy Spirit, somehow I am listening for something beyond my own calculations. I am trying to tune into a larger field of energy and knowledge. When Obi-Wan Kenobi tells him the eyes can deceive, he is saying that we must not put all our trust in what we can know clearly, there are mysteries and powers larger than our knowing and seeing.

In the Star Wars movies there is a final confrontation, where Darth Vader tempts Luke to the dark side...

Corrupt characters seem to imagine there is more power in the way they are using it. Pure selfishness, without any struggle with conscience, gives the illusion of greater power. Just because someone avoids struggling with conscience, or the concern for other people, or fairness, or ethics, does not mean these issues go away. The denied elements always return to present their demands. Only shared power is stable and safe. Even Darth Vader, who has the dark costume that is very imposing and shows that he is part machine, is not so impressive when Luke removes his mask. If we give ourselves over to only one side, only to power and control, the entire beauty of what a human being can become will not develop. So the undeveloped larva is all there is, although the outer appearance seems very powerful.

The heroic man or woman, having done that which seemed impossible, has returned with a level of integration. To accomplish this enormous task we must have all of the best attributes of both genders, be aligned with the forces of nature, and have the best of allies. At the end of the Star Wars movies, there is a big celebration. The many different characters in attendance represent the various aspects of a highly integrated individual who is now aware of all of those energies. The traveler comes back to ordinary life with the boon, the elixir, the wisdom, or skill. Often it is an insight of great value to the historic moment. The challenge then is to give it away. It doesn't belong to the adventurer alone. It is for everyone. The seeker returns home to a life of service, fully enmeshed in community. Ultimately, the most satisfying life turns out to be making a useful contribution to others. The sense of fulfillment is extraordinary at that point. Such people have amazing energy. The force is truly with them.

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