As the Star Wars story takes seven hours to complete, a thorough analysis is not possible in such a short paper. Instead, only major events will be noted and recognised as classic fairy tale motifs. As well, we shall treat the Star Wars saga with five elements in mind: fantasy, threat, escape, recovery, and consolation: Bettelheim identifies these as necessary stages of every fairy tale.
The first and probably most important feature of the Star Wars movies are the first words: "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." Integral to the success of the fairy story is its ability to connect with the child's subconscious, and it establishes this connection with the opening lines of the story. Bettelheim argues that fantastic lines like "Long ago and far away", "In olden times when wishing still helped", and "Once upon a time" are absolutely necessary elements of a fairy tale: they symbolise "...that we are leaving the concrete world of ordinary reality... [they] place the story not in time or place of external reality, but in...the interior of our mind."(p62-63) Because the fairy tale consists of models and situations that appeal to our inner mind, to set these events in a realm outside of our inner unconscious would confuse us. Therefore, the famous opening, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." is completely crucial to the Star Wars story. Without this phrase, we would fail to establish an unconscious connection with the film, and instead try to relate its characters and situations to our sense of "external reality". This would destroy the effects of the fairy tale, and leave us with a typical science fiction movie with some pretty nice special effects.
These first words not only set the tone for the fairy tale, they also establish the setting for the story. In order for the story to succeed, it was necessary for Lucas to choose as a setting a time and place that are not only external to our sense of reality, but also contain great possibilities for the fantastic. Where else but in far away galaxies can we, the inhabitants of today's modern, colonised world imagine that anything is possible? As every island has been discovered and explored and colonised, as history has been traced to find that no princess named "Cinderella" ever held the throne, and as science proceeds to prove our that dragons, unicorns, and princes-turned-into-frogs are physically impossible, there remains for us only one uncharted, unexplored region in which our imaginations and possibilities run rampant: outer space.
Star Wars: A New Hope When the story begins, Luke, like many of his fairy tale hero predecessors, is leading an uneventful life in the middle of nowhere. In other words, he is living in the protected bubble world of his childhood. He is even depicted in an early scene playing with a spaceship in a child-like manner. But Luke's world begins to change when Artoo Detoo and See Threepio enter his life at a critical time; he his approaching the end of his adolescence and must begin the journey to manhood and unconscious integration. In this case, they are the messengers, the signals that Luke's life will be changing. First of all, they come from a world completely external to Luke's experience, but which will soon become very familiar to him. They also bring with them the image of Princess Leia, which elicits a "She's beautiful!" from Luke: the first stirrings of an awakening sexuality. They also bring him to his first meeting with Ben Kenobi, the mystical benefactor who will endow Luke with the gift of mastery of the Force. And finally, they bring with them the element of threat into Luke's life.
Bettelheim identifies threat, either moral or physical, as being an important aspect of the fairy tale:
"If one contemplates it, it is startling how the fairy-tale hero accepts without question that he is thus threatened- it just happens... as soon as the story begins, the hero is projected into severe dangers. And this is how the child sees life... To the child it seems that his life is a sequence of periods of smooth living which are suddenly and incomprehensibly interrupted as he is projected into immense danger." (Bettelheim, 1976, p144-145)
This threat becomes reality when Luke's quiet life is irrevocably interrupted with the decimation of his moisture farm. He returns to his house to find it destroyed, his aunt and uncle dead. The total destruction of the farm makes it impossible for Luke to regress and return to the innocence and satisfaction of his childhood, an action severely punished in stories such as Hansel and Gretel. Therefore, he is forced to leave his childhood life at the moisture farm behind to embrace his future.
Certain scenes of the Star Wars saga are most important to establish the fantasy element necessary in all fairy tales. The importance of the words, "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." has been discussed extensively above in this respect, but equally important are several other scenes which unquestionably establish that we are indeed viewing life in an environment completely foreign to our own. One such scene is the famous Cantina in Mos Eisley. Although this segment takes less than 10 minutes of film, it has become almost legendary in movie history, remembered by thousands of people as 'their favourite scene'. Who can forget the smoky room, the crowds of the alien scum of hundreds of worlds, the noise of many dirty creatures conversing in many different languages? This scene is important in setting the fantastical tone of the story on two levels. First, it places us in the far away galaxy, where anything is possible because nothing is familiar to us. But secondly, it reassures us that no matter how foreign this environment is, there is some presence of characteristics with which we are familiar. For example, the Bith "jizz" musicians, six fingered and round-headed though they may be, are swinging to their music, which is not so alien to our ears that we do not find ourselves tapping and humming along. As well, several other shots depict aliens engaged in familiar activity: two blue men arguing with elaborate hand gestures, furred lovers giggling in a corner, a Chadra-Fan squealing for just one more drink, an ugly and pushy Aqualish ready to pick a fight with anyone, and all kinds of aliens in various stages of inebriation. So although this and other scenes place the events in the fantastical realm necessary to the fairy tale, they are also comforting in the respect that they reassure us that although the events that unfold here may be unlikely in our real worlds, they will not be impossible for us to understand, given our experience.
Luke follows ben Kenobi to the Mos Eisley spaceport, where the two meet and enlist the aid of Han Solo and Chewbacca. But on their way to the planet of Alderaan, the Millenium Falcon is pulled into the Death Star, a giant Imperial Space Station, by a powerful tractor beam. We must address the symbolism of this and of the actual Death Star. In "The Frog King" we are introduced to a young and innocent princess playing with a golden ball. Bettelheim explains the symbolism behind this thus: "[the ball] is doubly a symbol of perfection: as a sphere, and because it is made out of gold, the most precious material."(Bettelheim, 1976, p287) We can relate the symbolism of this warm, golden ball of youth to the cold, concrete ball of evil that is the Death Star. It is exactly the opposite of everything the golden ball stands for, and stands as a symbol of perfection (as shown by the image of the sphere) of evil (symbolised by its dark colours). The Death Star, therefore, is a ball of concentrated evil, symbolising all the darkness of the psyche. So when the heroes are drawn inside, they are descending into the depths of their unconscious to battle the forces that plague them from there. This is a common theme in fairy tales, when the hero needs to address certain problems in his unconscious mind, (i.e. non-integration) and descends into a netherworld in order to do so. It is not so far-fetched to see this same story outlined in the events that take place in the Death Star. Here, the heroes are descending to do battle with the savage and unrepressed id, as symbolised by Darth Vader, the Dark Side in general, and the phallic uniforms of the Imperial army.
The exact details of this battle will not be discussed; it is more important to understand the outcome of this descent. First of all, although Darth Vader remains undefeated, even killing Ben Kenobi (demonstrating the overwhelming strength of the id), this was Luke Skywalker's first encounter with the Dark Lord, his first chance to see the darker side of himself (represented by his own father) and his first face-to-face meeting with the forces of the Empire. Although he did not emerge completely victorious, he did emerge with a basic understanding of the forces at work in his unconscious. As well, he emerged with Princess Leia. Again, the descent into the unconscious providing the hero with a valuable tool is not an uncommon theme in fairy tales, and Leia is this valuable tool; she will provide Luke with information, support, and help throughout his adventure.
The death of Kenobi often seems sudden and unexplained to many viewers, and does not seem to hold true to the 'happy ending' tradition of fairy tales. However, "death does not necessarily signify the end of life... Death is rather a symbol that this person is... removed from the child's way... accordingly, in the fairy tale a person is dead or turned into stone at one moment, and comes to life in the next."(Bettelheim, 1976, p196) When explained in this way, Kenobi's 'removal' is understandable. It is Luke's destiny alone to face his father, his own evil side, and Kenobi can no longer interefere directly. He does not, however, abandon Luke completely in his quest, but returns several times to help the boy, eventually guiding him to the gentle instruction of Yoda.
A New Hope is designed to be as complete a fairy tale as possible, as Lucas was unsure of the financial ability to produce his planned sequels. As in every fairy tale, there is consolation in the ending: justice is served when Grand Moff Tarkin and his evil Death Star are destroyed by the Rebel Forces, inspiring children that they too, in spite of their relatively small size, can conquer the larger, omnipotent powers in their life. But although the Death Star is obliterated by Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, the manifestation of Luke's personal troubled unconscious, is only vanquished temporarily. We shall soon see that, no matter where one tries to hide, they cannot hide from their own unconscious mind.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
"It is a dark time for the Rebellion. Although the Death Star has been destroyed, Imperial troops have driven the Rebel forces from their hidden base and pursued them across the galaxy."
Opening scroll, The Empire Strikes Back, 1980
From the very beginning of The Empire Strikes Back, the story deals with the consequences of the unleashed fury of the repressed id. The Rebels are constantly on the run, trying to escape from the darkness of their unconscious. They are first ejected from their hidden base on Hoth. Then Han, Leia, and Chewie try to lose their pursuers in an asteroid field, where they do not even realise they have descended into the belly of a space worm (another metaphor for the unconscious) until it is almost too late. Everywhere they turn, even in the hands of Han's dearest friend, the Empire (or some other manifestation of the uncontrolled unconscious) is waiting for them. Escape is not possible; one must face one's unconscious problems and deal with them directly.
While the rest of the characters in The Empire Strikes Back are constantly on the run, trying to escape the Empire, Luke is sent to Dagobah by Ben Kenobi to begin his instruction with Yoda. Bettelheim also considers recovery, a long period of time when the hero gets a chance to develop their strengths, to be a necessary part of the fairy tale, and it is in this movie that Luke experiences this. With Yoda, Luke not only develops his Force skills, but also learns a little about the identity of Vader (his own dark unconscious). When he faces an image of the Dark Lord in the swamp, this connection is strengthened when the face of the helmet explodes to reveal Luke's own features.
In the meantime, Vader has finally caught up with Han and Leia in Cloud City. Here, the story of Han's development climaxes. Solo's character development has already been discussed in the first chapter, but it is important to recognize a more symbolic development that occurs beneath the surface of the character and his actions. When we first met him in the Cantina, Han was running from a difficult past: he had dumped a cargo of Jabba the Hutt's. This past failure is representative of a lot of the 'demons' in our subconscious, an incident that plagues us from its safe spot in our unconscious minds. These troubled memories come to be dangerous if continuously ignored, but instead of facing up to his past failure, Han merely flees in his speedy spaceship. Even Greedo, representing either a nightmare about the past or some other warning sign, was dismissed with a blaster shot when he confronted Han in Mos Eisley. The result of this serious repression is ultimately a mental breakdown, and this is what symbolically happens to Han. When his past finally catches up to him in the form of Boba Fett, Han is rendered incapacitated in a block of carbonite. He is unable to move, think, or speak, and is suspended from the story until his rescue in Jedi.
It is not long before Vader manages to lure Luke away from his protection on Dagobah with images of Han and Leia in pain. He shows no mercy as the two face each other in the core of Cloud City. He first tries to trick Luke into joining the Dark Side: "Release your anger. Only your hatred can destroy me." When this does not work, he tries intimidation, distracting Luke by bringing up Kenobi, his mentor: "You are beaten.... Don't let yourself be destroyed as Obi-Wan did." When these strategies fail to elicit a response from Luke, Vader delivers a crushing blow. He chops off Luke's hand, thus symbolically incapacitating him, he reveals his true identity: "I am your father." Now Luke's existence is truly threatened, both physically and morally: he is in danger of losing his life, and his id is asking his undeveloped mind for free domination in the most manipulative way possible. Vader's identity as Luke's father symbolises that they are two parts of a whole, and Luke has to recognize that his once nameless, faceless enemy is in fact a part of himself.
Luke manages to escape a severely damaged man, showing us the dangers of premature confrontation. The movie ends pessimistically, with Luke mentally and physically defeated by his id, Han rendered completely incapacitated, and Vader once again only temporarily eluded. Because of these terrible events, The Empire Strikes Back cannot be regarded as a fairy tale unto itself as A New Hope or Return of the Jedi can, as there is no resolution and no consolation in the ending. The events therefore need to be considered more generally, as a part of the entire fairy tale related by the Trilogy.
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
The final chapter of the Star Wars fairy tale begins in Jabba the Hutt's palace, where the situation is the same as in Mos Eisley. Here we are again confronted with the noisy, obnoxious, and dangerous scum of many worlds, and yet again we find ourselves singing along with Sy Snootles' disco-like music in spite of her raspy foreign language. But this time, Lucas does not dwell so much on the human-ness of his aliens. He no longer needs to console his audience with familiarity in the midst of an alien world: by now, his audience has experienced at least four hours of this galaxy and is quite familiar with its capabilities. So instead of making his characters familiar to our sense of experience, Lucas makes his aliens even more bizarre, further enhancing the fantasy aspect of the movie.
In Jabba's palace, the story of Han's psychological development ends. He is rescued from Jabba thanks to the dedication of his friends, and with their help vanquishes the monsters of his past, leaving Jabba's sail barge in a flaming rubble. The sequence of his conflict, temporary death, and resurrection is a very familiar one in the world of fairy tale literature: "[this] device is necessary because, while the child can readily understand one thing being replaced by another, he cannot yet comprehend inner transformations... [Through this sequence of events] the child comes to believe that such transformations are possible."(Bettelheim, 1976, p179) So it was necessary for Han to be temporarily removed from the situation while he internally dealt with his past, before returning to the story a healed man.
After rescuing his friend from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt, Luke returns to the planet Dagobah to complete his Jedi training, only to find Yoda on his deathbed. His instructor informs him that more training is not necessary, he will become a Jedi once he has confronted Vader, a fact incongruent to the viewer, as in the Empire Strikes Back Yoda had insisted that Luke's training was not complete. As well, to have Yoda die when it seems he is most needed is rather confusing to the audience. In order to understand these events, we must look at them symbolically instead of literally.
Luke left to vanquish his id, not to integrate it. He left his recovery stage with Yoda too early, rushing to confront his dark unconscious when he was still mentally unprepared to accept it as a part of himself. Had he stayed with Yoda and allowed himself to develop fully, he would have become better able to face the truth about his own psyche. However, as Luke unfortunately learned Vader's identity the hard way, exposing the darkness in his own unconscious, there is nothing left for Yoda to teach him about himself. One might ask why Yoda would instruct Luke at all if he could have learned everything from confrontation. But although when Luke faced Vader he was unable to win a first battle, he was still strong enough in his training to escape with his new knowledge. Had Luke faced Vader before his training, for example in A New Hope, he would be both physically defeated and unable to escape the dark destiny Vader offered him.
Yoda passes away, leaving Luke alone to complete the final step towards becoming a Jedi, a person with a completely integrated unconscious. Yoda, like Ben, can no longer be directly involved in Luke's future. It is now up to Luke to face his id and dominate it. He does this admirably, seeking Vader out and trying to convince him with words. The two enemies talk quietly and emotionally, two features we have never before seen in Vader.
The metaphor that is the character of Darth Vader becomes more complex as the Emperor enters the story. Where in the first two movies, Vader is the unleashed id, in Jedi he represents an id in conflict, unable to decide between obeying it's own impulses, symbolised by the emperor, or agreeing to be tamed by Luke's superego values-- a much healthier and more beneficial situation. This is a conflict we all face at the end of our childhood, when we begin to realise that to live by our own impulses is no longer as beneficial as to be co-operative and rational. To confront his maturing id, Luke must descend into his unconscious, again represented by the dark globe of a Death Star, and in a final duel in the Emperor's throne room, challenge the Emperor (id-impulses) for control of Vader(id). In the end, it is the id itself that chooses to suppress its own impulses in favour of a more equal state of mind.
The Trilogy comes to an end on the Death Star, when Vader, dying in his son's arms, makes his final request: "Luke, help me take this mask off." This conclusion is filled with symbolism. Luke's id-dominated unconscious rejects its dark identity for a new, integrated life. The darkness of Luke's unconscious is completely eradicated: the Death Star is destroyed, Vader's mask is removed and his black armour burned. Thus, over the course of the Trilogy, Luke has symbolically acknowledged his id-dominated psyche, trained his mind to face it, failed at a first unprepared attempt to conquer it, and finally emerged having successfully faced and controlled his darker side. As Vader, the unrepressed id, dies, he leaves Luke behind, a full Jedi.
It is through this analysis of the Star Wars saga that we find its true message, hidden in fairy tale symbolism: the need for unconscious integration. This theme is addressed in several classic fairy tales, but none enjoy the same popularity today as the Star Wars movies. This could be simply because the message is presented in a more multi-media, high-technology fashion, attractive to the children of today, but I do not believe this to be entirely true.
We live in a world of high stress, where it is becoming increasingly uncommon to find the time to invest in our own psychological interests. As a result, many adults suffer the same fate as Han Solo, having refused to deal with issues and simply pushing them to the back of their minds. Children can recognize this in their parents, and are most anxious to avoid it in their own futures; they learn how to do this through the symbolism introduced in the Star Wars Trilogy. By learning Luke's lessons, these children are establishing a healthy relationship between id, ego, and superego early on in their lives. The impulsive id can be confronted directly by any child, with or without a light-saber, in the personified form of Darth Vader. The caution and control of their own developing super-egos take shape as the wise old Yoda. And the Emperor inside them can finally be faced to gain a healthy psyche, not through force or destruction, but through negotiation and integration.
By using the models set out for them by the characters and situations of the Star Wars Trilogy, twentieth century children can externalize their internal conflicts in a new way. In a fantasy land distant from their world, with characters they can identify with, they can approach the issue of unconscious integration in a new and exciting way. And thanks to the examples set in the Star Wars movies, they can all become Jedi.