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George Lucas' use of Mythology in "Star Wars"
For millennia, cultures have used myth as a way to explain an unknown or a universal experience. One timeless theme expressed in myth is the extraordinary journey of a hero, and it is often an allegory of a boy’s path into manhood. The journey of Luke Skywalker as seen in George Lucas’ Star Wars is a modern take on this ages-old subject. Luke’s story parallels that of many ancient and classic mythological heroes. For most heroes, their journey is characterized by adversity and their reaction to it. Central to the plot of myths such as Heracles, The Iliad, and even some stories in the Bible, the journey into manhood is a universal experience shared by all men.
In many ways, Luke’s journey closely resembles that of the ancient Greek hero Heracles. Both heroes received much help from others on their adventure. Luke Skywalker receives a great amount of help and training from his mentors, Obi-Wan Kenobi as well as the tiny, green Yoda. They teach him lessons in the ways of the Jedi and use of the force, skill necessary for ultimately defeating the dark powers of the Sith. Although much less proactive than Luke’s mentors, King Eurystheus helped Heracles on his path to forgiveness. Heracles had to serve King Eurystheus in order to be forgiven for the slaughter of his family. Eurystheus provided Heracles with twelve labors to complete. Luke’s
journey to becoming a Jedi, or warrior of justice, is laden with many difficult tasks. He rescues Princess Leia from the antagonist, Jabba the Hutt, battles stormtroopers, and uses his new skills to destroy the Death Star. Luke’s tasks are comparable to Heracles’ Nemean Lion and Golden apples. Luke and Heracles both hope to receive redemption and forgiveness from their quests. Heracles undertakes his journey to find personal redemption for the offense committed against his family. At the end of the last movie, Luke acts to redeem his father who has become an evil Sith lord by providing him a proper funeral. Luke had his father’s corpse burned on a large fire; in ancient Greece, that was the ultimate hero’s burial. Heracles and Luke both become more self actualized through their travels. Heracles was destined to “live among the gods above” while it is assumed that Luke, having destroyed the dark forces, lives out the rest of his life the stereotypical “happily ever after.” One can easily see the influence that the story of Heracles had on Lucas’ work.
For every hero who exists there is a villain, for good to exist there must be evil, and defeating that evil is an integral part of the hero’s journey; this is true of myths from all cultures. In Star Wars, Anakin Skywalker, Luke’s father, is the embodiment of that evil. Anakin is a tragic hero, and his character is proof that power corrupts. Battling inner demons, Anakin abandons his quest for good in exchange for the immense power that comes with the dark side. In Paradise Lost, John Milton drew on Hebraic myths to explain how the devil came to be; once a proud angel, Satan sought power and tried to overthrow God. He failed and was cast out of Heaven into Hell where he would create his own evil kingdom. Just like Satan, Anakin is cast out of the Jedi and allowed to rule as an evil Sith lord over the Republic, characterized by fire and suffering. His battle in the fiery land with Obi-Wan Kenobi resonates with apocalyptic symbolism. Obi-Wan emerges victorious from the fray; Anakin was badly burned and must return as the human-machine hybrid that is Darth Vader. According to Christian belief, the antichrist will one day walk the Earth as an embodiment of Lucifer to take the world for evil. “He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped” (Holy Bible, New International Version 2 Thess. 2.4). In Star Wars, Luke’s greatest nemesis is his father, Darth Vader, who serves the evil Emperor Palpatine in his quest to create a single world order under his control. At the climax of Luke’s quest against evil, he defeats his father in combat, but does not kill him; instead, he reconciles with his father and forgives him.
Many myths, mainly in ancient Greek mythology, reflect the importance of father-son relationships. There is a scene in Star Wars where Luke has just forgiven his father, and Anakin asks to have the Vader mask removed that he may lay eyes on his son even though he needs the suit to live. One gets a feeling that humanity has returned to Anakin, but it’s too late to save his life. That scene in the movie was taken straight from the sixth book of the Iliad. In a powerful scene, Hector removes his helmet so that he can kiss and gaze at his son, Astyanax, unhindered by his battle garb. An important part of Luke’s journey was discovering his roots. Since Luke’s mother died during childbirth and his father was a Sith lord, Luke never really had that father figure that is crucial for a person’s development. By redeeming his father and learning who his father truly was, Luke had completed his journey. George Lucas and the ancients both understood the importance the relationship between a father and son.
It is easy for one to see how Lucas was influenced by myth in his films, especially in regards the development of Luke Skywalker. Luke’s story fully embodies the journey into manhood archetype on an epic scale. The contemporary audience is able to relate to Luke as he deals with all manner of conflict. This is where the appeal of Star Wars lies. It is that theme, the stuff of ancient myth, that remains relevant and manifests itself to this day in modern works such as Star Wars.